By: Pat Austin
SHREVEPORT – Here’s a “feel good” story for you today.
Meet Ray Urban. Ray is a WWII vet who turned 95 on September 4 and he is as full of spunk and vigor as any 25-year old. He has a fondness for skydiving, having trained for the paratroopers during the war until a kidney stone sidelined his dreams.
Ray served as an aircraft mechanic during the war and was stationed in some pretty hostile stations, particularly in the Pacific theatre – places like Espiritu Santo and Bougainville. He survived bombings by the Japanese by digging down in foxholes covered with coconut logs.
When Ray came home after the war, he married, had children, and earned a degree in accounting. He worked as a bookkeeper and as a deputy sheriff.
But Ray never lost his love for jumping out of airplanes; on his 78th birthday he took a jump with Skydive Louisiana. He took another jump at 80, at 85, 90, and on Saturday he jumped again for 95.
Skydive Louisiana is located in Gillam, Louisiana at a tiny “airport” in the middle of a cotton field. A blacktop road turns off a two-lane highway and dead ends alongside a cotton patch where the skydiving operation is run out of a small shed. There are several small, personal aircraft parked in the field and a gliding club (where for a small fee they will take you up in a glider for a very cool ride).
Saturday afternoon, Ray Urban invited a hundred or so family and friends to come out and watch his jump. Ray is a longtime member of the American Legion and the 40 & 8; he has a lot of friends. He bought a case of hot dogs and the family brought a huge cake. The local media turned out in force too, because this jump would make Ray the oldest person in the state of Louisiana to skydive. The national record is 101 years old, a record Ray intends to beat.
As time came for his jump, Ray was as excited and unflappable as he could be. He suited up and marched with confidence to the tiny plane where he would tandem jump with a member of Skydive La. A third jumper went along to record the whole thing from the air.
The little plane took off, leaving family and friends staring skyward for about twenty minutes while the plane gained proper altitude. Soon we saw one chute open – the recorder. Shortly after, a bright red (Ray was a Marine) chute opened and Ray Urban slowly drifted over the cotton fields with a view of the Red River and drifted back to earth. The crowd cheered and cell phone cameras all pointed skyward.
Ray and his jump partner landed right on target to a chorus of cheers and high-fives. At least four media cameras swarmed him and a number of personal photographers, too. The landing looked a little rough as the two tumbled end over end before coming to a stop. By the time the crowd was upon him, Ray Urban sat up with a huge grin on his face. Unscathed and ready to go again, he said, “Y’all come on back in five years for the next one,” and laughed his belly-shaking laugh. “Let’s go get some cake!” he said.
The media wanted their interviews and Ray was happy to accommodate, but then he was ready to get back to the little hangar where he could have a hotdog and a piece of birthday cake with his friends and family.
Ray’s t-shirt that he wore boasted that he was a member of “the greatest generation” and the cap on his head declared his WWII Marine vet status, but the twinkle in his eye and the ear to ear grin, the warm hugs for everyone, and his quick wit and jokes identified him better as a man without peer. He’s got more spunk and energy that five men half his age and I certainly hope I am there for his next jump in five years.
Semper fi, Ray!
Pat Austin blogs at And So it Goes in Shreveport.