One morning last week a C82 lifted from a runway at Pope Air Force Base, N.C., carrying a load of paratroopers for a practice jump. A flock of starlings, startled from the trees, swept across its nose. They were drawn in by the thrashing propellers. The carburetor air intakes of both engines suddenly became choked with dead birds, the engines faltered. Pilot Robert Kilpatrick shouted to a crewman to push the jump bell.

In the rear end of the plane, Sergeant Robert Lee Hodgkiss, 24, acting as safety man, heard the bell. The...

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