Keeping in mind our 75th Anniversary Reunion, and the fact that we are all growing older, I have decided to share some information concerning important smokejumper history. As managing editor of Smokejumper, and a historian at heart, I have for many years tried to nail down how, when, and where smokejumpers began to be recruited by the CIA to carry out special operations – world wide.
Over the years I’ve read pages of written documents from William Leary’s Air America collection at the University of Texas at Dallas. Numerous books chronicle operations in other locations. After 40 years there is nothing secret about the outstanding work these individuals have done under some of the most difficult circumstances.
Some individuals have requested that their names be left off the list and that request is honored, even though their names are public record and some have given interviews to authors of books.
One of the main reasons for recognizing these men for their service is that we should record an accurate list of smokejumpers who were involved. As you can see from the April issue of Smokejumper, history can be changed and rewritten.
It is common knowledge from many written sources that smokejumpers have been involved in numerous far-flung operations from Tibet and India to the Congo, from Cuba and South America to the North Pole, and from Arizona to Vietnam. Finally to Laos where a cadre of smokejumper air operations officers and ground support officers fought side by side with indigenous Lao troops and General Vang Pao’s Hmong army in their 15-year battle against the North Vietnamese. This war, known as the “Secret War,” became the final chapter in the lives of seven former smokejumpers employed as Air America “kickers” and one who was employed as a pilot (Charles Dieffenbach/GAC-56). Further, there was a case officer (Jerry Daniels/MSO-58) who died in Bangkok, Thailand, under suspicious circumstances, and another pilot (Frank Odom/MYC-63) who was shot down in Zambia, Africa.
All information was obtained from public sources. There are many books and websites available to anyone, who wants to research the subject. A sample of these sources will be listed in this issue. Over the years many articles have been published in Smokejumper.
Back in November of 2002, I was communicating with Jim Veitch (MSO-67) while working on a story about the “Ravens.” We were communicating about Jim’s time in SEA, and I asked about recording smokejumper/CIA work in that part of the world. His response was very thought provoking:
“I was in charge of Saravane for about six months. One Raven died there and two others were shot down.
“There have been a lot of smokejumpers involved in Agency work over the years and basically no one knows about it. I don’t know why the Agency chose jumpers, but there had to have been a reason. I think it was because we could go anywhere, anytime, and do a tough, confusing job and then keep our mouths shut. I think smokejumpers have what it takes. They are not just fit and strong but have the ability to think independently and work towards a solution, no matter what the odds.
“The real story is about the type of people it takes to make a smokejumper because you can take that type of person and drop them anywhere.
“One thing that amazed me then, and now, is how the war in Laos was so much like fighting a forest fire. I think that was because smokejumpers set the pattern in the early 60s in Laos. They must have started running Op’s like they’d run a fire out near Huslia with four village crews. Same damned thing, except I ran four battalions and over 1200 soldiers.
“If you ever do write about the Smokejumpers and the Agency, I think it would be a great contribution to the history of the smokejumpers and to that of the Vietnam era. Big project though, big.”
Since 2003, when I seriously began trying to identify the former jumpers who were involved in the above mentioned activities, I have been able come up with the names of 96 individuals. Many of the names you see on “The List” have come directly from those involved. I came across other names when reading various books, newspaper articles, and stories published in Smokejumper.
It is my opinion that the relationship between the smokejumpers and the CIA began in 1951, when the Agency sent two paramilitary-types to Missoula to go through smokejumper training. Apparently, when the two trainees returned to Washington, D.C., the people in charge figured out that there was a group of people out West who were already trained in most of the skills they were looking for, and who were ready and willing to take on any challenge. Hence, the CIA recruiting began in Missoula, and the rest is history.
I used the following criteria to determine who belonged on “The List”: Former smokejumpers who were Air America “kickers” or pilots and/or were field employees of the CIA in “overseas” positions between 1951 and 1975, when the “Secret War” ended. I’m sure that the list is pretty accurate, but it is always possible to miss someone and I am always interested in any updates and corrections. Six individuals have asked to be removed from the list below.
It is important to record history accurately. As seen in the April issue of Smokejumper and Operation Firefly, if it is not recorded accurately, what is written in later years is far from the fact and is created by writers far removed from the events.
Allen, Max (MSO-48) Deceased 7/6/98
Andersen, Roland “Andy” (GAC-52)
Ball, Herman (MSO-50) Deceased 4/16/14
Banta, Louis (CJ-51)
Barber, James (GAC-60) Deceased 4/4/02
Barber, Michael (MSO-68)
Barnowsky, Fred (MSO-42) Deceased 7/15/08
Beasley, Ray (MYC-52)
Bevan, David (MSO-55) Deceased 8/13/61
A-America C-46 Crash
Blake, Clifton (MSO-55)
Bober, Mike (MSO-46) Deceased 4/15/05
Bowles, Bill (RDD-57)
Brown, Lyle (GAC-54) Deceased 4/13/12
Butler, Tom (MSO-61)
Cahill, Jack (MSO-58)
Casieri, Al (MSO-52) Deceased 1/26/05
Cochran, Art (MSO-42) Deceased 10/3/08
Courtney, Don (MSO-56)
Daniels, Jerry (MSO-58) Deceased 4/28/82
DeBruin, Gene (MSO-59) Shot down 9/5/63 MIA
Dieffenbach, Charles (GAC-56) Pilot shot down 7/23/62, died while walking out