"The Pioneers"
of the USAPT

  • A
  • B
  • C-E
  • F-G
  • H-J
  • L
  • M-O
  • P-R
  • S
  • T-Z
  • Historical Perspective
Jim Arender ARENDER, Henry L         "Jim" Founding Member
First Round Pick
Harry Arter ARTER, Harry E Founding Member
First Round Pick
One of the STRAC Sport Parachute Teams
Click image to see an enlargement.
STRAC Sport Parachute Team

Click here to visit the Team Gallery and see more images from "The Early Years"
Jerry Bourquin BOURQUIN, Gerald F       "Jerry" Original USAPT
Ron Brown BROWN, George R       "Ron"  
Loy Brydon BRYDON, Loy B         "Top"
Founding Member
First Round Pick
Original USAPT
Danny Byard BYARD, Danny R Founding Member
First Round Pick
Original USAPT
Wil Charette CHARETTE, Wilfred JA    "Squeak"  "Wil" Original USAPT
  D is Vacant  
Bill Edge EDGE,  William E    "Bill" Original USAPT
Click image to see an enlargement.
STRAC Sport Parachute Team
Peter Feliciano FELICIANO, Peter  
Dick Fortenberry FORTENBERRY, Richard T       "Dick"

Founding Member
First Round Pick
Original USAPT


GARVEY, James E      

First Round Pick
Bill Grieves GRIEVES, William P      "COL Bill" Command Support
Click image to see an enlargement.
Jack Helms HELMS, Jack C First Round Pick
John Hollis HOLLIS, John     "Top" Founding Member
First Round Pick
Original USAPT
Kurt Hughes HUGHES, Curtis W      "Kurt"
First Round Pick
  I is Vacant  
Keith Jorgensen JORGENSEN, Keith C Original USAPT
Robert Lanier LANIER, Robert H        "Bob"

First Round Pick
Air Force

Bobby Letbetter LETBETTER, Robert M    "Bobby" Original USAPT
Harold Lewis LEWIS, Harold  R Original USAPT
Ray Love LOVE, Raymond  L       "Ray"    Founding Member
First Round Pick
Roy Martin MARTIN, Roy D Original USAPT
Coy McDonald McDONALD, Coy O Original USAPT
Bob McDonnell McDONNELL, Robert J    "Bob" Original USAPT
Vernon Morgan MORGAN,  Vernon   First Round Pick
Air Force
Joe Norman NORMAN, Joe A Original USAPT
  O is Vacant  
Ralph Palmer PALMER,  Ralph K Original USAPT
Jim Pearson PEARSON, James P     "Jim" Original USAPT
Jim Perry PERRY, James M     "Jim" Original USAPT
  Q is Vacant  
Doug Runnels RUNNELS, Douglas C      "Doug" Original USAPT
Public Affairs Officer
Merrill Shepard SHEPARD, Merrill L Founding Member
First Round Pick
John Sobczak SOBCZAK, John W  
Lee RK Smith SMITH, Lee RK    "Smitty" Original USAPT
Al Solis SOLIS, Alfonso M    "Al" Original USAPT
Joe Stilwell STILWELL,  Joseph W       "General Joe" Architect | Visionary | Brass
Bob Turner TURNER, Robert       "Bob"
Original USAPT
  U-Z are vacant  
The US Team in August 1960
Click image to see an enlargement.
STRAC Sport Parachute Team

Click here to visit the Team Gallery and see more images from "The Early Years"
Formation of the STRAC SPT
During the early part of the 20th century, European competitors, in particular the USSR, dominated the field of sport parachuting. In 1958, sport parachuting clubs were sanctioned  by the US Army, but were unfunded, had few resources and were loosely organized.  Military personnel competed in national/international events, but as civilians, and without official approval. In the Cold War era of the 1950's, the US Army had several motives to improve its sport parachuting program, first among them, to become the international leader in the sport. 
The growth of the military sport parachute clubs caught the attention of BG Joseph W Stilwell, Jr who quickly recognized that there was considerable talent in the military services. By the late 1950's he was determined to create an elite group of skydivers who could successfully compete nationally and internationally as representatives of the US Army. His ultimate goal was the formation of a permanent, separate unit of  these talented jumpers who would both be both competitors and performers.
To realize his goal, he started evaluating jumpers from the many airborne units of the military services.  His purpose was to identify exceptionally-talented jumpers who would be ready to compete internationally in a year or less. He needed to form a team of people with the requisite athletic, technical and/or administrative skills. A team that could operate with few resources, was innovative and driven to succeed.  Success was important on several levels. First, to establish US supremacy in the sport. But also to help recruiting efforts and to develop new tactical/strategic advantages for the US. And finally, to help Gen Stilwell realize his ultimate dream, the formation of a permanent US Army parachute team.
Gen Stilwell officially founded the STRAC Sport Parachute Team (SPT) in October 1959.  There were 7 founding members, but they were quickly joined by others, many of whom would become core members.  In fact, a week after the founding members were identified, six more would join them for their first official appearance as a Team [at the Western Sport Parachute Championships in San Diego, CA].
By the end of 1960, with the success of the STRAC SPT both nationally and internationally, the Army was willing to affix its name to the group, a significant development.  It was redesignated the "US Army" Sport Parachute Team (USA SPT).  By April 1961, jumpers were in Ft Bragg, NC vying for what they hoped would be a position on a permanent team.  That team was officially sanctioned in June 1961 as the US Army Parachute Team (USAPT).
To establish the genesis of the USAPT, the "Golden Knights", the pertinent dates for the operation of the STRAC SPT are October 1959 to June 1961. Gen Stilwell's observations of talented military skydivers both prior to and during that period fueled his interest and helped motivate his efforts toward establishing a permanent team for the US Army.
Pioneers Roster
The Pioneers Roster recognizes the contributions of the special individuals on the STRAC SPT toward the formation of the USAPT.  They were inventive, resilient, talented, hard-working, and dedicated. 

Many would go on to become members of the USAPT.  Some would pursue other military or civilian interests. All were assigned to the STRAC SPT for their unique talents and potential.  Some were more successful than others, but it can be argued that when exploring a new program, one learns as much from what fails or is challenging, as one does from what succeeds.  Therefore, one can say that the development of the USAPT benefited from both the successes and challenges encountered by the STRAC SPT, and by the contributions of all its participants. 

Selection Criteria

To merit inclusion on Pioneer Roster one must have documented/verified evidence of being assigned to the STRAC Sport Parachute Team | US Army Sport Parachute Team.

You can qualify for the list through one or more of the following:

1 - Documentation, written or photographic. 
Examples are copies of orders, official letters, news clippings, photos with the individual's uniform showing the Team patches, etc.  The written documentation must mention the "STRAC Sport Parachute Team" or "US Army Sport Parachute Team"

2 - Consensus
Consensus means that at least 3 certified STRAC/USA SPT members agree that the person did indeed participate on and/or contribute to the early team.

This period was a dynamic time. We believe qualifying as a Pioneer is a special honor that demands clear, fair and demanding criteria with which all must comply.  If your name was omitted, we welcome correcting the omission as soon as possible. If you believe you or someone else should appear on this list, please let us know, and include your documentation and/or people whom we should contact for consensus. 

Participating in Separate Duty (SD) for the purpose of evaluating one's parachuting skills does not constitute inclusion on the STRAC SPT.   Gen Stilwell was looking for candidates for the STRAC SPT, so a great many evaluations were occurring on military bases during the period 1958-1961.  While being evaluated does not automatically make one a member of the STRAC SPT, it is, nonetheless, an honor to have been selected for evaluation.

Contact Us
If you have information about any of the Pioneers, would like to recommend a candidate, have comments or questions, please contact us.  Click here to send a message to the Media Editor.
Supplemental Information

Founding Member - The Founding Members are so designated, because they appear on the earliest known records that identify the group as the STRAC Sport Parachute Team: Special Order 260, dated 10-08-59*.  These are the first individuals that Gen Stilwell hand picked for his team.  They would remain a part of the team until the formation of the USAPT.

*On Order 10-1215 MAJ Merrill Shepard's name is asterisked like all the other Founding members.

First Round Picks - The First Round Picks in a sport are typically the players that a coach perceives as the most talented and/or most likely to succeed.  Gen Stilwell's First Round Picks were selected within a week of the formation of the STRAC SPT, and were the first STRAC SPT to participate in a national event.  They appeared at the Western Sport Parachute Championships in San Diego, CA.  The names are documented on Order 10-1215, dated 10-14-1959.

Having been selected as a First Round Pick is particularly significant because Gen Stilwell had limited time to demonstrate the value of this experimental program.  Those selected had to be exceptional athletes, jumpers and soldiers.

Click the orders to see copies of the original documents.

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