Editor’s Note: The Parachute first appeared in Military Brats Online
In the early 1966s in Mannheim, Germany, there were no TV broadcasts and outdoor play was a primary activity, followed by indoor activities such as reading, building models, reading comics and books.
One day an orange and white parachute came into our family and
suddenly I had something that fueled the imagination and a lot of potential for “repurposing.”
Most Army families with kids has some “real” military equipment, typically helmet liners, panchos and pup tents that were found in every Military Brats’s personal footlocker, and occasionally some items would find their way into our possession.
When dad came back “from the field”, as it was called, he would often bring back something for us kids, usually some German candy, but sometimes other things.
Sometimes dad brought home standard issue black ball point pens with the “Property of US Government” stamped on them, sometimes it was Army green duct tape, C-Ration packets, a flashlight with a red filter for signaling to kids in the building across the street at night in morse code. And other times it was something really special or unusual.
On one return from field exercises, most likely from the Fulda Gap area of Germany, he unveiled an orange and white parachute.
There was some speculation between my brother and myself as to how Dad acquired the parachute. Was it from a Soviet soldier who was spying on the military exercises who had been captured? Did a fighter pilot have to make an emergency bail out? We never learned the true story about the parachute.
As the parachute continued to spill out the back pack it had been stuffed into, we were so much in awe and excited by the parachute that we didn’t really care how my dad came into possession of it.
All we cared about was that it was ours and it was huge!
We had seen paratroopers in the movies, but that was no comparison to seeing a parachute that seemed to be an endless stretch of nylon ropes and thin nylon fabric. Soon we were underneath it, entertaining ideas of converting it to a giant tent.
We learned a lot about how a parachute was made over the next few days. , for instance, that the nylon guide ropes that supported the person and leading up to the top of the parachute, had tiny strands of nylon string inside.
We also learned that a 24 inch length of nylon rope would yield a dozen or so strings, which were perfect for our miniature parachutes we were constructing.
My mother cut several squares of both orange and white, and I believe several round parachutes, which she stitched along the edges so they would hold up to the typical wear and tear a six and eight year old would typically inflict on a toy. We made small holes along the edge of the parachute then attached the strings through small holes.
We realized we had an endless supply of material parachute making—for launching toy soldiers out of windows and for endless hours of play on the playground behind the apartment building.
While most of the parachutes we made were small, my brother had the idea of creating a mega parachute and cut a square from the parachute that was approximately 3 feet by three feet. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a GI Joe and my sister would have told on us if we had borrowed one of here doll, so my brother rummaged around the kitchen “catch all” drawer and found the perfect weight for his parachute.
My mother had a pressure cooker, and it had small weight that went over the valve opening to regulate the temperature inside the pressure cooker. We called it the “jiggler” as it did just that as the contents of the pressure cooked and as steam escaped from the cooker.
The weight was perfect for the new parachute and in a couple of minutes it was fastened to the end of the parachute cords and we were outside in the playground area between the apartment buildings.
My brother launched the neatly folded parachute into the air, and it opened and slowly began descending, but it also started to drift away from us, and sailed over the fence and disappeared to our horror behind the neat rows of trucks and jeeps that was in the forbidden zone for us.
The forbidden zone
A row of concrete fence posts, with wire mesh and barbed wire along the top, defined the edge of the play area and posted signs and barbed wire across the top of the fence sent reinforced what we knew.
The area was forbidden for us to enter under any circumstances.
My brother decided to go under the fence where there was a small enough area to crawl under, in the hopes of retrieving the parachute weight and several of stood by in awe as he ran in the direction the parachute had floated. Seconds stretched to minutes and we were sure he had been caught by guards by now.
I was more frightened by not knowing what would happen by being caught by the guards. I knew that my dad’s punishment would mean at least 5 strikes with the belt, maybe even ten. We had lived through through these punishments before, but who knew what the Army did with kids that broke the rules?
The minutes ticked by slowly, and a small figure running across the way, made it back to the opening. “I couldn’t find it.” he said, and we spent the next few minutes asking about what he had seen on his incursion into the forbidden zone.
I was sworn to secrecy regarding the parachute incident, and my mother accepted the idea that the movers must have misplaced the weight. It seemed that every time we moved there was a mysterious missing box that you didn’t miss right away.
It would be years later when we finally told my mom about the fate of the pressure cooker weight and she laughed about the entire incident.
The parachute stock did make it from Germany to the U.S. a few years later, but after we lived in El Paso, Texas, our interest in parachutes waned and only a few yards of the nylon rope survived.