Jumping Jehosaphats

by Richard Dieterle

While we were waiting around to be airlifted somewhere, one of the guys who had been around awhile and was considered "short," told me that he had a good way to get out of the field. All you have to do, he assured me, is land with the soles of your feet turned inward. He then demonstrated what he meant by twisting his feet so that the soles of his boots faced each other. It was no great wonder why he had not done this aforetime. Every time he resolved to do it — forgive the play on words — he had gotten "cold feet." Finally, our choppers arrived, a flight of Hueys taking us out to God-knows-where. We could count on a long hump after being dropped off, so it was not as some idiots in other divisions thought, that we just flew out some place and then dug in. We did as much walking as anyone, only we did it beginning in the middle of nowhere and finished in some other nowhere 15 klts down the way. This was quite a physical grind. You had to be "worth your salt" as the Romans used to say. In fact that is what a solidus was, a "salter." They wore armour, and we carried ammo, but we both sweated so much that if you didn't have enough salt it could cost you. It made you think, "Maybe I should jump out of the chopper with my feet turned in."

John Charles Pape
1968

We boarded the Hueys with me in the center, and the tall guy with unhappy feet by one of the exits. I couldn't wait to see if he would bust his ankles to hell and receive the coveted Early Retirement as recompense. The major problem is that most landings were complete touchdowns, and all you had to do was slide out of the ship and drop about 6 inches to the ground. You would be hard pressed to explain to the appropriate authorities afterwards how a 6 inch drop broke both your ankles. So the right time was on the relatively rare occasion when the choppers could not land, and you had to jump some distance to the ground. Sometimes this distance was formidable, and made worse by the fact that the choppers were often moving while the men were jumping off. If you were the last guy off, the huey might well have gained yet more altitude, giving you good grounds for cold feet. By now we could see our landing zone approaching. It was the side of a mountain that had a kind of saddle to it. It soon became apparent that the choppers were not going to land. They pulled up and stopped mid-air, and with great speed everyone scrambled for the exits, leaping out the door. I got up and decided to jump from the left side. I started to move forwards, when all of a sudden I found myself paralyzed. As I tried to move, something jerked me back. I looked up and the chopper had a number of small silvery hooks extending down from the ceiling. I was carrying a LAW anti-tank rocked, and the strap on it had gotten hooked. The chopper was starting to pull away, and I felt downright panicky, not from the thought of the jump, but from the prospect that it might be too late to jump. Everyone would think that I had gotten "cold feet" and lost my nerve. So I ripped the LAW off, knocking my helmet to the floor. I scooped up my helmet in my free hand, and without thinking about it, ran right out the open door to whatever fate awaited me. The one thing that I had learned by now is summed up in a nice little aphorism that I liked to recite to myself: "Don't think about it, Do it!" So I did. I was probably 20 feet up, and I landed with quite a thud, and rolled over. Apart from a few bruises, I was alright. Lt. Pape approached me with a very unpleasant visage. I was on his "shit list" in any case, and now he was sure that he had me. "Did you hesitate, soldier?" "No sir! My LAW's strap got caught on some hook hanging from the ceiling and I was held up until I could free myself." "We'll just check that out," he replied, and called the departing choppers. "Do any of you have a LAW hanging from your ceiling?" One of them replied in the affirmative. My bacon was saved. Lt. Pape was practically lost for words, and reluctantly let the matter go.

I walked a few yards to join my gun, when I ran across the foot man. There he was, sitting on the ground. "Jesus," I said, "you didn't ..." "No. Hell, it was a sheer accident. I hit the slope of the hill sort of sideways and really twisted the hell out of my ankle." He had to be helped along until we could get to a place where a chopper could land and pick him up. I don't recall ever seeing him again after that, so he seemed to have gotten his wish after all, albeit by accident.