CONCORD, N.H.—Taking a 13,000-foot plunge from an airplane will earn most jumpers a certificate. Instructor Paul Peckham Jr. knew that wouldn't be enough for 92-year-old Jane Bockstruck.
Peckham, a former Air Force combat controller, cut the parachutist wings he had sewn 30 years ago on his own helmet bag and gave them to Bockstruck -- who celebrated her birthday this month with a flawless, 120-mph free fall in front of her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
"These silver wings represent courage, and you certainly displayed that today," Peckham told her after the two landed safely Sept. 19 in Orange, Mass., after a tandem dive.
For Bockstruck, it was just another in a string of adventures in her full life. She has traveled around the world, been married seven times and loves to boast that she kidded with John Wayne while working as a seamstress on the set of "True Grit."
Her family is used to her independent spirit but thought she was nuts when she suggested sky diving.
"I don't know what gave me the idea, but I thought, 'I guess I'll jump out of a plane.' Then I stuck with the story and did it," said Bockstruck, who lives in the western New Hampshire town of Swanzey. "But it's scary. It's scary mostly when you get up there getting ready to go out the door."
Peckham said he has seen people much younger balk at the prospect of sky diving.
"She knew exactly what she was doing," he said. "I'm sure she was nervous and anxious and possibly a little afraid. She went ahead and did it. I call that courage."
Their outing lasted roughly 10 minutes. "She was asking, 'Where's the landing area?' I pointed down to the airport," Peckham said. "I pointed out the Quabbin Reservoir and Mount Monandnock and the Berkshire Mountains. She acknowledged they were there; she could see them."
She started waving to her family between 4,000 and 5,000 feet.
"It was nice," Bockstruck said in an interview. "It was quite windy and cold, but we had a lot of clothes on. Of course, if you've got somebody with you, it's a little warmer. You know, two of us."
Bockstruck's son, James Devine II, thinks his mother got her idea after seeing former President George H.W. Bush sky dive in June for his 85th birthday -- the same way he celebrated his 75th and 80th birthdays.
"She'll pooh-pooh it, but she did mention, 'Gee, he can do it; I guess I can do it.'
And in my mind, that's when it happened, because I certainly had never heard of it before," Devine said.
Bockstruck quipped about Bush: "I'm older than he is."