Carl & Walt: The Beginning of a Friendship
My friends call me Charlie Brown. When I got out of the army in January 1956, I had started hanging around the Flint Airport. I was a fan of the comic strip Peanuts, which featured the character Charlie Brown; I read it every morning before heading out to the airport. When I’d run into one of the guys there, I’d ask “Hey, did you see that Charlie Brown today?” Shortly after, the guys would see me coming and say “Hey Charlie Brown, kicked any footballs today?” and we’d all laugh. The name stuck. I’m certain many of those guys never learned my real name.
In the spring of 1957, I met Art Lussier, and we began rebuilding an old airplane together. She looked rough (there were holes in both wings), but we saw only possibility. As we lifted off, I wondered if wood rot would cause a wing to shear off. When I looked down at the crowd through a hole in the floor near my feet, I knew it would be okay. I circled the airport brought her in for a perfect landing.
In May of that year, Lussier told me about a barber named Walt from Royal Oak, Michigan who was looking for a group to parachute with. Like us, Walt had been a paratrooper. And like us, he was looking for thrills and danger in civilian life. We picked him up in Detroit and drove to the H.W. Browne Municipal Airport in Saginaw and began what would be a regular informal parachuting show every Sunday. Walt was as reckless as the rest of us. Once, after making a jump and breaking his arm in five places, he insisted that he make one more jump before we took him to the hospital. Another time, he jumped and broke his leg so badly, his friends could see bone sticking out. His friends wanted to make one more jump before driving him to the hospital again. Walt insisted that he make one more jump as well. His friends had to pile him into the airplane. When he jumped he favored his good leg, and of course broke that one upon landing.
So if you’re wondering what kind of person could survive the jump that D.B. Cooper made that infamous night, in the middle of cloud cover and in frigid temperatures, my response would easily be: Walt!