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A group of hopeful wounded warriors heads to a plane at Skydive Suffolk Saturday afternoon during the Jumping for a Purpose. They returned in the plane, however, after a brief separation in the clouds closed back up and prevented skydiving activity.
A group of hopeful wounded warriors heads to a plane at Skydive Suffolk Saturday afternoon during the Jumping for a Purpose. They returned in the plane, however, after a brief separation in the clouds closed back up and prevented skydiving activity.

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Planes grounded, but spirits soar

Published 8:25pm Saturday, May 18, 2013

Rain, thunder and complete cloud cover couldn’t dampen the spirits of dozens of wounded warriors and hundreds of visitors at the third annual Jumping for a Purpose at the Skydive Suffolk Spring Boogie on Saturday.

After one plane full of wounded warriors skydived in the morning, the foul weather moved in and shut down jumping for the day. Federal regulations prohibit skydiving with a certain percentage of cloud cover, and the sky was almost completely covered most of the afternoon. The clouds separated slightly around 1:30 p.m. and allowed a plane full of hopeful jumpers to get in the air, but they returned still in the plane.

“We would rather them go home disappointed and mad than hurt,” said Elisa Kirby, manifest and office manager at Skydive Suffolk, which has its drop zone at the Suffolk Executive Airport.

Chris Young, a skydiving instructor at Skydive Suffolk, helps Diane Atkins suit up for her skydive. Atkins' late husband was a Navy pilot who was killed in a plane crash about 20 years ago.
Chris Young, a skydiving instructor at Skydive Suffolk, helps Diane Atkins suit up for her skydive. Atkins’ late husband was a Navy pilot who was killed in a plane crash about 20 years ago.

But even though few of the wounded warriors got to jump, nobody was mad during the upbeat event. About 50 wounded warriors and spouses of fallen troops were on site to jump, and hundreds more came out to support them.

“It’s been a great time,” said U.S. Marine Corps Staff Sgt. Isaac Zahn, who lost one of his legs on Christmas Day 2006, during his third deployment to Iraq. He had hoped to skydive along with his wife.

“There’s a lot of good people and a lot of good friends,” Zahn said. He got to jump at last year’s event.

Jumping for a Purpose benefits Wounded Wear, which provides clothing modifications for veterans with amputations and other life-altering injuries. It is also put on by Troopswap and Troop ID.

“We’re really excited to be doing this for the third year,” said Matt Thompson of Troop ID. “We love doing this in Suffolk because of the support we get from the city and the community. It’s something we’re going to continue to do here.”

Jeremiah Harrold was among the lucky few who got to jump on Saturday morning. He was injured May 23, 2009, in Bakwa, Afghanistan, when a rocket struck the abandoned mud hut that was serving as an outlook post where he was stationed. The rocket hit him in the right leg, breaking it in three places. Later, when surgeons went in to clear out scar tissue, they cut a nerve, leaving him in a wheelchair.

“I loved it,” he said of the skydive. “I’m definitely going to come back.”

Bobby Thrailkill lost both legs and his right pinky finger in Afghanistan in 2010. It would have been his first skydive on Saturday.

“This is definitely something I want to do,” he said.

Those who were not able to skydive Saturday were offered the chance to reschedule their jumps, and many accepted. The party continued in the Skydive Suffolk hangar even after skydiving was called off.

The Elks Lodge No. 685 and Suffolk Ruritan Club provided food for the small army of attendees.

“We feel very fortunate to be able to come out and help them because of what they’ve done for us,” said Jimmy Franks, who is a member of both organizations.

Many people attended just to meet those who have given so much for America.

“I never realized how much people give of their lives,” said 12-year-old Daniel Gonzales, a member of Boy Scout Troop 408 in Virginia Beach. “It makes you appreciate the freedoms we take for granted.”

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