takes me to new heights,but usually not so
literally as this past Memorial Day morn-
ingwhen I was about to take my first hot
air balloon ride.
“I’m scared.”I believe those werethe
first words I said to Major KevinKnapp.
shows to a newborn child, Knapp, a rug-
ged military man and former Green Beret,
assured me that everyoneisafraid
the first time theyfly.
I had not sought out the experi-
I volunteered to work the holi-
ward tofour daysof fun, food and
music and the amazing sight of 100
hot air balloonsrisingintothe sky
above the city where I live. Idid not
plan to fly. I’mafraid of heights.
looning and entertainment festival,
largest ofits kind east ofthe Missis-
sippi, moved this year from Green-
ville, South Carolina to Anderson’s
rolling farmland. Anderson County
crews spent more than a year clear-
ing trees, grading hills and planting
for more than $40,000 in cash and prizes.
Nightlyentertainmen tin cludedSouth
Carolina’sownHootie and the Blowfish
I tossedand turned Sundaynightaf-
ter a message onmyansweringmachine
told me a flight had been arranged and to
be at an earlymorning pilots’ briefing.
drinking, biscuit-eatingcrowd thatfilled
The detailedinformationwaslike a
childrendon’t stick their fingers in them.
to those who gave their lives in service to
Minutes later I was introduced to him
andtoldthatMajor Kevin Knappwould
I was overjoyed. I figuredanyone in
behindhim.I later learnedthat assump-
pilot taught Knapp to fly. The U. S. Army
excitement after he left Special Forces to
carries a 16-foot-tall by 60-foot-long yel-
his owntime with his ownmoney.
He does ittohelpArmyrecruiters
andtothank the military organiza-
the school,across theplayground,
and to the balloon launch area, sur-
recruiting officers. The exercisethis
morning wouldbe toleave the site
where, flyback to the site and toss
a little beanbag onto a target on the
stopped Knapp to congratulate him
competition the night before. More
Suddenly we were atKnapp’s
mounted on the back. It looked aw-
little testballoonsintotheair and
watching them drift across the sky.
Knappexamined a mapof the city look-
ingfor alaunchsite. Iwasengrossed.I
Wedrovetoan othersch ooland
tionwasn’tquite right. We drove a short
Knapp handed out gloves from a bag
inhisvanandassignedeveryone a task.
beamed. All three young people had just
graduated near the top of their classesand
were clearlyenjoyingand impressed with
their first Army assignment.
Knapp seldom has help from Army
personnel. Thiswas onlythe third time in
more than five years and more than 100
events that recruiters supported his ef-
forts. Usually he recruits whatever civil-
ian volunteers he finds. He, too, was im-
My job was to hold one side of the
mouth open as the balloon inflated. Sud-
denly it was time to hop into the basket.
Recruiting officerSgt. Benjamin Fryar
sat onthe tinybench next to me as Knapp
took us skyward. We floated so lightlyI
didn’trealize we had left the ground until
I saw the tops of trees at eye level. I must
have gasped. Fryar told me to keep my
eyes on thehorizon.That worked.My
eyeballs were gluedto the horizon for
dearlifewhen Knapp told meto turn
I’veneverseen such an awesome
the sky with color. More and more bal-
loonsliftedgentlyfrom the ground. Sixty,
seventy, 100. My fear evaporated com-
For more than an hour we floated at
Hartwell. The balloon toss wasn’t easy, I
found. We made a pass but were just a
littletoo far from the target to even throw
the beanbag out. Knapp hoped to return
for another try but the short window of
time the target was open elapsed. Knapp
crew to meet us at a park on the lake.
We didn’t make it there. Knapp radi-
oedthe chasecrew again.Hepickeda new
landingsiteata brick lakefronthome with
a large level lawn.
Would the homeowner allow us to
land, Fryar asked.
Glory fluttered slightlyin an almost non-
existent breeze as if to welcome us.
As we drifted lower, two men on the
dock waved to us.
“Permission todock,Sir,” Knapp
Permissionwas granted. Knapp flew
the balloon just inches abovethe water
and onto the grass alongside thedock.
Childrenandtheir parentsran from inside
the house onto the lawn to see the sight,
asking question after question.
Knapp answered each question as he
doledout instructionsto the ground crew.
Memorial Day picnic to remember.
When it was time to pack up, every-
one said goodbye like old friends.
All too soon wewereback at the
festival site and it was time for another
with full military decorum, he pinned a
small black Army balloon medal to each
of ourshirts and named us all official
Army Balloon team members.
sondebut went off without a hitch. Festi-
val organizers said afewsmall details
would be worked out by next year. The
biggestproblem was thatthe newly estab-
lished grass on the launch site was pretty
I can’t wait until next year’s festival
and plan to volunteer toworkanother
Meanwhile, my Army balloon pin is
tucked away in my jewelry box, next to a
stringof pearls. I hope I’ll get a chance to
wear itbefore MemorialDayrollsaround
again. If Knapp bringsthatbig black bal-
loonback to the southeast and I’m not on
assignment, I’ll be there with wings on,
ready to fly to new heights with no fear.