Reflection from Paul Jernigan

Reflection from Paul Jernigan

The following is a story by Paul "Jerk" Jernigan about his time in CPS with Frank Derry:


Frank Derry with his colorful language and lifestyle was an easy man to remember. Former stunt man and one of the nine original smoke jumpers, he had made great improvement in parachute design and helped develop a safer jump suit. As an instructor in smoke jumping he was meticulous and watched us trainees like a mother hen, and sometimes could be about as fractious.

We Smokejumpers were trained to check our static line when we hooked it up to be certain that it is above our left arm and shoulder or we could risk a broken shoulder when the line became taut as we jumped from the plane.

On a training jump in 1943 from the Trimotor with all its noise, fumes and prop wash, I had stood up, snapped on the static line and looked to see that it was over my left shoulder. When it was my turn to go out the door I put my right foot on the door step, doubled my body over and was pulling myself through the small doorway when, suddenly, I was jerked back into the plane, someone holding me by the collar of my jump suit. Above the roar of the motor I heard some choice Frank Derry words, then felt a kick on my backside which got me out the door. Although completely confused, I made a good landing near the target by the dirt airstrip. While unattaching and rolling up my chute, a fellow jumper who had followed me and landed nearby told me what happened.

The static line of my chute had unfolded from the back pack, fallen loose, and the blast from the propellers had looped it around my neck.

That evening Frank Derry called an emergency safety meeting. He talked long and loud about the necessary attention and care due static lines if we wanted to survive as Smokejumpers. All sixty of us knew why the meeting was held.

In his 1992 book, Young Men and Fire, Norman MacLean states on page 217, "The Mann Gulch Fire is the lone tragedy on the fire line. Two jumpers have since died while jumping, caught and hanged in the coils of their own ropes."

If not for the ever alert Frank Derry, there might have been three fatalities, me being the first.


--Taken from Static Lines and Canopies: Stories from the Smoke Jumpers of 1943-1945 Civilian Service Camp 103, Missoula, Montana. Ed. Asa Mundell. Beaverton: 1993. Print.