Reflection from Elmer Neufeld

Reflection from Elmer Neufeld

The following is an excerpt from a story written by Elmer Neufeld about his time as a smoke jumper. The story was published in "Static Lines and Canopies":


"After training season in 1944 [at Missoula], I was transferred to Cave Junction, Oregon, for the summer's fire fighting. Made a total of 19 training and experimental jumps that year. Only three of the jumps were fire jumps. In June of 1945, 14 Conscientious Objectors moved into the Methow Valley are of the State of Washington as Forest Service Smokejumpers, the initial attack forest firefighters. The decision was made by the Forest Service to try the smokejumping operation again out of the Methow Valley (Twisp-Winthrop) area in 1945. I applied for this transfer and was accepted. I was in the first group of six jumpers that arrived in Twisp about the first of June... We were warned ahead of time that we were wading into a hornets' nest. And so it turned out. We "Conscies" were not welcome. Our first job was to erect a bunkhouse and bathhouse. In charge was a man from the Forest Service by the name of Cleo Jet. He made no bones about the fact that he was going to give us a hard time. We were going to work, and produce lots of finished product by the end of the day. Cleo made a few attempts to ride us hard--but that slowed down. All of us Conscies were used to work. We didn't take any breaks, and with very little guidance we could get the job done. Things seemed to go pretty good for the first week, at least I thought it did.

On Monday of our second week, right at noon, Cleo, with lunch bucket in hand, came to where I had just sat down to eat my lunch.

"Elmer, can I sit down here and eat my lunch with you?"

"Sure," I said, "sit down here, Cleo. Is there something we are not doing right?"

"No," says Cleo, "It's just that when you guys got here, I had made up my mind that I was sure going to give you Yellow Bellies a rought time. I was going to work the tail end off you and then kick you down the road. Well, that hasn't worked out. There is no way that I can keep up with you personally when it comes to putting out work. You don't make stupid mistakes, and at the end of a day there's a lot of work done."

"So, Elmer," said Cleo, "let me shake your hand and say welcome to our forest. And Yellow Bellies you're not. If you were, you would not have chosen this field of work. There is no way that I would jump out of a perfectly good airplane and depend on a little piece of silk to let me down to the ground. So the hard feelings are gone, at least on my part."

I assured Cleo that I had never had hard feelings--and we shook hands. Cleo was a very good friend of mine from then until he died many years later."