Chapter 1 - Section 4

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"Under Bowling Alleys & Skating Rinks"
History of the Golden Knights - Chapter 1 / Section 4
  • Demonstrating Their Skills
  • Supplemental Information
  • About the Title

A statement made in the brochure, "A Quarter Century of Excellence" , published to celebrate the 25th anniversary of the Golden Knights, still holds true today.

" The present Team members owe a great deal of gratitude for the sacrifices of the original Team"

The US Army parachuting team was known as the STRAC Sport Parachute Team from Nov. 1959 to June 1961. Along with competing in national and international competitions, the STRAC Team was required to demonstrate their free fall skills to the public. Their first demonstration was held  November 1, 1959 to 20,000 observers in Danville, VA. They held 7 demonstrations during 1959. During 1960, their first full year of demonstrations, they performed 63 free fall shows across America, and in Canada and Brazil.

1959 STRAC Team
The STRAC Team - 1959

In preparation for a demonstration, an advance man was sent out to a proposed demonstration site. His job was to meet the organizers, find lodging for the team, find eating facilities, locate a drop zone, coordinate with the local law and the Federal Aviation Association, and last but not least, to find an aircraft from which to jump. Each team member took turns acting as the advance man.

The STRAC Team had no operating budget. They used what money and equipment they had to train and perform publicly. They had little or no supporting resources or personnel.  They purchased or made much of their own equipment with their own funds.   Since they also lacked a "temporary duty" allowance (except for a small rations allowance), they often relied on the kindness of civilians in the areas they visited, on a variety of sponsors or on their personal funds to absorb their food and lodging expenses.

MAJ Vernon Johnson's influence and contributions were vital to the development of the Team. MAJ Johnson was the officer in charge of supplying the jumpers for the STRAC SPT.  When BG Stilwell wanted a person for the Team, he relied on MAJ Johnson to make the arrangements.  It did not matter how essential the person was to their current unit.  If BG Stilwell wanted the person, no arguments were accepted. MAJ Johnson was the muscle behind the mind.


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Fort Campbell, KY - A Key Player in the Development of the USAPT

While Fort Bragg, NC may be the home of the Golden Knights, it must be remembered that STRAC was an organization that encompassed multiple services and locations.  When General Stilwell created the STRAC Sport Parachute Team, he drew upon the "best of the best" from many resources.

It is equally important to remember that there were multiple groups of STRAC jumpers.  At the time that BG Stilwell was evaluating jumpers for his pilot STRAC parachute team, Ft Campbell and the 101st Airborne were the center of STRAC operations.

The contributions of Fort Campbell's paratroopers and its Sport Parachuting Club(s) deserve to be recognized. They contributed skilled personnel and expertise, performed demonstrations throughout the US and participated in the all-important Field Training Exercises. 

Members of the Ft Campbell STRAC Parachute Team would also become original members of the USAPT.  Among them are Bobby Letbetter, Wil "Squeak" Charette and Coy McDonald who was recruited to the USAPT at the conclusion of the US Nationals at Ft Bragg in 1961.

Another original USAPT member, Bob McDonnell, was a civilian competing at the National Invitational that was held in 1958 at Fort Campbell where he caught the attention of BG Stilwell.  Stilwell recruited McDonnell into the Army. After completing Jump School at Ft Bragg, McDonnell was assigned to the STRAC SPT in 1960.


"Under Bowling Alleys and Skating Rinks"

Since, the team had few resources for lodging and other travel expenses, they often found
accommodations in private homes, and sometimes in even more creative places,
like under bowling alleys and roller skating rinks.

During those years, bowling alleys and roller rinks had rooms underneath them.
Can you imagine what it would be like to try to rest beneath a bowling alley or roller skating rink?
The managers of these businesses said not to worry though,
“You should be able to get plenty of sleep. We close at 11 PM.”

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