OKEECHOBEE — Born and raised in Dalton, Ga., Veteran Jim Pippin had never really been much farther than 50 miles from home before going into the service. When he was 18 years old, he saw a recruiter who talked to him about joining the military. Prior to that, he wasn’t sure what he wanted to do, but that recruiter told him all about the special forces and becoming airborne, he said, and by the time that conversation was over, he knew what he wanted to do. He got a couple of buddies together, and they all decided to join together, but, “of course, I was the only one who passed the entrance exam,” he laughed, “and I ended up going by myself.”
Before joining the service, he had never ridden in a bus or flown on a plane. They sent him to Fort Jackson, S.C. for basic training, and after basic and infantry training, he was sent to Fort Benning , Ga. for jump school. He said he actually jumped from a plane eight-to-10 times before he experienced his first landing in an airplane. He absolutely loved it, he said. After he became Airborne qualified, he was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division at Fort Bragg, N.C.
In all, he had 150-to-200 jumps from a plane, he said, but a lot of those jumps were not required. He volunteered for extra jumps because he loved it. He said you are always scared when you jump, but you never show it. “As a matter of fact,” he said, “you can’t wait to get out that door. Usually somebody would get sick, and if one person got sick in a plane, everybody gets sick. So all you want to do is get the heck out of there. But you do get the butterflies. Once you go out that door, and that chute pops open. Wow! There’s nothing like it!” When you are airborne qualified, you only have to jump once a month to stay qualified, and they gave you a big $55 a month to do it! You can volunteer for extra jumps and training, and he did all that because he wanted to be a jump master. He wanted to be the one standing up there telling them to stand in the door. He was hurt several times during jumps but never seriously, he said. You just get up and do it again. In an airborne outfit, you can quit any time you want to and go to a regular infantry unit. It’s your choice, but you can only quit on the ground. You can’t quit on the plane. “You are going out that door,” he said. “They will help you out that door.”
He even did a lot of jumps with a heavy equipment bag filled with machine guns and ammo. It weighed 300-400 pounds. You don’t actually jump, he said. Four people carry you to the door and throw you out. When he thinks back about it now, he wonders if he would do that now, and the answer is a resounding NO! On those jumps, you had to make sure you didn’t land on top of the bag or you could break an arm or a leg. It was a challenge, he said, but he always did enjoy a challenge. Everyone always told him he was out of his mind, but he liked doing it. He had some malfunctions, but he always had a reserve chute, and it brought him down. He landed in trees, barns, went through roofs, but he always made it down.
There are two different types of jumps, he explained. During training exercises, you are usually jumping from about 2,000 to 3,000 feet average, but in combat, you wouldn’t come out of a plane that high, because you would just be a dangling target up there. A combat jump would be from about 500 feet. As soon as your shoot opens, you are about to hit the ground. Mr. Pippin never had to jump in a combat jump.
His first tour was in the Dominican Republic, during their civil conflict. They were involved in street-to-street fighting that required clearing buildings of rebel troops which were trying to take over their government. During that tour, his ear was shot off by a sniper and repaired by a surgeon in a MASH unit. When he felt the bullet go by his face, he said he reached up and found half his ear dangling there so he grabbed it and put it in his pocket. Every time the doctor saw him, he would call him over to show everyone around what a great job he did sewing that ear back on. You can’t even tell from the front that anything ever happened. “He was proud of it!” said Mr. Pippin.
In September of 1966, he was finally able to begin Special Forces training which was his real goal from the beginning. Afterward, he received his secret military clearance and a specialization in weapons and demolition. His main job was to deactivate bombs and tripwires, things like that, but he worked with all sorts of explosives, he said. He carried most of the C-4 explosives, and someone else carried the blasting caps, so it wouldn’t accidentally go off. He really enjoyed all that then, but it’s another thing he can’t imagine doing now, he said.
He was assigned to an A team with D Company 6th Special Forces Group which was another goal. The A teams are elite, he said. Every one of those guys is a specialist in something. But when he was sent to Vietnam in 1968, a colonel walked up and told him he needed someone to run search and destroy missions. Everyone started saying, “Pippins, Pippins!” But he said, “No, no, I’m going to an A team.” The colonel looked at him and said, “Pippins, you’re going where I tell you to go.”
So, he was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division as squad leader to help run search and rescue missions along the Ho Chi Minh Trail and in the A Shau Valley area. He took shrapnel in the chest, just below his heart, and also in his ankle, but he considers himself fortunate to be alive. He said the shrapnel was not bad. They just plucked it out, and told him to get back out there, “but that’s what we wanted,” he said. “Everybody’s life depends on each other. If I ain’t hurt, just let me go.” During this tour, he reached the rank of Staff Sgt. E6.
During his ten years in the Army, he received the Senior Parachute Badge, became jump qualified, received the Vietnam Campaign Medal and Service Medal, earned the Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Army Commendation Medal, National Defense Medal, and the Good Conduct Medal. He was awarded the Combat Infantry Badge for both conflicts, a Purple Heart and two Bronze Stars. He said he values the awards he earned, but even more, he values the fact that he survived, and he gives the credit for that to God for watching over him and keeping him alive. Today, he is a 100% disabled veteran and a proud life member of the Vietnam Veterans of America Organization.