History

Chapter 1 - Section 5

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"More Than a Pretty Face"
History of the Golden Knights - Chapter 1 / Section 5
  • A Tactical Advantage
  • HALO Participants
  • Supplemental Information
  • About the Title

Skydiving was new, exciting and getting a lot of attention, both civilian and military. The successes of the early teams captured the attention of the Airborne Division Commanders (and promoted their support), and of people like General William Westmoreland and General Dwight Beach who both supported the Sports Parachute Clubs and took every opportunity to showcase the demonstration team.  It also captured the attention of some upper military commanders or "brass" who started considering how to apply free fall parachuting as a tactical advantage in troop insertions.

Some of the STRAC Team

1960 - Members of the Original HALO Project. Click the photo to learn more.

Eventhough they were part of a sport parachute club (SPC), the  parachutists from the 82nd and 101st were still considered STRAC (Strategic Army Corps) for demonstration and tactical purposes.  In April of 1960, General Dwight Beach directed the the 82nd SPC  (commanded by OIC, 2LT Roy D. Martin) to participate in the tactical operation: Tower Moon, an exercise to evaluate using free fall parachutists in special operations.

At the same time the 101st SPC from Ft Campbell, KY was performing sky diving demonstrations, and also participating in tactical exercises. The exercises in both locations were testing the viability of inserting troops using night infiltration. At both Army posts, test participants made a series of night jumps from various aircraft (the H-34, the H-21, and the U1A Otter). To jump at night, they had to improvise lighting for their altimeters. The altimeters help the jumpers determine when to open their parachutes during free fall.

The tests were considered successful because the ground forces did not detect the jumpers as they infilitrated the exercise field.  Although four of the jumpers were "captured" after landing, the Field Training Exercises (FTX) demonstrated the potential for using night jumps at high altitudes for tactical infiltration. LTG John W Bowen, commander of the 18th Corps, and General Beach were impressed.

Upon the success of these exercises, the US Army pursued a more challenging project: HALO or High Altitude Low Opening. More than twenty experienced sky divers were selected to participate in project AB 1459, the HALO test project.

The participants were members of the 82nd SPC, the 101st SPC, and the Airborne & ElectronicsTest Board.  Although all the parachutists in the project held parachuting licenses, their selection for the program was based on experience and professional conduct. 2LT Roy Martin, the most experienced officer in the group at license C-67, was selected Jump Master for the project. [See Supplemental Information for more about Jump Masters]

The 44 test jumps of Project HALO were rigorous and varied.  They included jumps during the day and at night, on land and over water, and with or without extra equipment and/or weapons.

SA-16 Albatross Flying Boat

The jumps were made from altitudes up to 27,500 feet and from the following aircraft:

  • C-130 Hercules [Lockheed]
  • AC-1 Caribou  [De Havilland]
  • H34 Choctaw  [Sikorsky]
  • SA-16 Albatross   [Grumman]
The Amphibian "Albatross"  

The efficacy and potential for HALO operations was undeniable, and would be used in a variety of military and humanitarian applications in the future. The members of the STRAC parachuting Team and the sport parachuting clubs had admirably achieved their mission of representing the US in national and international competitions, promoting the prestige of the US Army, enhancing recruiting efforts, and fostering a sense of esprit de corps both within the Airborne services and without. And as soldiers first,  however, their skills had strengthened the resources of the US Army in many more ways.

Three of the participants in the early Project HALO would become original members of the United States Army Parachute Team. Three more would soon join them. They are: 

  • 2LT Roy D. Martin
  • SFC Harold R. Lewis
  • PFC Lee R. K. Smith
  • SP4 Jim Lewis  [joined later]
  • SGT Joe Sanders [joined later] and
  • PFC Sherman H. Williford [joined later]

The following servicemen participated in the HALO project.
In February 2009, most of the following were awarded the long-overdue Military Free Fall Parachutist Badge.
Those whose names are in red have NOT been notified of this award.
If you know how to contact any of these gentlemen (or their survivors), please contact us.

BAILEY,  Robert A                 PFC
BOLTON,  David E                 SSG
CANTRELL,  Jack R              1LT
CARROLL,  William M           PFC
CHAPMAN,  James               unknown
CHARLAND,  Norman E        SGT
DUNPHY,  Richard                SP4
ENGLISH,  Alva J                    SFC
HALE,  Rodger C                       SFC
HAMILTON,  Gilbert L            SGT
HEISEL,  Christian H              SFC
LEWIS,  Harold R                   SFC
LEWIS,  James E                  SP4
LOYD,  WC                             CWO
MARTIN,  Roy D                     2LT
MERTZIG,   Thomas F                 SFC
NEWMAN,  Paul S                              SGT
POWERS,  Gary                            unknown
RAINFORD,  Richard G              PFC
RAY,  James E                             CPT
RODRIQUES,  Eugene R              SGT
SAUNDERS,  Joseph G                SGT
SMITH,  Lee RK                            PFC
SWAN,  Morris R                       MSG
WARD,  Richard F                       SFC
WILLIFORD, Sherman E            PFC
YOST,  Charles E                        PFC
 

A handful of the above were recalled to their units for administrative and/or emergency reasons, and hence did not qualify for the Military
Free Fall Badge.  Nevertheless, their selection for this project underscores their high qualifications as free fall parachutists.
Click one of the Tabs Below to Open a New Panel
More About Jump Masters

The Jump Master is the senior most-qualified jumper. The Jump Master is responsible for the parachutists while they conduct an Airborne exercise.  To insure the safety and successful completion of the operation, the Jump Master:

  • Performs a pre-jump inspection of the parachutists
  • Satisfies the load requirements/limitations of the aircraft
  • Insures the operation meets the take-off time
  • Issues any Jump Commands needed just prior to the jump
  • Issues the command "GO" when it is safe to exit the aircraft
  • Accounts for all personnel after the operation
  • Validates the Jump Logs and other documentation

"More Than Just a Pretty Face"

The competing and demonstration members of the STRAC Team and
the Sport Parachute Clubs were often very young servicemen. 
They were athletic, daring, charismatic and successful.

Since they were often in the public eye, in many ways they were the "face" of the US Army.
Their contributions, however, go far beyond performing well on the demonstration and competition fields. 

And while the parachutists deserve credit for their successes,
there are others who deserve recognition as well:
the pilots and other air personnel;
the ground crews;
the commanders who supported this innovative idea;
the servicemen who pulled extra duty to cover for the absence of Team members;
the families who endured while their loved ones were so often away from home;
the private citizens who gave of their resources to these visiting servicemen;
and undoubtedly more.

There was much "more than just a pretty face" that made the Army sport parachuting program a success.

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