Veterans Day, much like Mother’s Day or Father’s Day, should be an ongoing celebration. Honoring military veterans should be on our calendar, 24/7. It most certainly is on Art Shaffer’s docket.
Shaffer, who lives in Winter Park, Florida, and owns SkyDive Palatka, is passionate about what he does for a living. He has over 14,000 jumps to prove it.
But there are certain jumps he cherishes more than others, and most of them involve tandem jumps with older veterans, some whose service dates back all the way to D-Day, the Korean War and Vietnam.
Shaffer took to the skies again on Nov. 1, joining a group of veterans on tandem jumps. Working in conjunction with a veterans group called the Round Canopy Parachuting Team, Shaffer jumped with Jim “Pee Wee” Martin.
Martin is 99 years old and was a paratrooper who helped liberate France during World War II.
“He was one of the guys who jumped into Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest,” Shaffer said. “His son wanted to get his jump wings that day and Pee Wee wanted to be an honorary jumpmaster when his son got his wings.
If you watch the video of our jump Pee Wee in the helicopter before we put his son out. Then I jumped with Pee Wee. When we landed Pee Wee pinned his jump wings on his son. It was a pretty cool moment.”
They jumped out of a Huey helicopter, the same one one of his other sons — who has since passed away — flew in Vietnam.
Shaffer also jumped with Joe Merchant, a Korean-War veteran with the 11th Airborne Unit. Merchant is 89 and lives in the Tampa area.
Shaffer is used to carrying this kind of precious cargo with him on jumps. Last year, to commemorate the 75th anniversary of D-Day, he went to France to jump with Tom Rice, 97.
Rice was part of the vanguard of the D-Day invasion, and he was among the 18,000 paratroopers who parachuted into enemy lines.
“I got a replacement left knee and the right knee is a little sore,” Rice said at the time. “But we’re going to ignore that. I do this because I like to and it’s an extended dimension of maybe my personality.”