A Green Country veteran celebrated his 80th birthday by checking off the number one thing on his bucket list— skydiving. But the jump had a bigger purpose, to pay tribute to a fallen hero, killed in action more in 1969.
As Jimmy Owens suited up with Airtight Skydive in Skiatook he was quick to say he’s “afraid of high places.” But that didn’t stop him from facing his fear head-on the day he turned 80.
“Wow! What a rush,” Owens said has he glided down onto the grassy landing pad.
Owens is an Air Force veteran with only one leg and a sense humor.
“I hope that's the right one,” Owens joked as a tandem instructor pulled off Owens’ prosthetic leg.
Owens has jumped out of planes before for military training, but it’s been 59 years. His last jump was his 21st, which happened to fall on his 21st birthday.
“I don't think I can describe it, you've just got to try it,” said Owens.
But his 22nd jump meant more than any other. It was to honor his friend, Captain Neil Bynum, who didn't make it home from war.
“Neil went down in Laos. Never returned, never found his body,” said Owens. “Jesus died for your sins, Neil died for your freedom.”
Owens used the jump to help raise money to build a memorial monument for Captain Bynum in their hometown of Vian.
“I made a pledge years ago I will never let them forget his name,” said Owens.
That means everything to Bynum's brother.
“Humbled. This is just amazing to me and my family,” said Robert Bynum. “We wouldn't have missed it for the world.”
There were many others there to cheer Owens on as well, including about 30 former students.
“He was a really, really good teacher. He was a hoot as a teacher,” said John Alexander.
“He was a big influence,” Roger Patton said “I love Mr. Owens.”
Mr. Owens, as they know him, spent years as history teacher and administrator in Nowata. It had been decades since he'd seen some of them, but he remembered every student and greeted them all by name.
And for a brief moment, it was like Mr. Owens was in front of the class again.
“If we only lived the pre-emblem to the constitution and the last few words of the pledge of allegiance,” he told the crowd.
Mr. Owens spent the past 13 years teaching in Vian and officially retired in May.
“I loved my job,” said Owens.
Reporter Tess Maune: You made an impact.
“Don't make me cry,” Owens said.
Even though he’s retired now, it’s very clear Mr. Owens never will stop teaching… whether it's a history lesson or a life lesson.
“I control my fear. I can't conquer it, but I can control it,” he said.
Reporter Tess Maune: I feel like you just conquered it.
“Maybe so,” Owens replied with a big grin.
An online fundraiser has been set up to help pay for Captain Bynum’s memorial monument. Owens said an additional money will go into a scholarship fund for Vian students.