Wakeman father, oldest son served as paratroopers

Cary Ashby • Updated Nov 30, 2017 at 10:30 AM

WAKEMAN — LaMoine “Whitey” Dillon and his oldest son, Rusty, served in the U.S. Army as paratroopers.

Rusty Dillon, 70, was drafted to serve in the Vietnam War. 

“We were seniors in high school when we got our physicals. They said it would be six months before they’d get to you (in the draft); it was two years,” Dillon said.

“I figured eventually they would get to me,” added the 1966 Western Reserve High School graduate.

The youngest of the 10 Dillon siblings, Steve, also served our country. The 1980 Western Reserve graduate was a career man; he retired from the U.S. Air Force as a technical sergeant, classified as an “E-6,” in 2000.

“I thought it would be a four-year thing (originally),” Steve Dillon said.

Unlike his father and oldest brother, Dillon wasn’t recruited to serve in the military. He said he felt called to serve and attributed much of that influence from his family.

In the Air Force, Dillon tracked supplies and parts from all over the world. As a result, he said he became acquainted with countless people and locations.

“I did everything you could do with supplies. I ran my own warehouse in Nevada,” said Dillon, who moved seven times in 20 years. “My first assignment was in Idaho.”

Dillon learned to drive a tractor-trailer in the desert — and how to put the rig in reverse.

“He got in a truck and (said), ‘I’ll see you at lunch,’” he said.

His most fulfilling experience in the Air Force was his first time in Nevada, from 1985 through 1988.

“I was in the Stealth fighter program; it was a Black World project,” Dillon said. “It was still being developed.”

Mike Bartish, “Whitey” Dillon’s grandson, served in the U.S. Navy in the early 1990s.

WWII paratrooper

Dillon, 92, of Wakeman, was drafted for World War II. He first went to Kansas after “basic” at Camp Abbot in Oregon.

“That was the staging area for Europe,” said Dillon, who eventually was assigned to the Aleutian Islands off the coast of Alaska in the Northern Pacific Ocean.

“We had some of the most severe weather you’ve ever seen. We’d have earthquakes at least once a week,” he recalled. “It took me about 10 months to get of there. I applied for about everything the Army had. I even applied for rumors.”

Eventually, Dillon was stationed at Fort Benning in Georgia.

“I went through jump school,” he said. “That was very unusual. There were 27 of us who went for the Army and five of us got (our) wings.”

‘A shot from Joe Louis’ 

During his two years as a paratrooper, Dillon made 10 jumps.

“You applied to jump every three months to keep your jump pay,” he said.

Dillon was asked to describe making a jump put of a plane. He said first there was a wait and then inevitably, when the parachute opened, he said it felt like “a shot from Joe Louis.”

“It shook you from one side to another,” Dillon added. “It really was a shock.”

After the “opening shock,” paratroopers checked how many panels in the parachute might be missing. Dillon said it wasn’t unusual to miss panels and noted if only one or two were gone, “you were still good.”

“The ground came up to me. I never fell,” he said with pride.

From the 13th Airborne, Dillon went into the 82nd Airborne. He was discharged from that unit.

Vietnam War paratrooper

His oldest son, Rusty Dillon, also of Wakeman, made four jumps.

“The only unit that jumped into (a) combat zone was the 173rd,” he said.”(I) didn’t run into any of that, but a lot of the guys I know did.”

Dillon did his basic training at Fort Knox and then, like his father, he was in “jump school” at Fort Benning.

“They all went through Fort Benning,” his father said. 

“Airborme was all volunteer. … You had to volunteer to be in the Airborne,” the 92-year-old man added. “It was a real elite group. There weren’t a lot of people who did that.”

His oldest son, Rusty, remembers 15 to 20 soldiers volunteered to be paratroopers. 

“I knew what I was getting into,” he said, referring to his father’s experience. “Until they figured out they had to jump out of an airplane, then I think we lost half of (the volunteers).”

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