Up, up, up, and he's skydiving at age 71
By Jack Stephens
Published in News on July 6, 2006 1:47 PM
When Bobby Stone was medically deferred from jump school in the Army, he never lost the desire to parachute from an airplane.
More than 50 years after entering the Army, Stone has jumped four times in the last two years and plans to do it again July 22, two days after his 71st birthday. Then, he says he will make a jump every year thereafter at about the same time as long as he can. He says parachuting is like stepping off the front porch.
Stone has made the jumps from 14,000 feet, despite the advancing tremors from Parkinson's disease. He does not parachute alone. He is tethered to an instructor from Carolina Sky Sports in Louisburg.
"I enjoy it as much as anything I've done in my life," he said from the living room of his home on Coburn Drive.
Stone has the blessings of his family, except from his wife, Christine, who, he said, "was not pleased at all." But he noted that former President George H.W. Bush jumped at age 75 and again at 80 and another man jumped on his 91st birthday.
Stone, who retired as an Army major in 1975, started a business as a landscape contractor. He retired from that in 2001 when Parkinson's set in. With time on his hands, he made his first jump in December 2004.
"I came back and did not say a word until Christmas Eve," he said. "I put a compact disc in the player and showed it to my wife, our sons and daughters and their children. I told them that if they could not find a chair to sit on the floor. There was nothing but silence. There I was in the plane, and my granddaughter asked, 'Is that you, Pop?'"
Stone admitted that it was, as the video showed him walking to the door and jumping.
"Atta boy, Pop. That's great, Pop," they said to him.
"I found out that it was a rather unique position to be in," he said.
As Stone was driving to Louisburg for his first jump, he said he thought that he "would be a bundle of nerves. But I was just as calm as I could be. I was so at ease. I got on the plane, and nothing changed. It was like stepping off the front porch."
The key, he said, "was to keep your eye on the horizon as you stand at the door. I have no fear of jumping, because I had been on a helicopter so many times in Vietnam."
Stone enlisted in 1952 in the Army and served in the Korean War. Then more than eight years later, he completed officers' candidate school and was commissioned as a second lieutenant. He entered jump school in 1963 at Fort Benning, Ga., but suffered a slight concussion when he struck a tower and was deferred for six months. He never got the opportunity to return, because six months later, he was a company commander at Fort Carson, Colo., and was reassigned to Vietnam to fight the Viet Cong.
As a battalion operations and intelligence officer, he earned a Purple Heart on Dec. 24, 1969, when he was wounded in a battle in a rubber plantation.
While flying in Vietnam, Stone sat at the door of the helicopter, looking out and seeing the troops roll out and jump.
"I never had the opportunity to go back to jump school because of assignments and injuries," Stone said. After retiring from service, he said, the idea of parachuting never left, but he never thought much about it until 2004 when the desire came back.
On the fateful day, Stone drove to Louisburg, talked to the staff and arranged to return the next weekend.
"I jumped and didn't tell my family or anyone," except a brother-in-law who jumped with him, Stone said.
The jumpers do not undergo any physical training or take any tests, but they are told of the potential hazards and the good features. They must sign a waiver. The first jump costs $185 but could cost $250 if the parachutist wants photos and a video. The flights take place every 90 minutes on Saturdays and Sundays.
After leaving the plane, the novice jumper and the instructor "free-fall" for about a minute, descending at 121 feet per second. When the parachute opens, it takes another two to three minutes for them to land in the target, a circle, 50 feet in diameter. Stone said he had landed in the circle three times and just outside of it by a few feet on the other jump.
Stone has talked a Goldsboro woman and her son into jumping with him in July, but another woman backed out at her family's request.
Stone gave this bit of advice: "If you enjoy doing something, go ahead and do it and let the chips fall where they may."
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