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WWII paratrooper to hit the silk again

August 13, 2002|by STACEY DANZUSO

chambersburg@herald-mail.com

It's been 58 years since Williamsport resident Fred Wishard saw the ground rushing toward him after he jumped from an Army plane.

At age 77, Wishard plans to make one more jump.

He is to jump from a plane Thursday with veterans of the 506th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, as part of their reunion at the Chambersburg Skydiving Center.

Wishard, who served with the 194th Glider Infantry, 17th Airborne Division during World War II, said he couldn't pass up the opportunity.

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"I always thought about jumping again," he said. "The thing is, when that chute opens and comes out above you and you start floating, it's a good feeling."

At least 50 veterans of the 506th, or their family members, will make the jump Thursday afternoon. They'll leave the plane 12 at a time with the plane at an altitude of 3,500 to 5,000 feet, said Jim Nemeth, an event organizer.

The 506th Airborne Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division, also known as the Screaming Eagles, fought in Normandy and Vietnam and are currently deployed in Korea.

Thursday's jump is part of the Currahee Reunion in Baltimore this weekend that includes a trip to the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, said Nemeth, of Steamboat Springs, Colo.

Wishard said he signed up for the paratroopers and made his five qualifying jumps to get his wings in June 1944. Those jumps were the only ones he ever made.

After only a few months oversees, Wishard was hit in the left ankle with shrapnel on Jan. 7, 1945, while on the front lines during the Battle of the Bulge.

"I laid in the snow 24 hours bleeding. The cold weather kept me from bleeding to death," he said.

Wishard said he was picked up by the Germans and spent three months as a prisoner of war. He said he was shuttled around the countryside with their wounded, and was without medical care. He lost part of his left foot, including his toes, but was eventually freed by Allied troops.

He received his Purple Heart medal in a special ceremony two years ago. He blamed poor record-keeping for the delay in receiving the decoration.

Despite his age, Wishard said he plans to jump Thursday "come hell or high water."

"When you jump out you have to look up in the air. You can freeze pretty quick if you look down," said Wishard, who admitted he is somewhat afraid of heights.

Nemeth, 51, who served five months with the 506th in Vietnam in 1970 before he was wounded and discharged from the Army, said most of the jumpers will be Vietnam veterans.

"We have 50-plus jumpers who are in some way connected to the 506th," including sons, daughters and a group of World War II re-enactors who will jump in full gear, Nemeth said.

Nemeth said this is the biggest jump the association has put together so far. Thursday's events begin with training for those who plan to jump and include a memorial service and displays of weaponry and military vehicles.

He credits the legacy of the 506th for keeping the group close-knit.

"It has always drawn people who want to be on the frontier, the forefront of what the military is about," Nemeth said. "I can't really put a finger on it. There is a bond that comes out of tradition and under the circumstances of stress."

Thursday's event is open to the public. The skydiving center is at 3506 Airport Road.

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