Vets observe 70 years of history

By ADRIENNE ANDERSONOctober 19, 2012

(Photo Credit: U.S. Army) VIEW ORIGINAL

FORT BENNING, Ga. (Oct. 17, 2012) -- Veterans, part of the 317th Troop Carrier Group, came out to Fort Benning Friday to commemorate the 70th Anniversary of the unit, which started in 1942, during World War II.

More than 100 veterans and their spouses attended the Heritage Flight and Troop Drop event, where they watched the World War II Airborne Demonstration Team drop from a World War II C-47 Transport Aircraft used by the 317th. The demonstration team wore vintage paratrooper uniforms.

Twelve of the veterans who were part of the 317th were known as the Jungle Skippers, and their history was intertwined with Fort Benning.

"They actually trained here at Lawson Airfield in October of 1942," said Phil Brinson, author of Among heroes: Tales of the jungle skippers. "The group was formed in early 1942 right after the war began."

Brinson said many of the veterans wanted to come to Fort Benning to "trace back some of their roots."

The Jungle skippers were responsible for five paratroop jumps in the southwest pacific, Brinson said.

"My father was a pilot in one of the squadrons, but to be here with these men after my father passed about three years ago -- I thought it was a good time to start reconnecting with some of the men he served," he said.

Dan Cutting, a recruiter for the World War II Airborne Demonstration Team headquartered in Frederick, Okla, said he joined the jump team because of its mission.

"This is why we're together as a group -- to remember, honor and serve these brave veterans." Cutting said.

Cutting said it was a thrill to perform for the veterans and their Families.

"It's kind of embarrassing almost because you walk up and they make such a fuss over you -- (but) we're here to make a fuss over them and it really hammers in why we exist -- again to remember, honor and serve those brave Soldiers" he said. "And it's a great feeling for us, but it's a tremendous sense of humility that we can be in honor of these brave guys."

Retired Maj. Robert Cook, a 91-year-old World War II veteran was one of the oldest veterans to attend the event. He said he was amazed at the similarities and differences between today's paratroopers and those of the past.

"They are better equipped … they are well trained and they probably have real pilots flying instead of characters like me," he said.

Cook described his time in the military working in the 41st Troop Carrier Squadron where he was assigned to let the jumpmaster know they were over their jump target by pressing a button and one time faced 100 inches of rain in one month while in the Philippines traveling from New Guinea. He also served as a co-pilot and pilot in the unit, but never jumped.

"I'm still not ready to be a paratrooper," he joked.

Related Links: Veterans

Fort Benning photos

317th Troop Carrier Group reunion photos