Veterans reminisce with paratroopers grounded by high winds

January 08, 2000|By Lisa Respers | Lisa Respers,SUN STAFF

In the end, the memories proved stronger than the wind.

Though a planned jump by the 1st Battalion of the 509th Infantry airborne unit was canceled at Aberdeen Proving Ground yesterday because of high winds, that didn't stop three former paratroopers from greeting the would-be jumpers after the plane landed.

Nick Degaeta, 80, of Staten Island, N.Y., Leo Inglesby, 81, of Silver Spring, Md., and Marty Galuskin, 77, of New York, N.Y., had traveled to Phillips Army Airfield for what was supposed to have been a training jump by the approximately 50 current members of the airborne unit.

The planned jump was part of a two-day event that is to culminate with today's laying of a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery by the three veterans and current members of the 509th.

Although everyone was disappointed about the aborted jump, there were plenty of handshakes and warm words as the veterans met the new squad.

"It's sentimental," Inglesby said. "Really sentimental."

Degaeta, Inglesby and Galuskin were members of the original 509th Infantry, which served as the first combat paratrooper unit during World War II. The unit served in several countries, including Italy, France and Belgium, and received multiple commendations and citations.

The unit is based at Fort Polk, La.; yesterday's jump was to have been part of a training exercise. While the three veterans waited for the U.S. Air Force Hercules carrying the paratroopers to land, Galuskin reminisced about his time in the service.

"It wasn't even this windy when we jumped in Italy," he said.

As the soldiers filed out of the plane, Degaeta, Inglesby and Galuskin snapped photos before they were engulfed by a group of young men eager to meet them.

"This is my brother, sir," said Sgt. Jonathan Emery, 22, from Washington, as he introduced Michael Emery, 24, to Degaeta. "He's a soldier also, sir."

Stephen Creason, 21, from Denton, said he and his fellow soldiers were eager to meet the men who years earlier had jumped in combat. "I was really happy," Creason said. "They gave so much a while back, and they are the ones who really paved the way for us to be here."

Lt. Col. Jeffrey Jarkowsky, commander of the unit, grabbed Galuskin's hand in a firm shake as the plane's engines roared in the background.

"Sorry we weren't able to jump, sir," Jarkowsky said. "We kept looking for that window of opportunity, but it just wasn't there."

"It would have been a nice historical moment to have been able to jump and then go lay the wreath," Jarkowsky said later. "It also would have been a good training event because it would have meant jumping in an unfamiliar airfield."

Inglesby said it was nice for the past to meet the present, and to be reminded of what it was like to have been a 24-year-old corporal jumping behind enemy lines. "It was thrilling, and we were a cut above the average soldier," Inglesby said, smiling. "We were always better looking."

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