Albert Taylor had never been superstitious. So it didn’t bother him when told his unit, Princess Patricia’s Canadian Light Infantry, would be parachuting on Friday the 13th in October of 1954 in Okotoks, Alta. near Calgary.
That morning, his wife Wanda had asked him: ‘Aren’t you superstitious?’
‘No,’ Albert replied.
He was one of 20 men who would be jumping that day from a double-door C119 aircraft. Taylor was issued parachute number 13.
“It was my 13th jump with that unit,” the 88-year-old Comox resident said. “I was 13, 13 and 13. I was 13th in the stick.”
When the plane approached the jump zone, a red light came on. Everyone lined up with the first jumper in the door. The routine was to call out their number in descending order. The red light switched to green when the pilot flew over the target about 1,200 feet below. Everyone started piling out, but number 12 sat down in the doorway, with Taylor directly behind.
“I hooked my legs under his armpits,” Taylor recalled. “His chute opens, and mine opens, but collapses. He stole air from my chute. That knocks me (under the plane) over to the other door.”
With his chute still not open, Taylor landed on top of another parachute and slid down the nylon rope. From there, he slid off the chute. Using the cords, he slid further and grabbed his fellow jumper.
“We held onto each other. Before hitting the ground, I said, ‘OK?’ and he said, ‘OK, corporal.’
“We had a hard landing. I bounced with the ground, stood up and fell down again. I could feel nothing. He lay on the ground, groaning as well.”
Medics immediately arrived, loaded both men into ambulance and took them to the military hospital in Calgary.
“They took the chute off but left the packboard on me for support,” Taylor said.
X-rays determined his friend suffered a broken leg. Taylor fractured his back in two places. He recalls staff measuring him at 5 feet, 9 1/2” — before the accident, he stood 5’11.
“I was two inches shorter because of the jump.”
Taylor was also paralyzed.
He and Wanda were newlyweds on the day of the accident 63 years ago. Wanda recalls Albert had said he would phone when he got in from the jump. When he didn’t call, she decided to phone him. To her distress, the voice on the other end of the phone said, ‘Corporal Taylor’s in the hospital with a broken back.’ Her boss drove her to the hospital.
“I see his uniform has been cut off him,” she said.
Albert was placed in a Stryker bed, which would be turned hourly. Each day, a nurse would prick his toes with a needle, but he felt nothing. This went on for about three months, but one day he winced and felt the prick of the needle.
“She (nurse) said, ‘Corporal, you’re going to walk again’,” said Taylor, who had weights on his feet during those 90 days. “Those weights brought my height back (to 5’11).”
Wearing a body cast, Taylor underwent rehab for six months, after which his military duties were limited.
Before the accident, Albert had served in the Korean War. After the accident, he and Wanda spent a couple years in Germany on a posting. Later, they lived in Victoria, Whitehorse, Edmonton and Chilliwack. After he was discharged, the couple moved to Edmonton with their family. They have lived in Comox since 1989.
To this day, Taylor is still not superstitious.