Plummeting to earth from 10,000 feet, 92-year-old Wesley Oake took in the beauty of Mother Nature along the way.
He made the jump June 21 in Nova Scotia to raise funds for the ongoing construction of the Gander Heritage Memorial Park, an area of town that is all about paying tribute to war veterans such as Oake.
“When you strike 5,000 feet, that’s when you pull the cord for the parachute to open,” said the longtime Gander resident.
“Then it’s right quiet, and there’s not a sound — nothing. You’re hanging down and floating around in mid-air. It’s an experience that can only be described as thrilling.”
A retired United Church minister, Oake said the experience was moving.
“It’s a spiritual experience, really,” he said. “It’s so beautiful. You look up and it’s the blue sky above you and you look down and see the Earth below you. Here you are floating around in the air, but the first 20 seconds is different altogether. To describe it all, you can’t put in words what the experience was like.”
The goal was to raise $10,000, but by the time he made the jump he had raised about $13,000 — and donations are still coming in.
It was his first time skydiving, and he did the tandem jump with David Williamson, owner and operator of the Atlantic School of Skydiving.
When Williamson asked him how he felt about the jump, Oake said, “I told him it’s my faith in God that’s taking me up, that’s why I don’t fear anything. I didn’t do it for my glory, pride or anything like that. I’m doing it for the glory of God. That’s really for the glory and honour of the veterans who paid the supreme sacrifice so that all of us would be free to do whatever we want to do. I done it for their glory.”
Oake, a Second World War veteran, fought in Italy and other countries.
The 92-year-old was also inspired by another veteran. Sgt. Gander was a Newfoundland dog taken overseas by the Canadian Forces during the Second World War. Enemy forces killed him after he risked his life to protect his Canadian allies.
“I was just 18 years old when I would pat Sgt. Gander. The Canadian soldiers adopted him while they were here and took him overseas. That dog knew every one of those soldiers was his master, and this dog was fighting the enemies to protect those soldiers. He saved their lives. While he was protecting them, they moved out of range of the enemy. That story is all over the world. That’s really what broke me down to do the jump.”
A statue of Sgt. Gander and his handler, Ned Kelley, is being created for the Gander Heritage Memorial Park.
Given that he’s 92 and it was his first jump, his family was a little concerned when he told them of his plans to jump out of an airplane at 10,000 feet.
“I suppose it’s natural that my family — wife and children — told me I was out of mind and that I wasn’t going to do it at my age and all that. When it came time for the jump they knew I was going to do it. Our oldest daughter went berserk when it came time for me to make the jump, but I can understand that.”
He responded to their concerns by reminding them of his cause.
“The main reason I did it was to raise money for Gander Heritage Memorial Park, and I had volunteered to do something special so that people would sponsor me. I was doing that for over a year,” said Oake.
The original intent was for the jump to take place in Gander, a place known for its aviation culture, but there was no official skydiving company in the province.
“The military was to take me up to jump here in Gander, and that’s where it should have been, but they backed out before I made the jump,” said Oake.
“They said they couldn’t do it and that’s when the committee decided we would do it at the Atlantic School of Skydiving in Nova Scotia.”
Oake is pleased with the success of the jump and said he would do it all over again. He hopes donations will keep pouring in for the park.
“I was always a person who never said I couldn’t do something, and I always accepted a challenge. I wouldn’t mind doing it again.”