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Service & Sacrifice: Original Golden Knight

The Army Golden Knights parachute unit started with skydivers who pushed altitude and free-fall limits in the late 1950s. Dick Fortenberry was an original member.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Daredevils. Pioneers. Adrenaline junkies. 

All are fitting descriptions of a group of elite soldiers who helped develop the Army Golden Knights parachute unit.

“You get out and get open and it’s the quietest thing you have ever heard in your life. You can hear people on the ground talking,” said Army Golden Knights veteran Dick Fortenberry.

He recalled what it's like to leap from an airplane and float down to earth with the help of gravity and a manmade break, known as a parachute.

“(I tell people) my first five jumps were nighttime, I had my eyes shut and you had to fight me to get me out of the aircraft,” said Fortenberry, laughing as he remembered what it was like to push the limits of high altitude jumps that took his team almost 30,000 feet up without oxygen before they bailed out.

Credit: John Becker
The book "No ETA" chronicles the life of parachute pioneer Dick Fortenberry

Dick Fortenberry was a founding member of the Army Golden Knights. His book "No ETA" (Estimated Time of Arrival) chronicles his life as a parachute pioneer. He explained in a 2012 interview that he wished the team had dropped the “en” and settled on “gold.”

But a man who made the cover of Sports Illustrated for his parachuting prowess was proud of the bar he set for future generations of soldiers who followed in his jump boots.

Fortenberry died in 2017. True to form, the trailblazer penned his own obituary, writing in part, “...finally died at age 79, but not before God gave me a wonderful and exciting life. I always said that if I had known I was going to live this long, I would have taken better care of myself, but there was a time I didn’t plan on living past 35 years old.”

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