1959: Origins of the Golden Knights Chapter 1-3

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This history was compiled, edited and/or written by Regina A Hudson

From the Golden Knights Alumni Assn web site: http://www.goldenknightsaa.com/history/chapter1-3.asp

European countries, particularly communist countries, dominated the sport internationally. With its parachute clubs and increased support, the US Army had been working to create a group of parachutists to represent the US at home and abroad. In 1959, those efforts began to pay off. The 13 members of the all-Army US national team earned 4th place out of the 14 nations competing at the 2nd Adriatic Cup in Tivat, Yugoslavia, the highest placement ever earned by a US Team.

XVIII Airborne 101st Airborne 82nd Airborne 77th Special Forces
Current Insignias of the Airborne groups that were tapped for the inaugural members
of the Army's newly-formed free fall parachuting demonstration/competition team.

When the sport attracted the attention of Brigadier General Joe Stilwell, the concept of the STRAC (Strategic Army Corps) Sport Parachuting Team emerged.   In an era of political and social tension between democratic and communist countries,BG Stilwell wanted to form a single team of the best jumpers from all the parachute clubs to represent the US in competitions.  As noted by Roy D Martin, first Executive Officer of the USAPT, “During the Cold War, everything hinged on beating the Russians. The reason the STRAC parachute team was so important, was they were the team competing against the Russians. That grew a tremendous amount of support for the team.” [Reference 4]

In the short term, BG Stilwell wanted to fill the slots in the 1960 US Team with exceptional military  jumpers.  The US Team was comprised of qualifying civilian or military personnel and represented the US in competitions. Longer range, BG Stilwell wanted to help recruit paratroopers for the Airborne services and investigate the military applications of free fall parachuting.

For their team, Gen Stilwell and parachuting's other big command supporter, Colonel Bill, recruited the best jumpers from the three clubs at Ft. Bragg, NC: the XVIII Airborne Corps, the 82nd Airborne Division and the 77th Special Forces Group, as well as the best from Fort Campbell, KY's 101st Airborne Division. Fort Campbell's Airborne free-fallers were also committed to and working toward the creation of a free fall Army parachute team. [See Supplemental Information in Section 4 for more information about Ft Campbell's contributions.]  BG Stilwell supplied the STRAC team with aircraft, and throughout 1959 and early 1960, they practiced exhaustively, performed demonstrations and competed in regional events.

During the National Parachuting Championships in April of 1960,
the STRAC team did win all of the slots for the US Team. In the national competition:

  • Loy Brydon took First Place
  • Harry Arter took Second
  • Henry "Jim" Arender placed Third
  • Richard "Dick" Fortenberry took Fourth
  • Danny Byard placed Fifth, and
  • Jim Pearson took Sixth place
1960 - Jumping into
Normandy DZ, Ft Bragg NC

In August of 1960, the STRAC Team competed in their first international competition, the 5th World Championships in Sofia, Bulgaria.  The STRAC team, representing the United States and the Parachute Club of America, placed Fourth overall.

However, they also returned from Bulgaria with their first individual Gold medal, earned by Jim Arender in the Style Competition. Dick Fortenberry earned Second place in the overall competition when he scored the first-ever dead center accuracy jump made in a world competition.