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2nd 508th Guy

At Green Ramp

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At Green Ramp



Typically captains didn’t attend the lieutenant’s briefing of their platoons for field problems, but the full battalion was going out, so all the Ts were being crossed. Our LT’s main points were, a jump on base, three nights out, and unsettled weather was moving in; freezing temperatures then rain possible.  The Op order over we were clearing out of the rec. room, “don’t forget to bring plenty of warm gear” the captain told us. Our last two jumps were day jumps, night jumps were the best though, they definitely moved the bar.

Belted ammo takes up space in rucksacks pretty fast, my ruck was full.  Picking it up and dropping it this thing is stuffed I told Bean the assistant gunner. Telling him I could get some more cold-weather clothing in my weapons container if he didn’t mind jumping both barrels, he said no problem.  Popping the barrel release on the gun I handed him the second barrel.  About 30 minutes later out in the hall we heard “Fall out for Green Ramp.”  There was just something about hearing that particular formation call.

The first time I met Bean we were in Top’s office, Top is the designation for the highest enlisted man in a unit. He informed Bean and I that we would be roommates; we guardedly eyed each other. Top also telling us he hated drugs, they “wouldn’t be tolerated,” in his barracks, he seemed pretty serious about it.  During my  time at the reception station I somehow managed to buy some weed, my hand on the bag in my front pocket trying to cover the small bulge while Top was telling us that; praying he wouldn’t tell us dump everything out boys.  That first night at the 508th two seventeen year olds, a white kid from Placerville, and a black kid from Norfolk, neither with high school diplomas, smoked a joint and went bowling, we became fast friends.

Much later I got caught with some weed in the barracks, then our second Top while I was there, acting indignant, only dumped half of it into a toilet, and covertly slipped the bag with the remainder of the weed into his pocket.  That’s one of those you pretend you didn’t notice.


Green Ramp is a staging area adjacent to the main airstrip on Pope Air Force Base, it’s where soldiers from Bragg are taken to board planes so they can jump. These forces include infantry, combat support, occasionally intelligence guys, and others.  Parachutes reserves rucksacks weapon containers gas masks web gear and for a few poor souls radios, it’s a lot of stuff to strap to a telephone booth, much less a human being. The rigging of all this gear to oneself was done there at Green Ramp, about 50 meters from the planes.


Tarmac lights casting shadows on three infantry companies and combat support, us all leaning against parachutes in columns that are called sticks.  We sat behind six C-130s turbo prop aircraft, there was around 350 of us out there. It’s almost worth enlisting to see something like that. The usual macho clowning around going on between friends and buddies waned once there at Green Ramp, and almost as if in church or something completely ceased after we were sat behind the planes. Our demeanor similar to that of swimmers stuck on the platforms awaiting the gun shot releasing them. Our wait longer, our release a green light.  Guys once behind the planes just seemed to get quiet.


Usually we only had to tolerate the planes exhaust for 15 or 20 minutes, but on that night it was much longer.  Three men one with a radio and one without a rucksack unexpectedly to everyone there approached the plane I sat behind, stopping in the middle of the two opposing sticks.  Over the noise of the engines the one without a rucksack said “I’m General Tackaberry and I would be looking for your captain.” My LT, Lieutenant Rawlinson jumped right in, he told the general our captain and the Jumpmasters were getting a weather update. “Well then lieutenant you’ll do just fine.

The General and Rawlinson moved to the back of the sticks to talk. I was near the back of our stick close enough to catch every third word or so.  Our plane was particular to the general, I couldn’t hear the reason why.  It may have been as simple as our plane was the first to take off, there weren’t any planes to the left of ours on the tarmac. Then again that may have meant our plane was the last to take off. Whatever the reason, he was getting on our plane.

The first time I met Lieutenant Rawlinson, we were in his office, it was also Bean’s and a guy named Parson first time meeting him also.  Looking at the lieutenant I couldn’t help but think of the figures from the Rock’em Sock’em Robots game I played as a kid. He was stocky and had a square face and jaw just like them.

Rawlinson didn’t tell the general the plane was full, to go fly a kite, like the Airlines do all the time. Instead not hesitating he made his way to the front of a stick of his guys walking back towards where Bean and I sat next to each other, every 10 or so men he pointed at one saying that man’s name.  There’s no way he’s going to point at him I thought, I was so wrong, the two of us  stared at each other.  “You three are jumping with Charlie company, I’ll square the manifest” the lieutenant said.

Bean and I had gotten away with it. We were stinking sitting behind the planes. Not believing what just fricking happened.

“Sir! you think that’s a good idea, splitting up the assistant gunner and the 60 this way?,” protesting I told my lieutenant.

“Austin shut the hell up you can meet up at the assembly area,” he told me.

That conversation over, turning around doing the gear waddle on his way to a different plane.

“Make sure we find each other before we get off the DZ!,” I told my buddy as he and the other two guys waddled trailing Rawlinson. Bean turned giving me the no kidding look.

On the flight I sat in the same stick a few men from the general, I had personally never saw a rank higher than captain jump before then. I wondered if generals jumped on D-Day.  I also wondered if the barrels would be in front or behind me on the DZ. Turns out I wasn’t even close.  The drop zones on Bragg are mostly sand, and there’s a lot of it there, they had to of imported it. But sand isn’t what awaited us; hail did.

One night a few years later while driving into Sacramento the fog got so thick, while creeping on the freeway, to avoid hitting something, I had to open my door cheating to the left looking down for the center line, driving that way until I cleared that thick patch. The drop zone that night was worse, we didn’t have a line.  This was well before GPS and guys having the ability to communicate one with another like they do today.


Battalion jumps would’ve used Normandy or Sicily, there the two biggest. The hail storm that night had to be something.  It covered the entire drop zone in inches of hail. But unlike the hail I saw while living in the mid west, that hail froze.  Hail fog is an unusual type of fog that forms shortly after a heavy hailstorm.  Think of an undulating ice skating rink under dense fog, that’s what we smacked into that night.

One guy became two or maybe more as we wandered through the fog walking on the hail finding each other. The first guy I came across was Parson, I had sat next to him on the bus leaving boot camp, and talking we learned we both had signed up for the same thing. That meant he and I went through the same training at the same places but never ran into each other, and we happened to end up at the same unit on the same day. We recognized each other in Rawlinson’s office. Parson’s and I started butting heads soon after that. He thought being from ‘The City’ made him cool, I disagreed, a lot.  If I was being truthful, I probably wouldn’t of butted heads with him if he was from Cool, Texas.

I was surprised at the few numbers of guys we were finding, and no Bean and no barrels. My group of three came upon the LT’s radio man, he asked if we’d seen Rawlinson, me with half a machine gun, that was the last person in the world I wanted to see.  He told us he gleaned from the radio our’s was the only plane that jumped, the other planes couldn’t find the drop zone returning to Green Ramp.  Imagine that, the pathfinders can’t make sense in this crap either, he joked. Also telling us there was some chatter one of the planes may have crashed taking off.  “They might be calling this whole thing off,” that’s what he told us.

Talking with the radio guy had changed things for me, the night turned gloomy. I thought this must be what war is like, things are going wrong everywhere, and now a plane crashed.  There was a 1 in 5 chance Bean and the barrels could be on that plane, and I had a bad feeling about it.  The radio guy said he needed to go find Rawlinson, “we’ll find as many others as we can and then come find you guys, the other guy there, not Parson told him to tell the lieutenant. There was no avoiding it, Rawlinson would learn I jacked with the barrels.

Our group grew by three or four when through the fog we heard the LT‘s voice.  Making our way over to it, he was animated and talking louder than usual on the radio. After finishing over there he made his way over to us and immediately noticed my gun didn’t have a barrel.  “Where the hells your barrel at?” he demanded not in any mood.  Thinking clearly was out the window by then, I had jinxed a friend by sticking him with both barrels, and the cosmos was going to teach me a lesson for dumping on a friend. That’s where my head was at. I didn’t say this earlier, but when I heard plane crash, as If I were Bean, in my head I saw fire through a plane’s window.

A slow monotone voice came out of me answering him,  “Sir both barrels are in the spare barrel bag.”  Rawlinson so astonished at what he just heard almost to himself repeated what I had just told him.  “Both barrels are in the spare barrel bag.” But it came out of him a lot different than it had me. Then pausing dropping his head slightly for a moment contemplating.

Head back up not addressing me separately anymore but us as a group.  “Twenty meters behind the radio make a perimeter,” and with that he turned walking back to the radio.   I thought as we walked away to find a good spot,  It was almost like one of his two machine guns with no barrels wasn’t a big deal, but I knew it was.  Rawlinson told his radio man “this night just keeps getting worse, get me someone who can confirm what happened to that plane.”

We didn’t know a field problem could die, but if one could, this is probably what it felt like.  All of us there laying on ponchos had that same feeling, so it wasn’t long before any pretenses of a perimeter evaporated.  In situations like these your mind wanders, and mine wandered to the lieutenant’s reaction to the barrels, I should have a big hole in me somewhere, but I didn’t.  Then I realized, if the three men and the barrels were accounted for Rawlinson would’ve ripped into me back there.  The plane Bean was on was the one that had crashed, I was convinced of it.  Sometimes dread comes on in seconds, sometimes it takes a little while.

The lieutenant came calling for us about an hour or so later, all of us freezing from laying prone that long on what was essentially ice; he found us all on a poncho or two spooning it with each other.  That had to be a site, but to us he never said a word about it.

“The guys from the other planes will be transported out here in a few hours.” And contrary to his hard ass persona he told us, “until then smoke them if you got them.

“What, a plane didn’t crash” I said, that popped me right up.

“Everything went to shit tonight, that fog of war thing, a pilot busted a plane aborting the takeoff, a few got hurt that’s all,” he said sounding relieved.  “Austin, you be your ass in my office before I get in there when we get back, and don’t make me come looking for you” He said walking away disappearing in the fog.

“Sucks to be Elmer Fudd,” Parson, the guy I was just spooning it with standing up lighting a cigarette told me.




A couple hours earlier inside the C-130 we were being bounced around more than usual. “YOU WILL COME OUT OF THE CLOUDS AT 300 FEET,” a Jumpmaster being jostled more than us kept yelling as he moved up and down between the sticks.

The blast leaving the door was cold.  Looking up at my chute I couldn’t see it to tell if it was fully open, but had to trust it was.  Pulling the release on the rucksack it dropped down on its strap with a tug.  I recall having no reference to know I was falling, hearing but not seeing any planes or chutes. Other than it being impossible not to be going down, I would not have known it. That thing about all the colors making dark, that’s all bullshit, jumping out of planes into clouds at night with no moon, that’s where dark comes from.

Looking down to see when I would clear the clouds still thinking I had hundreds of feet before hitting. All of a sudden just below me I passed over the voice of someone crying out “Medic!.”  I knew I was in trouble then.  Thinking oh crap frantically reaching up for the risers but before I could pull them, thud, the rucksack hit, I would be next.  I hit hard, feet to face, the reserve chute crumpled my diaphragm. Incapacitated and stunned from the jolt of the impact, laying face down and unable to breathe my own body weight and the weight of my gear pushing down against my chest assisting the suffocation, but I couldn’t turn over.

In jump school we learned guys were found dead from reserves crushing diaphragms, I thought if I can’t get out of this I hope it wasn’t a buddy that found me. When it gets to that point you find strength.  Still stunned and entangled in gear I forced myself up using my palms and knees as best I could falling to the side without the weapons container letting the weight of my gear roll me over. I don’t think I had another shot at it.

On my back desperately trying to pull in any air now I know what the trout I catch feel like. Soon I started getting my hearing back. Medic! Medic! it was coming from different directions, other guys were in trouble too.  Lying there listening to those calls for help I finally pulled in a breath. I laid there for an uncertain amount of time reviving, those two calls for medics ceasing. Standing up eventually, assembly area my ass, I couldn’t see three meters, I wondered how in the world I was going to find Bean with the barrels.

Later a buddy remembering back said “it was like hitting concrete.”  Sometimes the fewest words say it best.


The next afternoon the guys left out there who had made the jump, there was probably less than 50 of us, were assembled near an area that mortars landed. We sat on rocks helmets and downed trees smoking cigarettes, none of us really sure why we were there, but soon a Jeep pulled up.  Fresh cast on one of his legs the general that jumped with us limped from the Jeep, using cane only making his way over to us. Him about half way the lieutenant from 3rd stood attempting to bring everyone to attention, the general told him to sit his ass down. Making his way over to the group standing in front and above us, he introduced himself, then started telling us about the night before.

At some point during the general speaking, I thought this was awfully close to something I’d seen before. The opening scene from the movie Patton. Honestly, and probably because I was there for only about six months, and not 18 yet, I thought whoever turn the green light on owed us an apology.

Although this was a planned all weather jump, (you jump no matter what the weather is) the conditions on the drop zone surprised everyone. As the eagle flies, 10 miles away at Green Ramp there wasn’t a peep of precipitation or fog.  So Mother Nature that night just threw us a curve. From the blast to hitting none of us saw anything.

Asking questions and answering them the general seemed concerned with the amount of injuries. Turned out we had made the non combat jump with the most of them, fractures being prominent, and all this from a single C-130. That’s what the general told us in early 1977.  Due to the second fracture on the same leg, Top, that first Top, the sincere one, was forced out of the unit. The guys in our unit, the ones in both arm and leg casts had drawings or short messages commemorating that night scrolled on their casts, some with the word “Medic” emphasized on them.

Bean told me their plane slammed back down right after taking off, busting the seats scattering them all around in the plane. I never told him about the fire thing.

Rawlinson told me if I ever messed with one of his machine guns again, he would personally shoot me himself.  Ending it there he told me to get the hell out of his office.  He let me off the hook completely, I didn’t see that coming. Only leaving me to surmise, he ultimately thought the assistant gunner and the gun on two different planes wasn’t the best call. He never spoke with Bean about it, or mentioned it again to me, it went away almost like it never happened.


Over Pope Air Force Base in March of 1994 an F-16 and a C-130 collided, under them at Green Ramp were close to 500 paratroopers, some already aboard a C-141, but most waiting to board other aircraft.  The F-16 on fire slammed into the boarded plane and the soldiers nearby, killing 24 and severely burning over a hundred others, some of these men were from the 504th, a battalion that neighbored the 508th then, as it did when we were there also. The tragedy is known as The Disaster at Green Ramp.

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