PFC U.S. Army Medic Malvin Brown was reported as the first U.S. Forest Service smokejumper to die in the line of duty. PFC Brown was killed when he fell approximately 150 feet from a tall fir tree into a ravine in the Umpqua National Forest. Family members of PFC Brown include Vurnell Brown, eldest niece, Tracy Telfor, son of Vurnell, Juanita Hays, niece of Malvin Brown, and Elizabeth Lindsay, niece of Malvin Brown. A brick has been placed in his memory at the National Fallen Firefighters Memorial Park.
Update on the First Smokejumper Fatality
As submitted by Fred Donner (Missoula-59)
As the key person without whom Triple Nickle Pfc. Malvin L. Brown (MLB) would be resting in historical anonymity, I have inherited an obligation to ensure that the location of his death, as well as his gravesite, are correct for posterity, especially for his three nieces and their families.
Already the “Oregon Black Pioneers,” (OBP) are seeking to have five sites connected with Black history in Oregon designated National Register Historical Places (NRHP) and the Lemon Butte site on the Umpqua National Forest where MLB died is one of them.
Here is what the Forest Service says about the Triple Nickles and MLB on the internet. “During fire operations, the battalion suffered numerous injuries, but only one fatality. Malvin L. Brown, a medic assigned to the battalion’s headquarters company, died on Aug. 6, 1945, after falling during a letdown from a tree on what was then Siskiyou National Forest in Oregon. It later became Umpqua National Forest when boundaries between the two forests changed. Brown’s death is the first recorded smokejumper fatality during a fire jump.”
Here is what the Triple Nickles say about MLB on the internet. “During fire operations the battalion suffered numerous injuries but only one fatality. Malvin L. Brown, a medic assigned to the battalion’s headquarters company, died on August 6, 1945 after falling during a let-down from a tree in the Siskiyou National Forest near Roseburg, Ore. His death is the first recorded smokejumper fatality during a fire jump.”
On August 6, 2015 the U.S. Forest Service placed a historical marker at MLB’s gravesite south of Baltimore, 70 years to the day after his death. On September 10, 2015 the TN placed a historical marker on the reverse side of the same monument. Both sides of this beautiful new marker standing near the weathered 1945 original say “First Smokejumper Fatality.”
A colorful Oregon “Beaver Board” or historical marker noting MLB’s death on the Umpqua was placed at the Siskiyou Smokejumper Museum at Cave Junction, OR in 2017. The same community activist who catalyzed that project proposed another “Beaver Board” east of Roseburg near the intersection of Highway 138 and Steamboat Creek, where MLB’s body was brought to the nearest road. But no record of it can be found on the internet unlike the Cave Junction “Beaver Board” easily found.
The important thing is that Smokejumpers, Triple Nickles, and Brown family members and friends should know that his place in history is going to remain well-documented in Oregon and Maryland for coming generations.
For further information, see “The Death of PFC Malvin L. Brown” in the July 2006 issue of “Smokejumper” and “The Search for Malvin L. Brown’s Grave” in the October 2014 issue of same.