April 16th 1961
The invasion of Castro’s Cuba was underway.
An unmarked transport plane soared through the cloud cover at thirty-five thousand feet, off the west coast of Cuba. It was a reliable ‘Flying Boxcar,’ a Fairchild C-119, its signature twin-boom design instantly recognizable if anyone could see through the current air conditions. But no insignia or tail numbers would be visible even if someone had been watching.
“Five minutes!” the jumpmaster called.
“Five minutes!” the team of paratroopers called back.
Nerves were tight. Night had not yet begun to give way to morning, the black sky mirrored by the dark ocean below.
The five other men in the transport stood and lined up as one.
The door of the C-119 slid open with a heavy metal grating, slamming into place as the wheels met the edge of its rails. Wind rushed past them and the sharp cold air filled the cabin.
They began to check over each other’s gear in the dim red glow of the aircraft, making sure everything was as it should be. There wouldn’t be a second chance.
The C-119 dipped into a new course and banked east, curving toward the upcoming coast and closing the distance.
Seven thousand feet of altitude was lost as the transport neared the drop zone. It would be tight.
Corporal Tyler ‘Zeddy’ Christiansen finished checking the equipped gear of theman in front of him. Then the team turned in unison to inspect once more.
Parachute on proper. Helmet. Goggles. Rifle. Sidearm. Pack.
“ETA two minutes!” the jumpmaster called over the thumping propellers.
“Two minutes!” the team called back.
The transport continued its lazy bank before straightening out. It dipped another few thousand feet for good measure.
One of the men kissed a metal cross hanging from his neck on a silver beaded chain. The sergeant behind him slapped his shoulder for reassurance, and the jumper tucked the cross under his shirt.
A knot of turbulence interrupted the pre-jump ritual and shook the aircraft, jostling the troopers. The man behind Zeddy tripped and the corporal turned to catch him, but he regained his balance. The rest of them held fast. Another team member cracked his neck. Someone else coughed.
Zeddy focused on the open night in front of them.
The light in the aircraft turned bright green.
“Green light!” the jumpmaster yelled. “Go! Go! Go!”
He slapped the shoulder of each paratrooper as they ran forward, nodding to each of them.
Zeddy kept his steps and pace focused as he followed his teammates, running down the aircraft’s length and toward the door.
One by one they disappeared into the wind, dropping out of the aircraft and swept away by the deep black. It was as if they were plucked from the aircraft by a giant invisible hand and taken away into a void. Zeddy swallowed and followed the sergeant in front of him.
The cold wind smashed into his face as he felt the slap on his arm from the jumpmaster. Zeddy approached the darkness with a bounding pair of steps…
The woosh of air pressed against him from all sides as he plunged feet first like a comet careening through space. His stomach flip-flopped as his body realized there was no more ground beneath the jump, and adrenaline spiked through his spine, invading his system with an electric current of energy that banished any possibility of distraction. Zeddy was of one mind, and one body, seized by gravity’s uncaring grip.
He broke through the clouds and looked through his goggles to try and see where his team members were. They were nowhere to be found. Zeddy had the sudden feeling of being utterly alone in the darkness, falling to his doom as a solitary paratrooper, but he shook the thought out of his mind. He had trained for this. He had jumped out of a dozen planes before. This was a familiar feeling. He was descending on Cuba’sWestern coast. He knew the drop zone. He knew the mission. There was nothing to do but complete the task at hand….