With a nip of fall in the air, we took the top off the Jeep and made the 25 mile trek from Shreveport to Gillam to the tiny airport in the middle of a cotton patch next to the Red River. Ray Urban just turned 95 years old and to celebrate, he decided to invite the friends and family, cook a few hot dogs, have some cake, and jump out of an airplane, a feat which would make him the oldest person in Louisiana to parachute from a plane.
By the time we arrived around noon, the cars were lined up along the blacktop road next to the cotton fields and the hangar was filled with family and friends camped out in chairs or perched on whatever tractor, trailer, or crate was handy.
There was a long table set up where you could eat as many hot dogs as you could stand, courtesy of Ray.
And there was a dog, of course. I never got the dog's name but he was a friendly old dog and was very interested in the hot dogs! John Powell, Chef de Gare of the local 40 & 8 Voiture 137, served the dog a couple of cut up hot dogs, earning him some applause from the group.
Ray went off to suit up and get ready for his jump.
Ray Urban was born in 1920 in Bogalusa, Louisiana; when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor he was attending Louisiana Tech; he enlisted in the Marines a month later. He was working on parachute training when kidney stones quashed that and Ray then became an aviation mechanic:
In June of 1943 he went overseas to Midway as part of a squadron, VMF212. "We didn't' see any action. You stay there three months, you watch the gooney birds and after that they watched you," he quips. He was sent on to Espiritu Santos, where he lived in a Dallas hut, so named for the housing's construction in Dallas. He was stationed in the Russell Island, then landed on Bougainville on D+10 November 1944, ten days after the invasion of that island. Ray was often bombed by Japanese, and crouched in foxholes topped with coconut logs and sand bags. Ray returned to Hawaii from Green Island in December of 1945Ray never lost his love for parachuting, however, and his jump today makes him the oldest person in the state of Louisiana to jump out of an airplane.
As Ray made his way to the plane today he was swamped with hugs, high-fives, and plenty of good wishes. He was as excited as a kid at Christmas.
He was surrounded by media, microphones, video cameras, and cell phone cameras all wanting to record the historic moment.
He was finally able to break away and made his way to the plane.
There was never a single moment of hesitation or second thought.
Once Ray reached the plane there was another pause for pictures and interviews before he climbed in.
As the plane roared to life and began to roll down the runway everyone cheered and waved.
And he was off!
We were told it would take about twenty minutes or so for the plane to gain proper altitude, so many of us just stood on the blacktop and watched the ascent. We'd lose sight of them and then someone would spot them...
The cameraman was looking, too.
The day could not have been more beautiful.
There were people of all ages there today, from the very young to the very mature. The fella that lives next to the Veterans Memorial Park in Belcher was there and passed out lovely photos of the park. He stood by to watch the jump.
And then we saw one chute open in the clear blue sky, then another.
Down, down he came.
Slowly drifting down, enjoying the ride.
And the landing!
(Sorry for the end of that -- forgot to turn off the video before I moved my camera!)
Family and friends (and media) ran up to be sure all was okay; it looked like a hard landing...
...and Ray sat right up with a big grin on his face.
He said he'd see us same time, same place, in five more years.
And then more interviews...
And a wonderful family photo:
Before we could have cake!
After Ray's jump, Steve went for a glider ride and spent about 45 minutes drifting over the cotton fields, catching one air pocket after another. He declared it to be a fabulous experience!
After his ride we returned to the hangar to say goodbye to Ray before heading out.
All in all, it was a great day. Perfect weather, great company, and a brave, inspirational man who is good as gold all the way through. It doesn't get any better than that.
I hope I make it to Ray's next jump in five years!