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Home / WLF TheySaid / 20 years ago today

08
Jul
2014
  • 07/08/2014
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20 years ago today I was watching the OJ Simpson trial in the pilots lounge at the airport in Vernal Utah. A cold front swept through and we had put the door on the Twin Otter by lunch, knowing that no one was going to jump in such ferocious wind. Just before we called it a day a news alert interrupted the OJ Simpson broadcast announcing that 50 BLM firefighters were entrapped in a Colorado wildfire. We didn’t hear anything more from our respective bases (in the summer of 1994 it was so busy we were like mixed nuts, a couple of jumpers from every base in the nation at all the spike bases).There were no cell phones then, news travelled slowly by today’s standards. So we headed back to our motel rooms. I turned on the TV and images of the Governor in a yellow fire shirt speaking with a smoldering mountain in the background came on. Even more ominous, there was video of round canopies in the air, I knew that it wasn’t only BLM firefighters that were on this fire. Sleep didn’t come easy that night and the next morning when we went to the hanger for roll call the Redding bros said their base told them that 3 smokejumpers had died and some were from McCall, but no names. An hour later we were told the DC 3 would be coming to pick us up and bring us to our respective bases, still unaware that we had lost Jim Thrash and Roger Roth, along with 12 other brothers and sisters. Some times not knowing is worse than the truth, your mind conjures up the unimaginable The flight home seemed unending, everyone had that thousand yard stare as they imagined the possibility that their best friend was gone. From that day forward the fire world would never be the same for me. Gone was the belief of victory without sacrifice. Up until then fire was a theatre in which to play hero and act out the bravado and recklessness that makes a young man feel truly alive, in control of his destiny and all that surrounds him. No longer was tragedy an abstraction, it lurked behind every snag and in every helicopter ride. Ignorance is bliss. May the families of all those who have lost their lives in the service of their fellow man find some kind of relief in the passage of time and the fond memories of their loved ones. Peace.

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1 Comment
  1. Joe Hill
    July 15, 2014 Reply

    well said, brother. Hard to believe it has been 20 years since we lost our friends.

    yes, abstraction. Funny, it seems that most everything I’ve done since leaving the jumpers has seemed an abstraction. I’m marking time.

    I saw a ghost on Grafton Street in Dublin City in 1996.

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