Stephen Ambrose about Bruce Egger: “There is no typical GI among the millions who served in Northwest Europe, but Bruce Egger surely was representative. He served at the war in almost continuous front-line action. He never missed a day of duty.”
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Combining my time as a smokejumper, Air America kicker, and loadmaster in Peru, I spent about 15 years accumulating extraordinary experiences.
I realized almost immediately that is was a highly unorthodox landing – tumbling bodies in the fuselage and chunks of tundra flying past the window.
The man in the middle would have experienced life at the awkward intersection of race and pacifism.
Unbelievably, this throwback to men who broke trails for wagon trains a couple hundred years ago, worked for the CIA with its Harvard men and persuasive boardroom thinkers.
My hero, my father, and his brother both served in segregated Army units during World War II.
“What the hell did the general do to get me all these people? ‘He shot the lieutenant.’”
“See that last cow? When it goes out of the gate, I’m history. I’m going with the smokejumpers.”
The round parachute has served the Forest Service well.
Smokejumpers are firefighters with an unusual delivery system. Is it a good move to go away from something that has provided safe and efficient delivery of the jumpers for 75 years?
Smokejumpers have had a special working relationship with the CIA for over 35 years beginning in 1951. Over 100 jumpers have been involved in overseas operations including the Taiwan Project, Bay of Pigs and the Secret War.
Operation Firefly was a political smokescreen over which the Triple Nickle had no control. However, when history is changed, someone needs to challenge those changes. Books will continue to be written on this subject based on myth and inaccuracies and the Forest Service will continue with press releases based on sources 70 years removed. Let’s examine the record based on official documents.
In early 1942, Melvin L. “Smokey” Greene (MSO-42) started jumping out of airplanes to fight forest fires. A couple years later his jump training helped save his life when his B-29 was rammed by a Japanese fighter.
To most of the world, Bob Sallee was merely the last living survivor of 1949’s Mann Gulch Fire, a disaster that took the lives of 12 smokejumpers.
Long Cheng has been called the “Most Secret Place On Earth.” During it’s peak the CIA base was one of the world’s busiest airports and had a population of approximately 50,000.
What is the basis for determining that seven pull-ups is a correct measurement for being a smokejumper?
We wanted to be up North, where the action was, where the MiGs were. We were fighter pilots; we were trained for air combat. That was our job.
Luke was born in Susanville, California. He did it all. It's no surprise that he ended up pursuing the adrenaline-filled career of smokejumping. He was a machine-it didn't matter if he was on the 25th rep of the 25th set of push-ups-he still had that smile and easy manner. His personality and over-sized grin were infectious.
There was a time when “smokejumping” was a foreign term to me. My introduction came through Tall Timber Pilots, a book about the Johnson Flying Service whose aviators flew smokejumpers for many years. The book, published in 1953, eventually found its way into the library of the high school I attended in South Carolina.
First and foremost, I would like to recognize Stan McGrew for his vision of a turbine-powered DC-3. His persistence extended the operational effectiveness of the aircraft for at least 20 more years.
When she came through the door for the first day of smokejumper rookie
training, everyone saw she was tiny. When she went to the weigh-in, the
foreman rolled the heavy metal fireproof door shut so no one could watch.
Outside the door they didn’t need the scale to know she was tiny.
It was a busy fire season when I rookied at McCall, Idaho, in 1967. I was fortunate to have 14 fire jumps, which included four in Oregon. It was jumper number 13, on a small Oregon blaze, that was most memorable.
I am sitting here, in my home in Southern California, poring over a map. The map is a product of the United States Department of Interior Geological Survey. It is a 7.5-minute (topological) titled “Pungo Mountain, Idaho.”
On Jan. 3, 1967, I was the Air America airline station traffic manager at Danang, South Vietnam, for just over a year. In 1964 I spent the last of my five years as an Air Force lieutenant as commander of Detachment 5 of the 8th Aerial Port Squadron at Bien Hoa Air Base, South Vietnam, doing essentially the same kind of work.
I woke in the sterile hotel room at 6 a.m. – day five of a boost and sore after a three-day fire on the Lewis and Clark. By seven I stood in front of the box for roll call.
Often on a fire jump I would stand looking over the country and tell myself that I was standing on a spot where no one had ever stood before
while no smokejumper of whom we’re aware has been an Olympic athlete, three of them have had children who have not only competed at the Olympic level – but have excelled.
The bags were unwieldy, uncomfortable, bulbous and heavy. Our task was to put these monstrosities on our backs and carry them five tortuous miles back to the jump base in one hour; the trainers, of course, slipped rocks into everyone’s bag.
When the sick scientist heard the Skyhook plan, he said, “You’re gonna get me out of here, how?!? No way am I leaving like that!”
Well…the best laid plans of mice and men sometimes turn to rat #$%& !
I was mistaken in my initial opinion of her. Tikina finished the school perfectly well and turned out to be the best female jumper in forest aviation.
In the fall of 1939 a group of "barnstormers" dropped into timbered areas near Winthrop, Washington to determine the feasibility of dropping firefighters by parachute to combat forest fires. The experiment proved successful and the program continued in 1940.
My heart began to burst from the realization of my own weakness and helplessness, from my inability to do what seemed necessary: to get to the fire faster, encourage the people, to give them help.
In Part One (April 2009) Makeev told of his efforts to develop a smokejumper program in the Soviet Union in 1934 and to convince the Head of Forest Protection that it could be done safely and effectively. The project was approved for further experimentation in 1935. In spite of negative reports from his superiors, Makeev was given approval to further develop the smokejumper program in 1936. Thanks to Bruce Ford (MSO-75) and Tony Pastro (FBX-77) for their translation of this historic document.
I remember that with pleasure I let go with my tired left hand and then came to my senses hanging by the risers of an open parachute in full silence and solitude in the midst of the sky's expanse. The wind rocked me strongly. I flew over the aerodrome. This minute of parachute descent was one of the happiest of my life.
In the fall of 1971 the North Vietnamese Army launched a full-scale attack on all the fire bases. I had a chance to talk to Jerry Daniels (MSO-58) at Long Tieng. He said, "We aren't making it down here. I don't think we can hold out much longer. If it goes bad, I'm going to have to walk out of here." I would never see Jerry again.
Cave Junction seemed like the Camelot of smokejumping. It was a classy place with lots of big trees.
Many did not believe that Jerry Daniels was dead. They wanted to believe that he was off on another assignment and that this was only a cover.
The following account of a tragic plane crash is an excerpt from the personal journal of Doug Baird written during his rookie year at NCSB.
After reading the critical comments by Gene DeBruin's family, it is clear that Werner Herzog went beyond the bounds of "literary license" into what amounts to mean fiction.
He entered the army as a paratrooper at sixteen, as he was big for his age and had documents saying he was older.
One historic mission that Fred flew was the dropping of the 101st Airborne troops at 0115 on D-Day the 6th of June, 1944.
Troop, Jerry and The Pirates vs. Chinese Slave Traders
Veteran smokejumper Yuri Yushkov first strapped on a parachute at age 18 in 1943 as war raged against the invading Nazis.
Out of the 6,000 dropped, "Only a handful of us survived."
Arriving at an intersection of several trails, I checked to make sure it was clear and started to run across the clearing. Halfway across I heard someone yelling, "Yute, Yute!" I turned my head and met the cold steel gaze of an M-1 rifle, pointed at my face."
I climbed out first, followed by the others. The guard was still snoring loudly. I moved to the outside fence, pulled in wide enough to squeeze through and signaled for my friends to follow.
At its height, AFPS was the largest aerial fire service in the world, employing thousands of smokejumpers and rappellers and hundreds of aircraft. Its history parallels and often anticipates developments in the West.
An Interview With Stewart S. "Lloyd" Johnson (McCall '43)
Queuing up to the door of an airplane is all in a day's work for a smokejumper. But it's January and minus 15 degrees Fahrenheit outside. The jumpers in front of you are 14- and 15-year-old boys and girls, many on their first jump. The 17-year-olds already have several jumps under their belts and sit nonchalantly waiting their turns. That's because this is Russia, and being tough is all part of growing up.
Because the smokejumpers represented the most advanced parachute technology in the world at that time, with elite men like Jim Waite (MSO-40) and Frank Derry (MSO-40) pushing the state of the art with their innovations, the CIA turned to the smokejumpers for help with a secret mission after the war.
Former Jumper Made History Aboard Apollo 14
The pilots spoke of colleagues who had vanished into the highly classified operation codenamed the 'Steve Canyon Program.' Insiders who worked with them knew these pilots as the Ravens.
As the war dragged on, so the myth grew. Apparently, there was another war even nastier than the one in Vietnam. The men who chose to fight in it were handpicked volunteers, and anyone accepted for a tour seemed to disappear as if from the face of the earth.
"I was wounded February 14, 1971, at General Vang Pao's secret base, known as Long Tieng, or Lima Site 20A. I always felt it was a Valentine's gift from Ho Chi Minh."
Lt. Sisler realized that two of his [men] had been wounded and left behind. Racing back alone into the jungle, Sisler picked up one man and was running with him when the NVA launched a second assault, headed directly for him.
Tackling the West Ridge was an enormous undertaking. Dodging avalanches and contending with 100-mph winds, the climbers set up camp at a biologically brutalizing 27,250 feet.
A member of the first smokejumper force in 1940, Jim "Smokey" Alexander is a true pioneer. Alexander recently sat down with James Budenholzer (Missoula '73) to share his recollections of that first season—and what it was like to make history.
I was kind of wild then and often had one wheel spinning loose in the sand. I guess I was telling myself to get serious. Somebody took a picture while all that was in my head, capturing what, for me, was an important moment in time.
The enemy was at the gates and thousands of Hmong expected to leave, a repeat of Vietnam the month before. By every account, Jerry was the glue that held things together until the final bitter moments when he and Vang Pao had to pull the plug...On the last airplane out of Sky, Hog broke out a case of Olympia - a true blue smokejumper.
One of my fellow jumpers was a Southern California boy. He had a can of Spaghetti-O's and was in the process of eating them with a plastic spoon, when in walked a young native man armed with a lever-action 30-30 rifle.
True ecologists and proponents of chaos theory will say everything and everyone is connected. With a gentle half-smile, they will explain how the slight air movements made by the flitting wings of a butterfly in China will have effects around the globe. Pondering such fundamental connections, I know with certainty that a man I never met influenced the course of my life.
In the following interview with John Maclean, NSA Historian, Steve Smith talked with Maclean about the October 28th History Channel special, which is not to be missed.
As we all know - one of the more enjoyable sports pursued by second-year and older jumpers is badgering new jumper candidates (NEDS). Scare stories of all types are passed around. Most of these stories center around various types of parachute malfunctions all the way from line-overs (Mae West's) to full blown streamers, etc.
Everyone was invited! If you didn't make it, you missed one hell of a good time. On December 7th and 8th the women of smokejumping, their friends and families came together in Sun Valley, Idaho for their 20th reunion.
I woke up this morning at 6:30, looking forward to my first day of Rookie Training at the California Smokejumper base in Redding, Calif. I didn't get much in the way of sleep last night, mostly tossing, turning and second guessing.
"Get Ready!" The spotter's hand came down on Dave's shoulder and he threw himself into the wind stream. Seconds later he pulled the green handle from his harness, sending his parachute to the sky with a loud crack.
The armed man had not seen Ridgway come down the staircase behind him. Operating under the premise that it was a military coup, Jack retreated quietly up the staircase to the flight deck where he opened one of the cockpit hatches to see if there were any vehicles and activity by the military. There was no activity on the ground outside the 747!
On July 27, 1996, I made my 37th jump on a fire in Northern California that turned out to be my last as a smokejumper. This 52-second ride should have put me in a pine box six feet under.
We all made it to the ground except Bill Weaver. Bill had a Mae West and had to deploy his reserve. Naturally he landed in the top of one of those huge sugar pines.
A little voice told him things were not right when the spotter said, "Oh, just spot yourself." Maybe we weren't supposed to hear that but we did, and it definitely gave us all pause to think.
When we arrived at Missoula, we were trucked to Nine Mile Camp and joined a large group of trainees in what looked like Civilian Conservation Corps barracks. Most were vets, many from airborne outfits.
Streamers indicated no more than a breeze, but when I went out, a strong wind took my chute at a 90 degree angle from the ridge and away from the fire. For the first and only time, I pulled down lines on one side until my canopy collapsed, then fell free for about 1,000 feet.
There was a time when certain jumpers coming back in the spring for another fire season were greeted with, "Where ya been? Secret mission for the CIA?"
Jimmy's idea of a good deal was rolling down the road in his Mercury convertible to pester the waitresses at the Beacon Coffee Shop in Alturas after the jump season was over in Alaska.
Willi's great love was mountaineering. At the age of 12 he was climbing mountains and through 1946 had scaled peaks in the Washington and Oregon Cascades, Yosemite Valley and the Tetons.