Union Station’s many volunteers look quiet, maybe quaint, even eccentric at times, but they’re amazing people when you scratch the surface.
For example, consider Terry Curtis, who sits at our lobby information desk several days a week. He’s a smiling, happy guy who makes jewelry out of sea shells and squashed pennies from the penny pinch machines sitting across from his desk. He always wears several necklaces made out of shells and pennies.
His volunteer vest is very crowded with pins, toy badges and the like. Like I said: eccentric. (For the record, my vest has a bunch of pins too.)
I don’t pay them a lot of mind, but one day, up on the top left corner of the vest I spied a pair of simple wings with a tiny image of a parachute between them. Having hung out with a lot of veterans, I know what those were: Paratrooper wings.
“Are those real?” I asked, and Terry said yes, they certainly were.
This immediately put this genial and eccentric old guy behind the desk into a whole new light. After all, it takes a lot of guts to jump out of an airplane, and the military doesn’t let just anyone do it either. Paratroopers are a cut above your basic grunt and have a reputation for being tough, no-nonsense guys.
Turns out Terry was a member of the storied 82nd Airborne Division, serving in German and other places in the late 50s. That means he missed Vietnam, but did his share of jumping out of airplanes on training and deployment jumps.
What’s that like? “The first time scared me to death,” he said, and that was with his chute hooked to the plane so it would open automatically. Yes, there was a guy standing there to push him out if he froze up at the plane’s door.
Terry said the trickiest part was landing. The chutes they used then were those big round things, and if you didn’t land right and immediately collapse the chute by pulling it to the ground you could end up being dragged along the ground.
Terry said he could remember one time when he and a lot of others were lined up to jump and the sergeant came along, inspecting them. The sergeant went up to one guy, inspected his harness and suddenly punched the soldier in the chest.
At which point the guys entire harness fell to the ground, chute and all.
“The guy went white,” Terry said, because there had obviously been something wrong with the way his harness was rigged. If he’d jumped that way, he’d have fallen right out of his chute.
Terry said he got so comfortable with jumping that, on one jump, he even took a camera along and took a few snaps, during the jump, and he pulled a printout of
them and showed them to me.
Amazing stuff. When you get so comfortable with jumping out of an airplane that you can stop to take snapshots, it means you are probably able to handle just about anything else life throws at you. Which is why Terry is such a smiling, easy-going guy today.
Drop by and say hi. And note the wings: they are real.