A 90-year-old Maine man, who learned how to use a parachute as a Navy pilot during World War II, skydives for the first on Sunday at Pittsfield Airport and was guided to the ground by a tandem jumper.
More than 50 family and friends watched Lester Slate, inspired to make the jump by former president George H.W. Bush, who jumped from an airplane on his 85th birthday in 2009.
Slate says he had such a good time he wants to do it again – on his 95th or 100th birthday.
“Let’s have a big round of applause for Les,” one man shouted on the ground.
He is the oldest person to jump through Central Maine Skydiving, according to staff there.
Jo Ann Slate of Warren, Mass., his sister-in-law, said while waiting for the plane to ascend high enough for the jump that she thought Slate’s dream was “fabulous.”
“I think it’s wonderful at that age to have that kind of energy and desire,” she said. “Everybody has a desire to do something. His is to do this. Mine would be a giant hot fudge sundae.”
Her husband, 74-year-old Bob Slate, is Slate’s “baby brother.”
“Everybody’s got to do their own thing. This is his thing,” he said.
One of Slate’s friends, Maynard Weymouth of Lincoln, said the former pilot was a hero who served with distinction in the Navy during World War II. As a rescue pilot, Slate once flew to pick up a downed pilot who was too close to a Japanese-occupied island. The 18-foot-high seas were dangerous, Weymouth said.
“They were afraid they were going to get shot down by the Japanese army,” he said.
Weymouth said Slate was familiar with the Pittsfield Airport. It’s where he trained as a pilot in the 1940s, and where he met his wife of 65 years, Maxine.
“He’s just a fantastic man,” he said of Slate.