History

Chapter 1 - Section 3

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"Hey, What's the Big Idea?!"
History of the Golden Knights - Chapter 1 / Section 3
  • STRAC Earns the Spotlight
  • Supplemental Information
  • About the Title

European countries, particularly communist countries, dominated the sport internationally. With its parachute clubs and increased support, the US Army had been working to create a group of parachutists to represent the US at home and abroad. In 1959, those efforts began to pay off. The 13 members of the all-Army US national team earned 4th place out of the 14 nations competing at the 2nd Adriatic Cup in Tivat, Yugoslavia, the highest placement ever earned by a US Team.

XVIII Airborne Division
XVIII Airborne
101st Airborne Division
101st Airborne
82nd Airborne Division
82nd Airborne

77th Special Forces Group
77th Special Forces
Airborne
Current Insignias of the Airborne groups that were tapped for the inaugural members
of the Army's newly-formed free fall parachuting demonstration/competition team.

When the sport attracted the attention of Brigadier General Joe Stilwell, the concept of the STRAC (Strategic Army Corps) Sport Parachuting Team emerged.   In an era of political and social tension between democratic and communist countries, BG Stilwell wanted to form a single team of the best jumpers from all the parachute clubs to represent the US in competitions.  As noted by Roy D Martin, first Executive Officer of the USAPT, “During the Cold War, everything hinged on beating the Russians. The reason the STRAC parachute team was so important, was they were the team competing against the Russians. That grew a tremendous amount of support for the team.” [Reference 4]

In the short term, BG Stilwell wanted to fill the slots in the 1960 US Team with exceptional military  jumpers.  The US Team was comprised of qualifying civilian or military personnel and represented the US in competitions. Longer range, BG Stilwell wanted to help recruit paratroopers for the Airborne services and investigate the military applications of free fall parachuting.

For their team, Gen Stilwell and parachuting's other big command supporter, Colonel Bill, recruited the best jumpers from the three clubs at Ft. Bragg, NC: the XVIII Airborne Corps, the 82nd Airborne Division and the 77th Special Forces Group, as well as the best from Fort Campbell, KY's 101st Airborne Division. Fort Campbell's Airborne free-fallers were also committed to and working toward the creation of a free fall Army parachute team. [See Supplemental Information in Section 4 for more information about Ft Campbell's contributions.]  BG Stilwell supplied the STRAC team with aircraft, and throughout 1959 and early 1960, they practiced exhaustively, performed demonstrations and competed in regional events.

1960 Jump into Normandy DZ

During the National Parachuting Championships in April of 1960,
the STRAC team did win all of the slots for the US Team. In the national competition:

  • Loy Brydon took First Place
  • Harry Arter took Second
  • Henry "Jim" Arender placed Third
  • Richard "Dick" Fortenberry took Fourth
  • Danny Byard placed Fifth, and
  • Jim Pearson took Sixth place
1960 - Jumping into
Normandy DZ, Ft Bragg NC

In August of 1960, the STRAC Team competed in their first international competition, the 5th World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria.  The STRAC team, representing the United States and the Parachute Club of America, placed Fourth overall. 

However, they also returned from Bulgaria with their first individual Gold medal, earned by Jim Arender in the Style Competition. Dick Fortenberry earned Second place in the overall competition when he scored the first-ever dead center accuracy jump made in a world competition.

To learn more about  individual members of the STRAC Sport Parachute Team, see the Pioneers of the USAPT in the Roster.  Also see Supplemental Information above.

Click one of the Tabs Below to Open a New Panel
The Original & First-Round Picks of the STRAC Sport Parachute Team             [more panels below]
Major Shepard, OIC [Office in Charge]
MSG John Hollis, NCOIC [Non-commissioned Officer in Charge]

SFC Harry E. Arter SGT Jack Helms
SFC Ray Love SPC Kurt Hughes
SP5 Richard "Dick" Fortenberry SPC James E Garvey
SP4 Loy Brydon SGT Robert Lanier  [USAF]
SP4 Henry Arender SGT Vernon Morgan  [USAF]
SGT Danny Byard  
   
Note: Other STRAC SPT members would join the effort between November 1959 and April 1961.
To learn more about the Pioneers of the USAPT, click here.
   
Some STRAC Members
[l-r] STRAC Team Members: Harry Arter, Jim Pearson, Loy "Top" Brydon, Danny Byard

MAJ Merrill Shepard was the officer who had been receptive to his jumpers' desire for a sport parachuting team back in that barracks in 1958. He was a key player in the development of the STRAC Team.

1SG Hollis commanded the group of riggers who in 1957 voluntarily packed parachutes for the initial free fall trainees.

More About Harry Arter
As an instructor and jumper for the Army's early sport parachuting teams, there is no one who is more "original" than Harry Arter.  Because of other professional obligations, SFC Arter would not join the United States Parachuting Team in 1961.  His impact on its success and formation are indelible nonetheless.

 

 
Among SFC Arter's many accomplishments, he is also credited with bringing champion Gerald "Jerry" Bourquin into the world of sport parachuting. Harry Arter was in the XVIII Airborne Corps, the same unit as Jerry Bourquin. One day, Arter jokingly told Bourquin that he should come to the 18th ABN Parachute Club, because "he might like it". Bourquin did, and blames Arter for starting his jumping career, a career which continues to this day [2009].

It was also SFC Harry Arter, who served as Jump Master for BG Joe Stilwell during his first free fall jump. As Jump Master, Arter insured the General's readiness to jump and put him out of the aircraft.

Harry Arter
  SFC Harry Arter

Harry Arter tells us that BG Stilwell was trained by COL Merrill Shepard (COL Shepard was the first commanding officer of the STRAC Team, the OIC or Officer in Charge).  On the Sunday morning that BG Stilwell chose to make his first free fall jump, COL Shepard had another obligation, so he chose Harry Arter to serve as Stilwell's Jump Master.

As Harry Arter puts it, "Here's where the fun comes in."

Arter didn't get to the drop zone until 10:30-11:00am.  The general had been there since 8am, and would not let anyone else assist him except Harry Arter.  Apparently everyone else at the DZ was "jumping through their butt" because Arter hadn't gotten there earlier.  Harry Arter says, " #__%! Here I was a Sergeant First Class and I had a Gen. Officer waiting on me! I thought sure my military days were finished." But to his surprise, the General was not disturbed.

To prep rare for free fall, trainees are required to complete a final, special static line jump and their first free jump on the same day. The final static line jump uses a a dummy ripcord pull (a DRCP). If the DRCP  and the jumper's body position during the static line jump are satisfactory, the free fall jump can proceed. Arter made the General do one more jump using a static line.  After landing from his final static line jump, the ground crew wanted to help the General suit up in preparation for his free fall jump. According to Arter, the General told them they were not his Jump Master, and he wasn't doing anything until Arter told him he was ready.

SFC Arter approved of the General's performance on the final static line jump. The General's first free fall jump was known as a "jump and pull". In the jump and pull, the jumper exits the aircraft and immediately pulls the ripcord to deploy the main parachute. Manually deploying the parachute marks the jumper's progression to free fall.

Later that night, General Stilwell found Arter at the 18th Abn Corps Club, handed him a fifth of alcohol, and said that he understands that after a student makes his first free fall jump, he owes his Jump Master a fifth of liquor.  He also said that regrettably he couldn't stay and help drink it.

The next day, Monday, COL Shepard asked for a drink from that fifth.  It was already gone.

 

 

More About Jim Arender

National and World Champion, Henry "Jim" Arender, left the Armed Forces before the USAPT was created in 1961.  He was, however, a member of the STRAC Parachute Team and a major contributor to its early successes.  His accomplishments and those of his team members were instrumental in persuading the US Army to form an official US Army Parachuting Team.

At 19 years old, Jim Arender was the first American, military or civilian, to earn a Gold Medal in an international parachuting competition. He did so at the 5th World Championships on Sofia, Bulgaria in 1960.  Sky divers from 12 nations competed "behind the Iron Curtain".  Among the US Team were 4 men and 2 women. Jim Arender
Jim Arender

In the Accuracy event, team mate Dick Fortenberry scored the first-ever dead center made in world competition.  But when Fortenberry dislocated his shoulder and withdrew, the US Team's chances for success seemed to dim.

With the pressure to succeed high and with only 15 months of jumping experience, Jim Arender stepped from a Russian biplane high above Sofia, and into parachuting history. 

Before opening his parachute, he executed a near-perfect performance in the Style event. Style means executing a pattern of body turns and rolls.

After Arender left the Armed Forces, he continued to jump competitively and by the time he was 21 in 1962, he was Overall World Champion.

Jim Arender is a compelling, but solitary man. As of 2009, Arender was a Park Ranger in New Mexico.  He continues to jump to this day [2009].

Editor's Note: For years Jim Arender was the face of Camel Cigarettes in Times Square in New York.

Jim Arender

 

 

 

More About Joe Stilwell

BG Joe Stilwell was the son of "Vinegar" Joe Stilwell of the China, Burma, and India theaters of WWII
See "More About Harry Arter" for the story of Stilwell's first free fall jump. BG Stilwell loved free fall parachuting and continued to promote and jump with the team before and after they became the "Golden Knights".


Brigadier General Joe Stilwell was one
of the driving forces in the creation of the
STRAC Free Fall Parachuting Team,
a precursor to the US Army Parachuting Team,
aka the "Golden Knights".

BG Stilwell, who loved free fall parachuting, continued to jump until he broke his leg
during a landing.

BG Joe Stillwell

"Hey, What's the Big Idea?!"

It was a big idea to create a corps of parachutists who could hold their own
in the highly-competitive international arena of sport parachuting. 


Removing skilled military personnel from their regular duties, however, did not please many Company Commanders. 
Although a part of the new STRAC Team, the parachutists were also part of their original commands.
Since they remained on those rosters, their Company Commanders could not replace them.

Since they could not perform their original duties, the STRAC Team members were not always
popular with their fellow servicemen or their commanders.

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