Before he retired from the US Army, Maj. Gen. Patrick Brady performed some pretty daring feats as a pilot — like the day he evacuated 51 seriously wounded soldiers pinned down in Vietnam.
On Jan. 6, 1968, near Chu Lai, he braved ferocious enemy fire that destroyed two of the three helicopters he used that single day to rescue them. Brady’s repeated and unflinching valor earned him the nation’s highest battlefield award, the Medal of Honor.
But on Thursday, Sept. 8, near Tennessee’s Gatlinburg Pigeon Forge Airport, the 86-year-old Seattle native did something in an aircraft he’d never done before.
“This was my first jump,” he told Coffee or Die Magazine, shortly after plummeting 12,500 feet from a perfectly good De Havilland DHC Canada 8-315, a plane often nicknamed the “Dash 8.”
“It was an experience that added another dimension of beauty to being up in the air,” Brady said.
It all started when the Congressional Medal of Honor Society asked its members if they’d like to try parachuting during its annual convention in Knoxville. They offered one-way tickets out the door while in a tandem free-fall with members of the Golden Knights, the US Army’s touring parachute team.
“I thought, ‘Good Lord, you can’t pass up an opportunity like that,’” Brady said. “So, I volunteered.”
Fellow Medal of Honor recipient Ty Carter wanted to go, too.
Sgt. 1st Class Ryan Reis was Brady’s tandem partner. He told Coffee or Die the retired two-star cracked a lot of jokes before the jump but remained very focused on everything he needed to do when he left the aircraft.
Reis has a little experience with parachutes. He’s recorded more than 2,800 jumps in his 18-year military career, the last six spent on the demonstration team. But he said getting to leap with an American hero like Brady was an honor, one made even more special by a shared camaraderie of service in the armed forces.
“And that’s exactly how he came across to me with a little bit of humor thrown in there, too,” Reis said.
Brady told Coffee or Die he’s experienced “pretty fast” descents inside a helicopter’s cockpit, but he never really felt the outside elements battering against him.
He got the total experience on Thursday while falling at roughly 155 mph, which “turns ya every way but loose.”
But then the chute blossomed, a feeling Brady said was like a “lullaby,” slowly rocking him from side to side under the silk while Reis guided them to a soft landing.
For him, it brought back childhood memories of playing paratroopers, with kids clutching umbrellas as they jumped off rooftops, a scenario inspired by a hometown hero.
“Well, that didn’t work too good,” Brady said. “The umbrella went the wrong way, and we hit the ground pretty damn hard, but we wanted to do it.”
He lauded the Golden Knights as “drop-dead professionals” who gave him a rare “sensation that you don’t get in a helicopter or an airplane.”
“And I’m jealous these guys get to do that every day,” Brady said.