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Chad Hunter
Cherokee Phoenix

MUSKOGEE, Okla. – From 10,000 feet, 83-year-old Donald Kinzer dropped into the sky on July 15 to recapture his past as an Army paratrooper during the Vietnam War.

“My body don’t bend like it used to,” he joked after landing at the Muskogee-Davis Regional Airport south of the city. “But it was fun.”

Nearly 50 years had passed since Kinzer jumped last. A Cherokee Nation citizen, Kinzer, of Chelsea, Oklahoma, estimates he spent eight of his 22 years in the U.S. Army parachuting. During that time, he logged 77 jumps.

“When you jump in the military, once your chute’s open, there’s a calm, just a quiet,” Kinzer said.

His latest jump was akin to “a second childhood,” he said.

“I told my daughter it might be fun, and the next thing you know, here I am,” he added. “It’s just something I thought I’d like to do.”

Cheering him on were members of his family, including daughter Denia Taylor.

“He just wants one last jump,” Taylor said. “He’s so excited about this. That’s the really cool part. He’s super excited.”

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Kinzer entered the U.S. Army in 1957. He had just completed one semester at then Northeastern State College in Tahlequah “because my mom wanted me to.”

“I didn’t much care for that, so I saw a deal that said something about the airborne – jump out of airplanes – at the post office,” Kinzer said. “I run down and signed up without my mom knowing, or dad, but I was old enough. They told me I couldn’t go to Oklahoma City until Monday, and that was Friday. So I had to go home and tell them.”

In service, Kinzer was stationed at Fort Campbell in Kentucky for five years before joining airborne battalions and eventually the reactivated 9th Infantry Division, nicknamed “Old Reliable,” that was created during WWI.

Kinzer’s July 15 jump went well with help from Skydive Cherokee, which operates out of the Muskogee-Davis airfield. But despite having dozens of military jumps under his belt, it was the first time parachuting tandem with an instructor.

“I kind of have always wanted to do it one time,” he said. “This jump will be at 10,000 feet and you’ll fall, and the chute’s more steerable. The Army jump was 1,200 to 1,500 (feet), maybe more. You’ve got a round chute that takes you down slower, but you can’t guide it as well.”

Kinzer said his last military jump was in 1975.

“I was on jump status in Panama, came back, went to the 9th Division and went to Vietnam and got wounded and decided I didn’t want to jump no more,” he said. “I went to ROTC duty and different things. I went back to a second tour in Vietnam as a military advisory command.”

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This article was first published in the Cherokee Phoenix.