Sunday, February 10, 2013

Becoming a Paratrooper ~ not an easy task

From my research on the 17th Airborne Division I learned that the 513th PRCT was born 26 December 1942 and the 517th PRCT was born 15 March 1943.  Men that signed up to try to become a paratrooper were sent first to Camp Toccoa, Georgia for screening, interviews and qualifying for infantry, artillery or engineers.  Once the men were assigned they were sent to Camp Mackall, North Carolina for jump training and more.  Once the unit was filled they were sent as a whole to Fort Benning, Georgia for parachute qualification and more training.

To become a paratrooper, you had to be in top physical condition, no broken bones, be an excellent marksman, and a weapons expert.  My Grandpa John S. Hopkins, according to his son, John L. Hopkins, John S. was a “catcher for the Atwater High School Baseball Team.  In fielding a low pitch, he broke the small finger on his right hand. It healed with a crook in it…he was selected as a member of the first true paratrooper unit. He had to hide the broken finger by keeping all his left hand fingers curled during the physicals.”

From an email from the great General Seitz, to John in 2007, “I have, after sixty odd years, and with over 800 men in…my battalion a faint picture of your fine father. I remember that I did interview your dad for admission to my 2nd battalion. I pause here to tell you I interviewed over three thousand potential men and selected only eight hundred. You[r] Dad was one of those eight hundred…one thing I can tell you is that you[r] Dad was a fine young man in tip top physical shape and good appear[ance] or he would not have been one of the 800 I selected.”

John S. also told John L. about some of his training, “his CO…used him as a company clerk since he could type.  This same CO would have my father take new recruits ‘to the dump’. Meaning a five mile run, just to see what they were made of.  One recruiter came back from the run totally undaunted. They went for a second, and a third time.  At his point, my father was a bit “run down”.  Seems the new recruit was a marathon runner!”

To achieve your jump wings means a lot. You have become an expert with your weapons and an expert marksman. You had to be in excellent physical condition. You had to be the toughest of the tough, if not you weren’t good enough.  They chose their men so carefully they had NO ONE wash out; setting a record that has stood to this day. These men were the best of the best, I am proud to be the Granddaughter of a Paratrooper of the 17th Airborne Division.


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