Gene P. Thacker, an Army retiree who built the Raeford, NC, drop zone into a skydiving mecca from the 1960s on, passed away last Monday. He was 81 years old. The Fayetteville, NC Observer has more:
Mr. Thacker, a skydiving legend who did almost 4,000 jumps, owned the Raeford Municipal Airport. The family’s airpark, the P.K. Airpark, has paved runways and hangars for skydivers.
Mr. Thacker served three tours of duty in Vietnam with the U.S. Army and spent several years as a member of the Army’s parachute team, The Golden Knights. He was the organization’s first Golden Knight of the Year and earned the title in 1967.
Tony Thacker said his father began skydiving in 1960 and was a decorated war veteran. His father was a Purple Heart recipient.
“He was a really, really stand-up fella,” [Retired SGM Dave] Clark said. “He retired from the Army and bought land at Raeford, which he developed into a world-class place for people to jump out of airplanes.”
When they established a Skydiving Hall of Fame, Thacker was one of the first admitted. His was a skydiving family; his oldest son lost his life in the sport, after which the surviving Thackers jumped to celebrate his life. A list of prominent jumpers who passed through Raeford would be a who’s who of skydiving.
Wartime service has a way of planting ideas in young men’s heads. Just as many of the nation’s ski resorts were founded by 10th Mountain Division veterans, the American sport of skydiving was founded by Army paratroopers and special operations veterans from the 1940s and 50s. What will the veterans of Afghanistan do for us? While we salute the service and achievements of Mr Thacker, we look forward with excitement to what today’s troopers envision, create and build.