88-year-old World War II vet goes skydiving on his own terms - My29 WFTC Minneapolis-St. Paul

88-year-old World War II vet goes skydiving on his own terms

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WINSTED, Minn. (KMSP) -

58 years ago, Bill Connell made his first and only jump out of a plane, but certainly not by choice. He came under fire and was eventually captured.

Today, the 88-year-old fulfilled the dream of a lifetime: skydiving on his own terms.

"This should be a thrill of a lifetime to be honest with you," Connell said the morning of the jump. "I'm just looking forward to it, with high expectations of the thrill of jumping out of an airplane."

At Westside Skydivers in Winsted, they are giving Connell instructions and making sure they are ready when the time comes to jump..

Bill Connell's first jump from a plane came on July 4, 1944 – his very first mission in his Hell Diver bomber. He was headed to his target on the South Pacific island of Chichi-jima when his plane came under fire.

"That explosion blew my airplane right in half," he said.

Connell had no choice but to bail-out. But that certainly was not a peaceful skydiving experience.

"When I got my chute open the people on the freighter were shooting at me," he said. "I could see the tracers coming at me. I was a very small target and fortunately they didn't hit me."

Connell landed, was captured and spent 14 months as a POW until the Marines, led by then former Minnesota Gov. Harold Stasson, rescued him.

"He had 25 Marines with him and he said 'I'm giving you 30 minutes to get ready to go home.' It didn't take me but three minutes," Connell said.

That was then, this is now -- the first time Connell will jump out of an airplane by choice, not under fire.

"I have wanted to do this for years and years and years but I just never had the opportunity to getting around to doing it," he said.

Of course this time he wasn't be doing it alone. He was tied to an expert helping him down.

"This time I kept my eyes open," Connell said after making it back to solid ground. "It's a new experience and of course I was a little apprehensive but it's so smooth and so easy. Nothing to worry about…I might even jump again and take the course and do it by myself."

Wouldn't that be a thrill.

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