During July 2016, Dale Whitesitt, an Army veteran and former paratrooper, wondered aloud how it would be to jump again. His 19-year-old grand-daughter said, “count me in whenever you want to find out”. All his previous jumps were from low altitude, 1200 – 2000 feet above ground with a static line opening of the parachute. So, on August 8, 2016, fifty-eight years after his last military parachute jump, Dale Whitesitt and his grand-daughter both climbed to 10,000 feet in a small plane, each buckled to an instructor, and leaped from a perfectly good airplane in tandem skydives at the Caddo Mills Airport, Texas.
They would free-fall for the first 5000 feet, then under their parachutes for the next 5000 feet to the ground. He told his granddaughter’s mom, his daughter, their daring scheme AFTER they had made the plans. But she calmly agreed with the plan and came along to take lots of still pictures from the ground. From the spunk that I heard in his voice, I believe he would do it again!
Dale was airborne qualified during his days in the Army, making over thirty jumps from C-119 “Flying Boxcars”, Canadian made Beaver, and Otter aircraft. He says, “I didn’t land in an airplane until my twenty-seventh flight in Hamburg, Germany. There was a bad storm and a rough crosswind landing in a DC-3 (tail dragger).
We 4 paratroopers were the ones that were the most scared on that plane.” When I asked Dale why he decided on being airborne, he replied, “Privates were making $70-75 per month. Being airborne qualified brought me an additional $50 per month.” (Show me the money!)
Dale’s parents were farm workers in Minnesota in 1934 and later share-croppers. They lived a hard life in the Great Depression and later. While still in high school, Dale hitchhiked to South Dakota, shocking wheat and threshing wheat with horses and carrying sheaves of wheat into the threshing machines. He was born in an old farm shed that had been converted to house the hired help. “I’m the guy that, when leaving a door open and you say, ‘Hey, what’s the matter – were you born in a barn? I would have to say ‘yes!’”
The first four years of his school life were in a rural school, on the corner of their farm. Grades five through twelve were spent at “town school” in Round Lake, Minnesota, with all 12 grades in one building. Upon graduation from high school, Dale spent three semesters at Park College (Now Park University) in religious studies.
He left that school in February 1954 and volunteered for the draft. He was told that it would be three months before they would call him. “Three months in Minnesota in the winter with no job is not something you live with very well,” he explains. “So, I went ahead and enlisted in the regular Army and signed up for airborne school.” Then it was off to Basic Training at Fort Riley, Kansas, Light Weapons Infantry Training at Fort Knox, Kentucky and Airborne Training at Fort Campbell, Kentucky.
During his sophomore year in high school, Dale asked, six weeks late, to be in the typing class. This paid off big time for him as he began his military career. At Fort Campbell they noticed that he had some college and could type. So, after graduation, instead of being placed in an infantry regiment, he reported to Division Headquarters. After a year, the Division Chaplain needed an assistant. So, he then became the assistant to the Special Troops Chaplain, who had been in the airborne infantry in World War II.
The Army began a program called “Operation Gyroscope”, intended to maintain unit integrity by swapping entire units, including families, between a US base and one overseas. Dale’s unit, the 11th Airborne, was moved to Augsburg, Germany in 1956.
Dale’s boss, the chaplain, told him that there was a lady at Augsburg whom he had gone to school with at Mars Hill University, in North Carolina. She was the Director of Religious Education for the post community. They began working together professionally. Helen worked for the Post Chaplain and Dale worked for the Division Chaplain.
Later, their friendship moved to the social level. They both, supposedly, had sweetheart “friends” back home. Dale said, “Then we both found out that, no, we didn’t!” And he explained, “A lot of that was because of what we had seen, that differed from their experiences.” Of course, the relationship deepened, and they were married in September 1959. Their Christian journey through the years was primarily in Army Chapels, with exposure to Chaplains from several different Protestant denominations.
Dale left the Army in 1958 and decided to go back to school. However, in 1961, he realized that he was not going to meet the high academic standards at Park College and he went back into the Army, this time to the Air Defense Command in Kansas City. Headquarters realized he had three years of college and typing and his aptitude scores were very high. A year later he was picked for an assignment in London, England at a planning headquarters, located in the Navy Building in London.
Three weeks after they arrived in London, their first daughter was born. Dale remembers, “I think the medical doctor ‘pencil whipped’ the documents to show her expected birth to be two weeks later, so Helen could travel with me. But the baby stuck to the original schedule!”
After a year and a half, they were transferred to Paris, France to the EUCOM Command, directly under NATO, at Camp Des Loges. Daughter number two arrived during this assignment. Here, Dale was introduced to punch cards and realizing there was a future in computers, asked for the programmer course. The request was granted as his next assignment. He was promoted to E6 prior to his return to the US.
While in France, Dale completed his last year of college under the Army Education Centers and received his degree from the University of Maryland. The graduation ceremony was held in the famous Great Hall at the University of Heidelberg, Germany, in 1965.
Dale went to Signal School in Fort Monmouth, New Jersey, where he was the course honor graduate, then retained as an instructor in computer programming. Helen was six months pregnant with the third daughter when Dale went to Viet Nam. Helen stayed in Raleigh, North Carolina, while Dale serve his year with the 9th Infantry Division. He returned in May 1968 and he says, “She was nine months old before I saw her for the first time.”
He was a lead programmer in the Administrative Machine Branch from May 1967 to May 1968. The branch used a Univac 1005 card processor computer. The branch personnel used this computer to account for all 9th Infantry Division personnel as of midnight each night. The Division Commanding General would be given a one-page strength recap each morning. Other officers received a more detailed report each day. “Assignments of people to units were added daily,” Dale remembers. “Combat losses were accounted for daily, and personnel were assumed to have gone home one year after they arrived in country, unless we had proof they had left early or extended. That was why a good monthly reconciliation was required.”
Dale received the Bronze Star for that year. It was for “Service”, not for valor in combat, so it does not have the “V” for valor. Certainly, a very prestigious award for his very important part in keeping detailed records on the 9th Infantry’s personnel.
While in Viet Nam, May 1967 to May 1968, Dale took a correspondence course for Fortran languages to prepare for his next assignment at the US Military Academy, West Point, NY.
At the United States Military Academy, West Point Dale worked in the Academic Computer Center for cadet support. He was on the promotion list from Viet Nam, so was promoted to SP7 (E7) soon after arriving at West Point. “Time Sharing” computers at the USMA in 1968 – 69 meant each teletype that was signed on got a 15 second time slice, then waited until his turn came around again. Terminals were 27 teletypes on wheeled carts that were moved to the academic department scheduled for that day.
He developed the first COBOL course, which the Colonel taught to the few upper-classmen who were interested. Dale also taught the COBOL course to the USMA teachers and staff as part of the Dean’s Program of Special Skills.
This was to be a 3-year stabilized tour, but a year and a half into it he was selected to work on an experimental computer system in Italy, where Dale worked as programmer for the Automated Quality Monitoring Recording Subsystem in the communications Primary Technical Control. They were responsible for the quality of point-to-point communication circuits.
He applied to become a Warrant Officer in the automated communications field. He was appointed WO1, Active Army Warrant Officer in July 1973. He served 4 years in an Automated Communications relay site at Ft. Detrick, MD. Next was a family move to Italy for a three-year assignment to the Automated Communications relay in Coltano, Italy. At the end of this 3-year tour, their first daughter graduated from the Livorno American High School. He and his family then moved to Daegu, Korea for 2 years before returning to Fort Huachuca, AZ.
Dale bought a house in Sierra Vista, AZ, expecting this to be their retirement home, but it was not to be. (He is currently in this 3rd retirement home, thanks to job moves). A contractor offered him a job in his field supporting Army Automated Communications sites in Korea and Camp Zama, Japan. He accepted the offer, then requested, and was approved, to retire from the Army as a Chief Warrant Officer Three (CW3) with October 31, 1984, as his last duty day.
The contract was supposed to be for 2 years. It lasted 5 years. He said, “The only thing that changed was the logo on my paycheck”.
He had witnessed too many of his friends, when reaching the 29 ½ year mark in their career, being notified they must retire when reaching 30 years of service. He said, “They had all been so busy being soldiers, they knew nothing else and faced being a civilian without any skills.” So, when the right opportunity came, he accepted it. “The Army had been too good to me for me to be bitter at the very end. When I got the right job offer, I took it. My wife wasn’t really happy about it…”.
Dale had 27 ½ years active duty and 4 years reserve time for 31 ½ years of total time subject to military orders. 14 of those years were spent overseas. He got “Mobilization Designation” (hip pocket) orders as soon as he told the Army he was in Korea as a contractor. If war broke out, he would have gone to the Replacement Depot, not home. Did that add another 5 years to the year count?
The analyst and programmer skills, with constant updating, kept him employed in his chosen work, both in the Army and as a civilian, for the 33 years between 1965 and 1998.
An eye problem forced Dale’s final retirement in 2008 and this also allowed him to care for Helen, whose health was deteriorating. He lost his wonderful wife and best friend of 56 ½ years in March 2016.
We don’t often think of U.S. Army paratrooper types as computer programmers. But Dale certainly was, and his wonderful career spanned the globe. He was fortunate to learn computer skills from the outset of the electronic information age and make that his career. Thank you, Dale Whitesitt, for sharing your story and for your years of service to our great country.