Every year for the last 10, Howard Jones has indulged in a tandem skydive in celebration of his birthday. This year is expected to be no different despite the fact that the 93-year-old is in hospice after being diagnosed with congestive heart failure. As his birthday jump typically kicks off in June, coordinators with PruittHealth Hospice in Beaufort gifted Mr. Jones with an opportunity to take part in a special jump prior to his birthday in honor of “a life well lived”.
According to hospice volunteers, Mr. Jones’ wish is to partake in one last jump. As to why he is so fond of skydiving, Howard’s reply is a simple “I like it!” He goes on further to reiterate his passion for the sport by saying that skydiving is, “kind of indescribable. The first minute is a free fall, running 120 miles per hour, and then you pull the chute and float all the way down.”
Jone’s narrative as to why he likes skydiving so much is apropos of a man who insists that as long as he draws breath he will dive head first into life.
His life as a young man is indicative of his enduring will to live life to the fullest regardless of how long one’s years extend.
Seemingly, Mr. Jones has always possessed somewhat of an independent spirit with regard to doing things his own way. At the age of 16, he left the home of the grandparents who raised him to strike out on his own. He found work on farms until, after being moved by the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, he enlisted in the Army. Howard ultimately joined up with the Air Corps and became a tail-gunner flying in a B-24 Liberator. According to Jones, he was told the life expectancy of the average Air Corp troop was roughly 13 weeks. However, as a member of the 93rd Bomb Group of the Mighty Eighth Air Force, Howard survived to successfully complete 28 combat missions over Europe. Of the experience, he said, “I wanted to fly.”
Mr. Jones has said the job of a tail-gunner was a harried yet integral existence. He said despite the fact that tail-gunners had little room for maneuvering, could barely reach their guns and were expected to fly in a fetal position in below freezing temps, the discomfort was a small price to pay for watching out for the 10 man crew he was responsible for keeping from being blown away.
Howard has experienced more than his fair share of adrenaline packed do-or-die experiences throughout World War II. Now, while fully immersed in his golden years, it seems he’s keeping pace with his former self by engaging in tandem skydiving so as to experience the thrill of flying again and again.
It would seem that Mr. Jones, as well as the sport of skydiving, which only became readily available for recreational pursuit following World War II, both made an impact on future generations with their endeavors. His in securing that the liberties enjoyed by Americans didn’t fall to a tyrannous dictator and the sport of skydiving in pushing adventure sports to a whole new level and inspiring innovations in skydive safety and the activity as a whole.
The skydive arranged by the hospice facility is an ode to Howard and his wealth of life experiences, hopefully, despite his deteriorating health, we will see him leaping in celebration of another birthday this June as well.
Photo Credit: TNS / Courtesy Pruitt Health Hospice