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At eight years old, Joe Murray climbed to the top of his family’s outhouse and with his umbrella open, jumped off the roof and took flight …

Moments later, he landed with a thud, but the short flight down never left his mind.

Seventy years later, his dream to fly is now becoming a reality.

This begins the inspiring, poignant, and witty conversation with Joe Murray—a FiftyForward member and former staffer, U.S. Air Force veteran and soon to be glider pilot. Let’s begin with Joe’s Jump …

Joe Murray

Q. You were joined by some of your newfound friends (Dan Surface and Skip Dillon) from the Bold and Golden Men’s group, a support group for men who meet at FiftyForward. Tell us more about their support for that jump …

Joe shares that when he retired a few years ago, he decided that a “normal” retirement was not for him.  He didn’t like the idea of sitting around and watching TV. He joined the newly formed men’s retirement group at FiftyForward – the Bold and Golden Men’s Group, led by Dan Surface – and shared his “bucket list” with his fellow retired friends. On this list was his desire to fly but first he planned to jump out of an airplane.

When he shared his desire to skydive, two of his newfound friends also jumped at the chance to join him. Dan Surface, who moderates the retired men’s group, and fellow retiree and group member Skip Dillon volunteered to jump with Joe.

After a false start and rescheduling, the three friends got their chance. At 14,000 feet, and on a clear, bright day, Joe’s dream came true.

But let’s back up a bit and tell you the story behind the dream …

Q. At one point while serving in the Air Force you were stationed in Germany and during those years overseas you built lifelong relationships with 65 or so Black Airmen who served with you. Tell us about this group and your reunions.

Murray enlisted in the U.S. Air Force at the tender age of 17. His mother had to co-sign for him. He was off to six weeks of basic training where he met many men of all different kinds of backgrounds. This fascinated him. He recalls, “it was a great opportunity … but we grew up isolated … we never saw guys of other races.” He said there was no hard feelings or bigotry between all these men because it “took all of us to successfully make it out of basic training.”

He wound up on an airbase in Germany from 1960-63, one of 150 Black Americans in a field of 2,000 white men. He did experience his fair share of disparity, racism, and bigotry, but also recalls making great friends during this time – friends he still sees in yearly reunions.

square runners book coverHe even fondly recalls his involvement in making money through an underground commerce selling rations like cigarettes at a small profit. The group called themselves “The Square Runners” and one of the airmen has even written a book about their time together.

Q. Serving as a mechanic in the Air Force brought you close to being a pilot, but it was something you never got the chance to do while enlisted. Will you share a bit with us about that and how you recently discovered another way to take to the skies?

When Murray retired, he wanted to get his pilot’s license. He shares that after retiring and raising his children he had a little disposable income, so he did not feel guilty about taking lessons to become a pilot. Sadly, due to medical restrictions, he learned he would never be able to be licensed to fly a plane with an engine. He did, however, learn that he would be able to fly glider planes and now his dream of flying has taken on another dimension.

Q. In your spare time, you enjoy exploring the great outdoors, why is this something you love so much?

His birthday skydive was just one of the many ways Murray stays active.  He loves the great outdoors, fishing, camping, and recently took up the hobby of metal detecting. It is great exercise, and he hopes to find friends who will join him in these pursuits when the dangers of gathering due to COVID-19 are over.

Give a listen to our latest podcast and learn more about Joe’s wonderful life experience. Maybe his bucket list– what we call “FiftyForward Firsts – will inspire you to fly, too.