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Blue Star Moms Triumph in Parachute Plunge

Retired Sgt. 1st Class Michael "Big Mike" Elliott waited patiently on the tarmac Saturday afternoon while Marjorie Bryan posed with her longtime friend, Marianna Sherman, for a crowd of friends and relatives snapping a few last photos.

Then in a loud voice, Elliot called out the all-important question:

"Well, Margie, are you ready to skin this cat?"

A brief plane ride later, Elliott was guiding Bryan, an 83-year-old Blue Star Mother from Lima, back to earth in a tandem parachute jump from more than 10,000 feet up.

About an hour later, Sherman, 82, of Kenton, completed her own jump.

The great-grandmothers parachuted Saturday at Allen County Airport to raise funds for the local Blue Star Mothers chapter and its Lima Veterans Food Pantry. They jumped in tandem with Elliott and a team of six other members of the Ranger Group, a band of retired Army Ranger paratroopers with loads of training and experience.

Blue Star Mothers of America are an organization of women whose sons and daughters have served in the military. The organization is celebrating its 70th anniversary.

The Blue Star parachutists were superb first-timers, said Elliott, 44, who has more than 9,500 jumps to his credit, about a third of them tandem jumps. Two of his tandems were former President George H.W. Bush on Bush's 83rd and 85th birthdays.

Her feet back on the ground and glass of champagne in her hand, a jubilant Bryan said she wants to accompany Bush if he jumps again for his 90th birthday.

"I'll be 85, and I want to go with him," she said.

"These Blue Star Mothers are so sweet, so special," Elliott said. "We came up here two months ago, and they said they had this plan, and we said here's what you have to do. It was challenging, but they did it. They didn't quit."

Eight other first-time parachutists jumped with them, including Bryan's grandsons, Alan and Matthew High; Sherman's son, Fred; and 57-year-old Robin McCarthy, of Dayton, national president of the Blue Star Mothers of America. The first-timers jumped one at a time from a single-engine small plane, tethered to a Ranger, while another Ranger soared next to them with a helmet-mounted video camera.

More than 200 people turned out to witness the event.

The idea for a Blue Star jump arose last year while Bryan, Sherman and McCarthy were in New York to participate in the annual Veterans Day parade. While on the bus to the event, Bryan struck up a conversation with a Ranger who told her he was with the crew that helped President George H.W. Bush celebrate his 85th birthday with a parachute jump. Bryan said she wished they could come and do that in Lima. They took her up on the offer.

Bryan, Sherman and several other jumpers remarked how quiet and peaceful it is to soar alone in the sky.

Both kept their word: They didn't scream on the way down, according to Ranger Tony Mouzon, who shot the airborne video of their jumps and performed some breathtaking parachute landings.

Other first-timers were at a loss for words.

"I can't talk like I'd like to, but yeah, it was great," Fred Sherman said a few moments after his jump. "It was everything I expected and a little bit more."

His mother was one of the last to complete her jump. Minutes afterward, sprawled out in a lawn chair and smiling serenely, Marianna Sherman said the view was breathtaking, but the warming atmosphere contained air pockets that made her ride a little uncomfortable.

Did she like parachuting enough to do it again?

"Not if I wasn't asked," she replied, smiling.

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