He was internationally famous for a brief time when his parachute caught on a tree.
World War II veteran Joseph Robert Neal, known as Bob, died Saturday, April 18.
His brother, James, shared a Telegram-Tribune clipping this week from 1944.
While parachute training in Australia, Bob was snagged from a tree, dangling above the ground for three-quarters of an hour.
His mom, Charlotte Heaton, saw the wire service story and photo in the newspaper without knowing it was her son.
A letter would tell the rest of the story.
Bob would survive the ordeal and parachute in the Philippines during the battle to retake Corregidor Island in Manila Bay.
During his Army career he would serve in three conflicts, World War II, the Korean War and Vietnam.
A memorial service is planned for noon Saturday, May 2, at the San Luis Obispo American Legion Hall on Mill Street next to the Veterans Memorial Building.
Here's the Telegram-Tribune article from 1944:
45-Minute ‘Chute Jump’ Described by Obispan
Forty-fine minutes between the jump and the landing is a long time for even a paratrooper to be “up in the air” contends Pvt. Bob Neal, 19, son of Mrs. Charlotte Heaton of 1512 Morro Street.
On May 17, the Telegram-Tribune carried a picture of a paratrooper fouled in a tree during a practice jump somewhere in Australia. Later, Mrs. Heaton was informed by her son that he was the chutist in the predicament and he explained his experience in a letter to his brother Jim.
‘Away We Go’
“We took off from the airfield early in the morning and flew to the jump field which was 15 minutes trip by air. We were to jump from 800 feet, and the weather was swell. I felt pretty good that day and while on the field never sweated the jump out. Three minutes from the field we stood up. The lieutenant let the stick out the door after the plane slowed up. On the way to the door you forget everything but to get out that door and on to solid earth again.
“I stepped out and the prop blast felt good…then came the fall before the opening shock. It came and I felt the air tugging at the sides of the chute trying to pull it open and fill the canopy. Then came the heavenly feeling when you start swinging under a fully blossomed chute.
“I heard the pilot gun the motor so he could speed up before the plane stalled. Then I had work to do because I was spinning and couldn’t get my risers untwisted to slip toward the open field away from a group of three trees. There are a few hundred Australians watching the jump. Most of them were seeing a real parachute jump for the first time.
Like a King On A Throne
“When I was finally untwisted I was 20 feet above the tree tops and headed directly for the middle of them. I climbed my rear risers and slipped to the rear toward the direction of the field.
Suddenly the fringe of the canopy was caught on a branch of a tree and I came to a stop. Looking down I saw solid ground 60 to 80 feet below me…I was like a king on a throne with full view of everything going on around me.
“Aussies were gathering below, with the commander and some of the boys who were checking for injuries. The big red cross on the top of the ambulance startled me. After looking around I unfastened my helmet and dropped it to the ground, then unbuckled the chest strap. Seeing that no one could reach me to pull me to the trunk of the tree, I let the reserve chute down where it reached the top of the branches of a lower tree. I put the rip cord in my pocket. My arms and legs were getting numb and I had to keep peddling my legs and swinging my arms to keep the circulation going.
Falls Off Tree
“The reserve filled up with air and blossomed out away from the tree. One of the boys started up the tree but about 20 feet up fell in the branches below.
“The boys were yelling things to me all the time and in the 45 minutes I was up there, I did a heck of a lot of thinking about things I should have done, the good days before the war and a hundred other thoughts raced through my mind. I was starting to turn blue when a cracking sound called my attention away from a little blonde in a blue dress on the ground below. As I looked up I saw the branch from which I was suspended was breaking. The wind gave the reserve a pull, and I gave a prayer as I fell toward the ground.
“All in a few seconds, my reserve pulled me away from the tree, and when I was 5 feet above the ground something jerked me to a stop. As I turned my toes down, they touched the ground. I looked up and saw the reserve had caught the only branch left.
Gets His Date
“I had a lot of help getting out of my chute and everyone was asking questions. The blonde in the blue dress was looking my way, and her smile would make anyone feel better. When I finally got away from the crowd with a piece of the reserve and a bottle of sarsaparilla, I looked for the blonde and talked to her. That’s the end of my story. She got the ripcord…I got a date.”
Pvt. Neal has been overseas since September. He entered the Army in March 1943. Prior to his induction he was employed by San Luis Obispo theaters as a doorman. At one time he covered the night baseball games here for the Telegram-Tribune.