C.W. Perkins lost his vision, but not his compassion or his nerve.
On Veterans Day, he went skydiving to encourage veterans like himself “to step outside of the box.”
He wore a broad smile when he sailed to the ground Wednesday. “I don’t think there’s anything like it,” he said.
Perkins, 67, a U.S. Air Force veteran who had a lifelong dream to go skydiving, was one of 21 veterans and 14 others who made tandem jumps at Skydive Carolina to help disabled veterans.
The jump-a-thon was a fundraiser for Veteran Transport Services, a nonprofit organization started last year by Perkins and his wife, Janet Perkins, to help provide transportation services to disabled veterans in the Charlotte area. The couple’s daughter, Janette, also jumped.
C.W. Perkins, a former Air Force mechanic who lost his eyesight in 2008 due to complications from diabetes, said a lot of blind veterans call on him for encouragement and support.
“Blind people sometimes feel that they don’t have anything left to contribute,” he said.
Perkins wanted to show them that they do.
“It represents real freedom,” he said of the jump. “It represents skills. It represents courage for those who are afraid to step outside the box.”
The Matthews, N.C., couple started Veteran Transport Services when they learned that many disabled veterans are trapped in their homes because they can’t drive. They want to purchase vehicles and provide paid drivers to help.
“We want them to be able to rejoin society,” Janet Perkins said. “That’s our main goal. We want to be able to provide transportation to them so they can live again.”
Veterans who jumped Wednesday paid a discounted rate of $149 for the jumps, compared to the normal rate of $209, said Ryan “Shaggio” Levesque, operations manager for Skydive Carolina.
Janet Perkins said the veterans also collected donations from friends and supporters for the transport service agency.
The jumpers included a former World War II Navy nurse, Barbara Alderson, who will mark her 93rd birthday on Sunday. Alderson, of Blackstock, made her third tandem jump at Skydive Carolina; she made her first jump on her 90th birthday.
Erin Preis, 31, an Army National Guard sergeant in South Dakota who heard about the jump while she was visiting a friend in Charlotte, had her own reasons for jumping.
“It’s incredibly important for me to give back to organizations that help veterans, because I know what it feels like to be on the receiving end of some of those things,” she said.
Preis said her unit, which served in Afghanistan, had two suicides in the past year.
“It needs to be talked about,” she said, referring to the challenges faced by returning veterans. “Giving them a sense of community still, that’s the most important thing.”
Tom Serdula, 71, a blind Marine Corps veteran from Matthews, came to show support but did not jump. Serdula lost his vision over the last 15 years due to a blood vessel occlusion.
“I would love to go more places than I do,” said Serdula, who is assisted by his wife, Sylvia. But he doesn’t always ask her to take him places.
Janet Perkins said the transport agency aims to purchase enough vehicles to serve veterans in North Carolina and South Carolina.
C.W. Perkins said people who have vision can’t understand the challenges faced by blind people. He said he struggled with his own adjustment when he lost his vision.
“We are in a sense pushed back in a corner,” he said. “If a person doesn’t have time to take you over there, you don’t get there.”
But Perkins said he believes there is “life beyond blindness.”
And he hopes Wednesday’s fundraiser helps foster greater awareness of the challenges blind veterans face.
“Sometimes when you are blind, you have to make some noise for people to see you,” he said, “and not necessarily in a bad way.”
Jennifer Becknell: 803-329-4077