Navy 'Leap Frogs' jump gives relatives rare thrill

Sunday, July 11, 2004

Nix White had just jumped out of a C-130 airplane from about 4,000 feet above the Cape Girardeau Regional Airport.

He floated in the air, guiding a bright yellow parachute with pulleys.

A Stars-and-Stripes banner hung below the Navy SEAL's feet as thousands peered upward, some of them with hands over their hearts, others with their hands shielding their brows from the sun, as the national anthem was sung.

There are many things a son can do to make his parents proud. This one was off the charts.

Jude Messner and her husband, Randall, drove from Joplin, Mo., to see their son dive out of an airplane. For the first time ever.

"We're very, very proud of him," Jude Messner said. "He always said he'd be a Navy SEAL, and he's doing everything he said he'd do."

Jude said she wasn't worried as he drifted toward the runway.

"He jumped off the roof several times when he was little," she said. "And he never had a parachute."

The visit to Cape Girardeau and the stunts performed at the regional air show were particularly special for two Navy "Leap Frogs." White and Keith Pritchett both got to perform in front of seldom-seen relatives.

White gets to visit his parents about once a year. Pritchett got to see relatives he hasn't seen in 10 years.

Pritchett's father was originally from Goreville, Ill. About 20 relatives, including grandparents, four aunts and several cousins, made the 45-minute drive to see him jump out of an airplane.

"I couldn't be happier to see everyone again," he said. "I've been very busy with all the other travel, the overseas deployments and the training that I haven't been able to get back here. When I have time, I either visit my parents or my wife's parents."

Leann Stafford, Pritchett's cousin, definitely thought the trip was worth it. She glowed with pride.

"He was definitely the best one," she said, only half-joking. "Our hearts were beating fast. We are so proud of him. We just kept cheering."

The parachute team included 10 parachutists, including SEALS like Pritchett and White. They dropped from only 4,000 feet Saturday because of cloud cover. Usually, they drop from about 12,500 feet.

The air show will continue today.


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