Copyright©2021 Tony Kristol
I tried to impress upon all of you when you were teenagers that the “friends” you were all so faithful to, all so wrapped
up into, actually weren’t friends, they were just acquaintances. I also said that when you finally die if you can look back
and say I had one friend you are truly lucky. I don’t know how successful I was.
I had one such friend, Gerald L. Smith. This is the story of his worse day ever, as a jumper. I don’t think it was the worse
day in his life.
Smitty was not an avid or enthusiastic jumper. I think he started out as such, that’s why he volunteered for jump school,
but I think the actual experience of jumping changed his mind.
First of all Smitty was small. At the time of this event he weighed in the 130-140 lb range. Secondly, he had great difficulty
in steering his parachute. There were certain shroud lines on certain sides of the T-10 parachute that you can use to pull
down the skirt of the chute and change your direction. You can even speed up your rate of fall. It’s all different now, with
the advanced chute’s being used and perhaps, if they had been available back in the day, Smitty would have fared
Because he was so small we always put Smitty number one in the stick. He would exit the aircraft first and usually be the
last one to hit the ground. My problems were just the opposite. I was big, so big that in Okinawa, Jim Donaldson actually
took a harness apart and resewed it so I could stand up straight when wearing it, instead of going into my usual hunched
But, I digress. This event took place at Osan AB, in Korea. It was warm so it must have been Spring or early Summer.
Maybe May or June.
We had scheduled a day’s jumping, all 35 chutes, on a Saturday. We were using an Army U-6 or maybe it was designated
O-6, I’m not familiar with army nomenclature. In any event it was known as a “Beaver.” We had one of our FAC’s flying it
and we would be jumping sticks of four, which meant the pilot would have to land and take off again about 9 times
during the course of the day. We stripped the a/c taking out all the seats and removing the door, then we taped any
rough edges around the door. Everyone sat on the floor with their static lines snapped into an O-ring which was bolted
to the floor. The Jumpmaster sat by the door and in this case went out first instead of last and we scooted across the
floor one after another and followed him out of the a/c. (The a/c was too small to allow us to jump standing up.)
Smitty usually jumped once every three months, as required, for pay purposes. He hardly ever attended one of our jump
fest’s. He had screwed up however, and the 1st Sgt, a SMSgt who disliked, hated even, jumpers, had restricted him to the
base for the weekend but had not taken away his pass. I don’t know what the 1st Sgts problem was. He was a Korean war
veteran. I use to think that maybe he came back from the Korean war and found his wife had been knocked up by a
paratrooper in his absence and that was why he disliked us. :)
There were only 6 AF jumpers in all of Korea, excluding Pararescue. 3 were in the 2nd DASF and 3 were in the 4th DASF.
So, it was jump time, maybe the 3rd or 4th time around. We all went out the door and I steered my chute as close to the
recovery area as I could, unhooked my chute and started “figure 8’ ting” it so I could stuff it in the A-3 bag. As usual I was
the last guy out, first guy on the ground. I looked up to see how things were going and there was just one guy left up there.
It had to be Smitty and it was.
Our drop zone was a grassy area between the two active runways. There wasn’t much traffic there, just military a/c, no
civilians and the tower closed the runways when there were jumpers in the air.
Smitty had caught an updraft and instead of coming down he was actually going up! That could be controlled by using the
static lines but as I said, he wasn’t very good at that.
He went across the runway and over the apron where the cargo a/c were parked. From where I was standing it looked like
he was going to land right on top of a C-47. The crew chief of the C-47 had a broom and he was sweeping the apron
around his a/c, making sure there weren’t any foreign objects lying around that might damage his a/c when the engines
Smitty was shouting, “look out below, look out.” The crew chief heard the yelling, stopped, looked around, (he didn’t look
up, would you?) didn’t see anyone and went back to his sweeping. This happened a 2nd time when Smitty was about 25’
above the a/c. This time the light went on in the crew chiefs head and he looked up and saw Smitty. He lifted up his broom
and holding it over his head he ran around the a/c yelling “get away from my a/c, get away from my plane.” Somehow,
Smitty missed the a/c, crashed into the concrete apron but survived without any injuries. We all got a big laugh out of it
and figured it would be a long time before Smitty lived that one down. Little did we know what was yet to come.
On the very last jump of the day, Smitty again caught an updraft and was blown away from the DZ. This time he went over
and beyond the parking apron and the C-47’s and he headed for the Alert Pad. The Alert Pad is a very bad place to land in
a parachute. It is surrounded by barbed wire and guarded by K-9 teams. The a/c parked there on alert status are fully
armed and ready to go on a minutes notice. Some of them are armed with nuclear devices. A breach in the security of the
alert pad requires a “Broken Arrow” report to be sent to PACAF Hq’s at Hickham AFB in Hawaii. Smitty couldn’t prevent
disaster. I saw him trying to turn his chute away from the alert pad and I saw him trying to drop his altitude but he wasn’t
doing it right.
He landed smack dab in the middle of the alert pad, right between two F4 fighters. Alarms went off. Sirens were wailing.
Air Policeman with dogs were coming out of the woodwork. Guns were drawn, all of them pointing at Smitty who stood
there with his chute dragging the ground and his hands up in the air and a woebegone expression on his face.
The last we saw of Smitty he was in handcuffs and was being marched away. The DASF commander, a full Colonel had to
go and sign a release to get Smitty out of jail.
That night we went to town to celebrate. We had increased our personal jump totals by 8 jumps apiece, a few of us by 9
jumps. Jumping is a strenuous activity, believe it or not and we were all tired and didn’t plan on staying downtown long.
Another radio operator, a non-jumper, SSgt Armstrong came along with us. He was Smitty’s size. We went to one of the
clubs found a spot at the bar and ordered a round of beer and who walks in? Smitty. He figured the 1st Sgt never left the
base so he could break the restriction and never get caught.
After a while I left the bar and went into the bathroom to get rid of some of the beer I had drunk. When I came out a few
minutes later there was a fight going on! Bam, it happened just that fast. Armstrong is down on the floor and some guy is
bouncing Smitty around like a rubber ball. He knocks Smitty down, Smitty gets up. He knocks Smitty down, Smitty gets up.
I charged over there and pushed the guy away. I didn’t want to be there if the Air Police came because Smitty wasn’t
supposed to be downtown. I put Smitty under one arm and Armstrong under the other and headed for the bathroom.
I figured we could go out the back way. The back door was locked! I’m standing there trying to figure out what to do when
the bathroom door opens and there’s the Air Police. A guy we knew, named Bruno. He says, “I’m sorry guys, Smitty
started a fight and I have to arrest him.” I talked Bruno into letting me escort Smitty back to the base where we would
meet him at the Desk Sgt’s office, which was in a bldg. just beyond the main gate.
Armstrong takes off and I escort Smitty back to the base. I’m really pissed at him and I’m giving him hell all the way back.
He’s drunk so he doesn’t care. We get to the main gate and the AP on duty there starts giving Smitty a hard time. Because
of the fight Smitty’s uniform is messed up. His ribbons are hanging down on one side, his hat is missing. I’m trying to
explain to the Air Policeman that Smitty has already been arrested and I’m escorting him to the Desk Sgt when Smitty
pushes between us, takes off the ring on his right hand and gives it to me saying, “Hold this for me while I deck this guy.”
Whistles blow, Air Police come out of the guard shack and once again they march Smitty away, this time to the drunk tank.
The next day he received a two-week restriction to the base and they made sure they took his pass away too.
Smitty’s gone now. He died in 2005. Wherever you are Smitty, if you are: r.i.p.
Smitty’s bad day