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U.S. Army Soldier & Biological Chemical Command
U.S. Army Soldier Systems Center-Natick
Public Affairs Office
Kansas Street
Natick, MA 01760-5012

Contact: Chief, Public Affairs Office
(508) 233-5340

Date: January 24, 2001
No: 01-07

Veteran recalls early parachutes

NATICK, Mass. -- "Once a paratrooper, always a paratrooper" seems to apply to Donald Wright. A Marlborough resident, Wright visited Natick's Parachute Prototype Branch Jan. 17 to fulfill a longstanding curiosity of the center for military airdrop.

"It's a dream to come out here," he said. "I've known for many years that this place existed."

He first jumped out of an airplane when he was 16 years old after joining the Army in 1948. The lessons remained with him when he made a commemorative jump in 1995.

"Jumping is like riding a bicycle. Once it's built into you, you have it all your life," Wright said. He recounted how he once accidentally fell from a ladder while cleaning leaves out of a gutter and went into a parachute fall.

Wright was airborne when jump school was in its early days. Parachute technology was primitive but effective. Soldiers felt extreme forces exiting the aircraft and hitting the ground at a rapid rate of descent. A reason for the initial shock was that the early T-5 parachute opened canopy first, unlike today's parachute that allows the cords to unravel to slow the acceleration.

"It was like a stick of dynamite," Wright said. By comparison, the tactical parachute he used for his latest jump "opens, flies and lands like cream cheese."

Far from being a thrill-seeker, Wright believes the parachute was just a way to get from one place to the next. Not a badge of courage, he volunteered to be a paratrooper after mistakenly believing that he wouldn't deploy anywhere. Instead, he ended up fighting in the Korea War as a radio operator.

"The Army taught me who I am. You have to believe in yourself totally and the people you jump with totally," he said.

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