10/16/06 — Couple receive honorary baton

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Couple receive honorary baton

By Kenneth Fine
Published in News on October 16, 2006 1:45 PM

As two members of the U.S. Army "Golden Knights" Parachute Team approached terminal velocity, they made an exchange in mid-air.

The solid mahogany baton, and the men who had passed it during their free fall, were heading toward the ground at close to 120 mph. Once all the members of the Gold Team had landed safely on the flight line, they honored a tradition 40-plus years old -- passing the same baton to a distinguished member of the crowd.

4th Fighter Wing Commander Col. Steve Kwast selected a Goldsboro couple -- Jimmie and Donna Edmundson -- to receive the honor Sunday at the Wings Over Wayne Airshow.

It was a tough decision, he said, but the right one.

"There are so many people in the community who give so much, so it's always a tough choice," Kwast said. "But these people have made very significant personal sacrifices to give back to this base. So this is well-deserved."

The baton has traditionally been passed to a member, or members, of a base community, that make sacrifices for the U.S. military, team members said.

Edmundson served as the Wayne County Chamber of Commerce Military Affairs Committee Chairman from 1999 to 2006 and continues to serve at the state level on the North Carolina Governor's Advisory Commission. He also serves as one of the 4th Fighter Wings Honorary Commanders.

"It's a great honor," Edmundson said of receiving the baton. "It's something that I'll always cherish."

He and his wife have never supported the base for personal gain, he said.

"It's just a sense of patriotism," Edmundson said. "We're just trying to give back to those people who give so much to us -- the men and women who fight for our freedom."

Still, it was a pleasant surprise.

The Golden Knights trace their lineage back to 1959, when Fort Bragg, N.C. Gen. Joseph Stillwell formed the Strategic Army Corps Parachute Team to compete internationally, particularly head-to-head with the then-premiere teams from the Soviet bloc nations.

The team performed so well that Army adopted them as their official parachute demonstration team and changed the name to the United States Army Parachute Team.

Kwast said having the team's highest honor bestowed upon the Edmundsons was a perfect ending to a great performance.

"This couple was certainly the right choice," he said. "We're so happy for Jimmie and Donna."