Airborne! Soldiers, Veterans, and civilians jump together to honor and preserve the past

By Leslie HerlickOctober 11, 2023

Liberty Jump Team and the crew from the Greatest Generation Aircraft C-47 Southern Cross pose after a successful week of jump school on September 30, 2023 in Corsicana, Texas.
1 / 5 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Liberty Jump Team and the crew from the Greatest Generation Aircraft C-47 Southern Cross pose after a successful week of jump school on September 30, 2023 in Corsicana, Texas. (Photo Credit: Liberty Jump Team) VIEW ORIGINAL
Liberty Jump Team Veterans’ Mission members escort World War II Veterans to Normandy in 2019. Back Row, L to R: Peter Plank, Linda Plank, WWII veteran George Merz, Dale Lindley, Wanda Stump, Butch Stump, Christel Ruts. Front row, L to R: WWII veterans Bob Noody, Dan McBride, Bill Van Osdol
2 / 5 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Liberty Jump Team Veterans’ Mission members escort World War II Veterans to Normandy in 2019. Back Row, L to R: Peter Plank, Linda Plank, WWII veteran George Merz, Dale Lindley, Wanda Stump, Butch Stump, Christel Ruts. Front row, L to R: WWII veterans Bob Noody, Dan McBride, Bill Van Osdol (Photo Credit: Contributed by Peter Plank) VIEW ORIGINAL
Liberty Jump Team members wait for take-off in the Greatest Generation Aircraft C-47 Southern Cross before jumping during the Corsicana Airshow on September 30, 2023 in Corsicana, Texas.
3 / 5 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Liberty Jump Team members wait for take-off in the Greatest Generation Aircraft C-47 Southern Cross before jumping during the Corsicana Airshow on September 30, 2023 in Corsicana, Texas. (Photo Credit: LTC (R) Dennis Harrison) VIEW ORIGINAL
Liberty Jump Team members using SET-10 parachutes drift through the sky during a parachute jump over Corsicana, Texas on September 29, 2023
4 / 5 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Liberty Jump Team members using SET-10 parachutes drift through the sky during a parachute jump over Corsicana, Texas on September 29, 2023 (Photo Credit: Richard Ulrich) VIEW ORIGINAL
Liberty Jump Team members make a parachute jump from Greatest Generation Aircraft’s C-47 Southern Cross on September 30, 2023 in Corsicana, Texas.
5 / 5 Show Caption + Hide Caption – Liberty Jump Team members make a parachute jump from Greatest Generation Aircraft’s C-47 Southern Cross on September 30, 2023 in Corsicana, Texas. (Photo Credit: Richard Ulrich) VIEW ORIGINAL

Corsicana, TX-

Six minutes!

Get ready!

Those familiar jump commands echoed from the Greatest Generation Aircraft C-47, Southern Cross, over the skies above Corsicana Municipal Airport in Corsicana, Texas during the hot and humid last week of September.

The Liberty Jump Team (LJT), a non-profit commemorative, static line parachute team, dedicated to perpetuating and preserving the memory of military Veterans and remembering those who never returned from battle, conducted a jump school to qualify 8 new jumpers and refresh 5 former military jumpers to perform military style parachute jumps from aircraft while in flight.

Liberty Jump Team was formed in 2006 by Dom and Jil Launay, Peter Plank, and Roger Wolf to honor paratroopers like Jil’s dad, Lt. Col. (Retired) Gordon K. Smith, who parachuted into Normandy with the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment on June 6, 1944.

According to Peter Plank, Director of Veterans Affairs, since the team was founded, the LJT Veterans' mission has escorted over 130 WWII veterans back to the battlefields they fought in and villages they liberated in France, Holland and Belgium.

Generous donations to LJT help these heroes to travel at no cost to them. Dedicated host families in Europe open up their hearts and their homes to each of them.

Plans are now in place to travel with the Greatest Generation Veterans to Belgium this December and to France for the 80th anniversary of the D-Day invasion.

The parachuting aspect of LJT allows current military members, Veterans, and civilians to connect with each other and the older generation of Veterans and keep the airborne legacy alive. The jumps in Europe and many of the jumps at airshows across the United States are done from vintage C-47/DC-3 airplanes that were used in the actual D-Day invasion or in support operations, bringing history alive for the jumpers and the spectators to see what it might’ve been like on that fateful night.

Another mission of the jump team is to support the members and their families. CW2 Kris Carroll, an active-duty Army Special Forces warrant officer and president of the Liberty Jump Team said, “Many of our members are the very people we support. It is about preserving history and having a place to call home, to reconnect and build camaraderie, to remind our old bones of our youth, to make our souls feel young and to be around those we trust. Jumping brings us together, its our church and sanctuary.”

LJT consists of about 145 active jumpers from all walks of life. There are active-duty Soldiers, retired Soldiers, Airmen, and Marines, Veterans from all branches, and civilians with no military connection that are committed to honoring military Veterans and helping to preserve their heritage. The team has jumpers from 11 different countries, to include France, Canada, the Netherlands, Great Britain, Greece, Belgium, Israel, New Zealand, Mexico, and Germany, and from all over the United States. The jumpers are also all volunteers, paying for all travel and jumping costs from their own pockets.

The jumpers in this class were also unique. There was a father who is an Air Force Veteran and his 22 year old son; two significant others of two current team members-both civilians; and a 72 year-old who hadn’t jumped in over 45 years.

Diana Breen, a Solutions Consultant for Adobe, did a short stint in ROTC at Drexel University, but never served in the military. Her motivations for joining the team and learning to jump were two-fold. She wanted to honor those Veterans that came before her and to prove to herself that she could really do it. Her significant other, Sean Lockhead, had joined the team and learned to jump earlier in the year.

“By becoming a member of the team, I also now understand this brotherhood/sisterhood that Sean and his new brothers spoke of. My eyes were also opened to the fact that while our WWII Paratroopers were the first, there have been many Veterans since them jumping into many dangerous, wartime locations so that they can continue to preserve our freedom,” Breen said.

The week-long jump school in Corsicana brought together a team of military trained jumpmasters, supplemented by current LJT jumpers to help teach new jumpers the fundamentals and techniques of round canopy, static line, military style parachuting. With a focus on safety, jumpers learned the basics of proper exit and body position, the rules of the air, and proper parachute landing falls. They also learned emergency procedures just in case something goes wrong.

“Serving as a Liberty Jump Team Instructor and Jumpmaster is one of the highlights of my year. Working with students who want to learn, while pairing with our world class cadre makes the week in Corsicana a truly rewarding experience,” declared Dennis Harrison, a retired Army Special Forces officer, LJT jumpmaster, and operations officer for LJT, and is one of the group’s mentors and most experienced members.

Harrison said, “Nothing beats the look on a new jumper's face when the door to the Cessna opens on their first training jump, and they are sitting in an open door just inches from the edge - Priceless!”

Different from military jumpers though, LJT jumpers must also learn how to pack and maintain their own parachute. This task is of vital importance and gives jumpers a heightened sense of confidence once they trust their equipment and their training. Jumpers are paired with more experienced jumpers who help them learn to pack their parachutes with precision and meticulousness. All of this is instructed and supervised by military trained and Federal Aviation Administration certified riggers.

LJT looks to support not only World War II Veterans, but Veterans from all eras, allowing them to participate in an adrenaline producing, adventurous activity that gives them the same kind of rush that they had while in the military or in combat, but in a safe and supportive environment. Along with the camaraderie of being with a group of Veterans with shared experiences, parachuting has shown to be very therapeutic for many of the members.

Karl Johnson, a retired Air Force Veteran and training officer for LJT said that he participates with the team because of “the recognition and interaction with the World War II Veterans we host at stateside and overseas events. A bonus is the military service camaraderie of team members that is not present in much of the civilian sector. Not to mention the fun of jumping from historic aircraft.”

The jump school culminated with the Corsicana Airshow hosted by the Coyote Squadron of the Commemorative Air Force, with jumpers performing 2 parachute drops. Over the course of the week, 184 parachute jumps were performed safely, and Liberty Jump Team wings were awarded to the newest members of the airborne community.