November 2, 1968, was a beautiful clear Saturday. I had just turned 19 and was a 145-pound freshman at the University of Houston when I went to the Galveston Skydivers in Dickinson, 30 miles away. That day I did about a two-hour ground school that primarily involved jumping off a 4-foot-high platform, crudely perfecting my parachute landing fall. I soon found myself in an old Cessna 195 climbing to 2,800 feet for my first jump, a static-line jump using a modified 30-foot round military parachute, commonly referred to as a “cheap-o.” I hit the ground fairly hard but did an OK PLF. It was so amazing!
In the next few weeks, I finished the required five static-line jumps followed by one jump-and-pull and two five-second delays. I was able to buy and begin packing my own cheap-o rig ($35) after my third jump. I was beginning to feel like a real skydiver.
It was around this time that I met Deborah, a beautiful girl from a small town in Tennessee. She was visiting her relatives in Houston. I invited her to the drop zone for our first date. When we got there, it was too windy to jump, so we continued on from Dickinson to Galveston, where we took a romantic ride across the bay on the Bolivar Ferry.
Deborah returned home to Tennessee, and I finished the semester and prepared for two years of active duty in the Navy Reserve. I continued jumping, even though the weather seldom cooperated. Everyone at the drop zone was great, always giving tips and looking out for my safety. Deborah returned to Houston in the spring, and in early April she finally got to see me jump. I was working on 20-second freefalls, so I told her to lie on the ground and count. I was the third person to leave the plane at 5,500 feet. I didn’t have an altimeter, so I counted. Deborah spotted me leaving the plane, counted to 18, and I pulled. I told her, “You count faster when you’re falling at 120 miles per hour.”
I was lucky that day and made a second jump. This time, they let me progress to a 30-second freefall from 7,200 feet. Again, I was the third person out of the plane. Unfortunately, I forgot to tell Deborah that this jump was 30 seconds. She counted to 19 ... 20 ... 21 ... 22 and started to panic. I finally pulled, but you can bet I got a lecture on the importance of communication.
I ended up with 17 jumps before leaving for the Navy. Deborah and my relationship grew, and we were married later that year while I was stateside. When I returned from a tour in the Philippines and Vietnam, Deborah and I restarted our married life together. After college and a few years fighting the Houston traffic, we moved to Chattanooga, Tennessee, where we raised a family and eventually retired.
I often dreamed of skydiving again, but I didn’t pursue it due to other priorities. Then Deborah passed away unexpectedly in 2020 after 50 years of marriage. She was buried in her hometown of Jasper, Tennessee. One day after visiting her grave, I stopped by the Marion County Airport, the drop zone for the Chattanooga Skydiving Company. I soon signed up for their AFF package, which consisted of ground school, two tandem jumps and seven AFF jumps. Everyone there was fantastic, especially the couple who did my training. Darcy was my tandem instructor, as well as the second AFF instructor on my first few AFF jumps. Michelle was my ground-school instructor and my AFF instructor on single-instructor AFF jumps.
I now have a new A license, A-97544. Reconnecting with skydiving has challenged me to be a stronger person and has given a new purpose to life. I am fortunate to have good health, because I have so much more to learn. I look forward to improving my skydiving skills and meeting new friends.
Jack Flack | A-97544