When 11 paratroopers dressed in vintage World War II uniforms jumped from a low-flying C-47 aircraft Friday, the scene brought back memories for former pilot Ted Machen, a member of the 317th Troop Carrier Group.
"It reminded me of old times," Machen said.
Machen and 11 other members of the group called Jungle Skippers joined more than 130 family members, friends and supporters to celebrate the group's 70th anniversary at Fort Benning's Fryar Drop Zone.
After the group was activated in Texas in 1942, Fort Benning's Lawson Army Airfield was a training site for operations of the 5th Air Force. Pilots were later sent to the South Pacific where they transported paratroopers and supplies to New Guinea, Corregidor, Luzon, Leyte in Philippines and Guadalcanal in the Solomons.
Machen of Greenville, S.C., said he was a 21-year-old first lieutenant when he was dropping paratroopers into combat. "I often wondered what the paratroopers thought of me," he said.
He recalled five drops in New Guinea and soldiers at times were facing the Japanese just 200 yards away after hitting the ground. "This is what I'm talking about, 200 yards off the strip," Machen said.
On one close call, Machen said an armed enemy fighter plane flew right in front of his plane but didn't fire on it.
"He went by me and threw his hand up," Machen said. "He could have shot me down."
After landing on Fryar Field, members of the World War II Airborne Demonstration Team of Frederick, Okla., gave members of the 317th Troop Carrier Group scarves cut from a World War II parachute.
Former Staff Sgt. Don Lowe of Marysville, Ohio, was left speechless after he was handed a parachute scarf. Lowe, 87, joined the Jungle Skippers in New Guinea in 1944 and was part of the operations group dropping paratroopers into Corregidor.
Dan Cutting, one of the re-enactors from Detroit, said he has always been interested in World War II. The 57-year-old said he made his 43rd jump Friday.
"I remember World War II paratroopers as something I wanted to get involved with," he said.
Phil Brinson, a historian for the group whose late father Buck Brinson was a pilot, said some pilots who went to Australia ended up in combat within five days of arriving there in 1943.
Brinson said 317th Jungle Skippers were responsible for participating in paratrooper drops in the South Pacific. His father served from 1943-1945.
In conversations with some of the 150 surviving members of the group, Brinson said many had touching stories.
"One of my favorite is a man was given a dog by his girlfriend," he said. "He took the dog overseas and in the airplane."
The dog went on every drop mission. When the man's tour was up in Okinawa in 1945, he dropped the dog in a bag and brought it back home.
"The dog had two years of service overseas also," he said.