Airborne Veterans Relive Past Adventures on Jump Tours
BANGKOK, Thailand (AP) _ When 65-year-old Donald Strobaugh visits Burma next week, he’ll be taking a parachute. He takes one wherever he travels.
Strobaugh, a retired U.S. Air Force colonel, is a veteran parachutist and an enthusiastic participant in a narrow niche of the travel trade: jump tours.
Strobaugh and a score of other jump enthusiasts _ mostly Americans, ranging in age from 31 to 73 _ are scheduled to earn their jump wings at the Burmese Army jump school outside Rangoon on Tuesday. Most are veterans of their own countries’ airborne services.
Also known as Myanmar, Burma is a country under military rule which has been widely condemned for human rights violations.
But to these paratroopers, fraternity comes before politics. To hear them tell it, the world’s airborne veterans are a veritable family of man.
``See this dog tag,″ says H.W.C. Furman, a 73-year-old retired army colonel from Camden, S.C. ``It’s got a place for `Religion.′ Mine says `Airborne.‴
Airborne vets hold no grudges. They’ve jumped alongside Russians, East Germans, even Libyans.
``If more countries could act with the sort of friendship we see with these paratroopers, we wouldn’t have the trouble in the world that we have today,″ says Strobaugh.
Strobaugh, who lives in Mesa, Ariz., has 3,287 jumps in his logbook. Since his first jump in 1955, he’s never used the square chute favored by sports jumpers, preferring instead to wrestle with less-maneuverable military models.
``And he looks like a damned old nerd, doesn’t he?,″ joshes Furman, pausing between the swapping of war stories.
Like other regulars on the jump tour circuit, Strobaugh collects jump wings _ 6,200 of them so far. He is planning to donate his collection from 141 countries to the Smithsonian Museum in Washington, D.C.
For John Welter of Shreveport, La., the Burma trip will mark his first jump in 39 years. Welter, 61, was with the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division when he last jumped, into the tundra of Greenland.
The trips attract accountants, lawyers, doctors and others, said tour organizer Frank Osanka.
Osanka’s Friendship Airborne Tours, based in Racine, Wisc., also has organized jump tours to China, Thailand and Cambodia. There are maybe half a dozen other tour operators offering trips to every continent.
Each of Osanka’s tour groups donates sports jumping equipment to the host organization, along with $1,000 to a local children’s charity.
Osanka says a lot of the people who sign on are seeking to recapture experiences.
``A lot of them just want to become young again and they actually become young, you can actually see the metamorphosis occurring,″ he said.
``Two months after a trip, I get calls,″ says Osanka. ``Doc, when are we going again?″