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Former Green Beret who jumped on D-Day celebrates 100th birthday with skydive

A monument for the 101st Airborne Division (Melissa Leon/American Military News)

Blowing out 100 candles wasn’t good enough for Polito “Paul” Olivas, a 30-year Army veteran whose career took him through World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars.

On Wednesday, the former Green Beret jumped tandem from a plane 14,000 feet in the air over Oahu’s North Shore and landed in Dillingham Airfield – a week after he turned 100.

“I’d do it again,” he told a gaggle or reporters minutes after landing.

As a veteran paratrooper with the 101st Airborne Division that jumped into Normandy, France, on D-Day in June 1944, Olivas has hundreds of parachute drops under his belt. But none included freefalling — the span in jumping before the chute opens. His jumps were all relatively low to the ground, and the parachutes were connected to a static line that automatically unfurled them as he exited the airplane bay door.

His birthday jump had a minute-long freefall, followed by about five minutes under an open chute.

He recalled that on D-Day, his plane was only about 300 feet above the ground when he jumped.

“The closer you are to the ground, the less of a target you are,” Olivas said Wednesday morning as he awaited his flight.

He described the sequence of emotions he felt as he dodged bullets above and on Normandy.

“Fear turns into anger,” he said. “Then all you want to do is kill, like a mad dog. The adrenaline works.”

He made a second combat jump into Holland as part of the ill-fated Operation Market Garden, whose success depended on capturing nine bridges behind German lines.

He was with the 101st near Bastogne during the Battle of the Bulge.

Olivas entered combat once again in 1951 in Korea with the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team.

He leaped at the chance to join the 10th Special Forces Group, Airborne, when it was formed in 1952. Its members favored wearing green berets, though that headgear was not officially sanctioned. But over time, these soldiers came to be called the Green Berets, and Olivas was among the first members of that elite Army group.

Olivas said he reveled in the Green Berets’ intense training in survival and munitions.

“It gives you more confidence,” he said. “What we learned was, if the birds eat it, we can eat it. If you’re really hungry, you can catch a snake. A snake is pretty good eating if you know where to cut it.”

Asked why he joined the Green Berets, Olivas said, with some hesitation, “Probably, the distinction – blood and guts. When you’re Airborne, you’re already there. The Green Beret is a little bit higher, a little bit more meaner, more uglier.”

At 100, Olivas is the picture of health, needing neither eyeglasses nor hearing aids. He takes no prescription drugs.

As he registered for the jump at Skydive Hawaii, an employee asked the 120-pound Olivas a set of required questions.

“Any medical conditions that would affect your ability to jump?” she asked.

“Anxiety,” Olivas said, jokingly.

He jumped in tandem with Richard Doppelmayer, a family friend who estimates he’s made more than 26,000 skydives.

Robert Kent, 81, also made the jump and arranged it for Olivas, who retired from the Army in 1970 and has lived in Hawaii for 50 years.

“I had asked him, ‘What are you going to do for your 100th birthday?’” Kent said.

“One more jump,” Olivas had quipped, and Kent got busy making it actually happen, postponing it a few days to make way for Hurricane Lane.

“I’ve been very fortunate,” Olivas said of his life before the jump. “A lot of friends, a lot of close calls, but God saved me for something.”

When a friend informed him that a 102-year-old held the Guinness World Records for oldest person to skydive, Olivas said he’d jump on his 103rd birthday.

“Gotta stay healthy,” he said. “Keep drinking my Bud Lite.”


© 2018 the Stars and Stripes

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