HELENA — More than a hundred people gathered near the Gates of the Mountains Monday on the Missouri River to honor those who lost their lives in the Mann Gulch Fire.
For the 70th anniversary of the fire the U.S. Forest Service hosted a picnic and barbecue at the Meriwether campground.
Just before 11:00 a.m. the Miss Montana DC-3 d reached the site over Mann Gulch and dropped wreathes honoring the 13 fallen smokejumpers .
Family members of the smokejumpers joined historians and members of public in sharing the story of the brave men and honoring their sacrifice.
Brian Sallee was there to honor his cousin Robert Sallee, the youngest man on the crew and last survivor of the smokejumpers.
“So much knowledge was gained by that fire on what to do and not to do,” said Sallee. “Their loss has saved so many and is still saving people to this day.”
Carol Knieper of Missoula is the Niece of Mann Gulch smokejumper Eldon Dietter and traveled to the site with her family for the event.
“I feel honored that this memorial is taking place. It makes our whole family feel like Eldon didn’t die in vain,” said Knieper. “I know the Forest Service did a lot of research in Mann Gulch and it fasttracked fire science.”
She said events like this have helped her better know the uncle she never got a chance to meet.
“We had stories,” explained Knieper. “My grandparents didn’t talk about him much. My Dad talked about him quite a bit, so we got to learn about who my uncle was through his stories. This event is just one way to continue to carry on that legacy of him and all of the smokejumpers.”
11-year-old Colt Barnard from Fromberg was also in attendance and is working to preserve the history of Mann Gulch.
Barnard comes from a proud family of firefighters and founded “One Foot in the Black Project” to replace the decaying markers, improve the trails and make sure the smokejumpers are never forgotten.
“I feel like they deserve better than being forgotten,” said Barnard. “They sacrificed for the firefighter community, and now firefighter have better gear.”
Barnard has already raised $10,000 for the project, but they are still in need of around $40,000 more to realize Barnard vision.
More information about “One Foot in the Black Project” can be found here.