July 23, 2021 Emigrant Montana B-47 Ridge
Mr. Bryan Wells of Emigrant Montana, Joanette’s Cousin, invited Keith to help him five years ago in locating the family members of the aircrew of Fido – 15 that perished on the side of Emigrant Peak on July 23, 1962. Keith did his part and located each of the families and on July 23, 2016 a memorial was established in the Chico Cemetery in the Paradise Valley. A gazebo was built housing a 3′ x 4′ memorial plague facing Emigrant Peak. Old Glory flies above the memorial 24 hours a days, 365 days a year.
At the time of the original memorial dedication twenty three members of the aircrews’ families attended and it was discussed among them and with Bryan and Senator Steve Daines about putting a plaque at the crash site. All were told that it would take an act of congress to do something like that on public land. Well, thanks to Senator Steve Daines, then Representative Greg Gianforte and Senator Jon Tester, the bipartison bill designating that area of Emigrant Peak as B-47 Ridge was signed into law on October 13, 2020 by President Donald J. Trump.
On July 24, 2021 thirty five members of the aircrews’ families again traveled from all over the country to the small town of Emigrant Montana, and the even smaller town of Old Chico to celebrate the naming of B-47 Ridge. A hike was planned to the crash site for those who felt up to hiking 3.5 miles with an elevation gain of 3,000ft. Keith was originally planning on making the hike but begged out at the last minute due to an ongoing foot problem. Thirty six hardy individuals started out for the crash site at 6:00am. A total of thirty four of the hikers made it all the way to the crash site, many saying it was the hardest thing they had ever done.
Cousin Bryan was greatly relieved by Keith’s not making the hike as he would be able to coordinate all of the efforts at the cemetery. The main thing that needed coordination was the helicopter! Rocky Mountain Rotors donated their time, state of the art equipment, fuel and their amazing pilot, Mark Taylor. The first two trips to the crash site were to haul up 12 60lb. bags of concrete and 15 gallons of water for making the pad for the marker to rest on. As it turned out all of those who cared to were able to board the helo for an amazing flyover of Emigrant Peak, the crash site and debris field. Keith and Joanette were among the last to make the flight. What a beautiful yet somber experience.
With the hikers back down from the mountain at 2:00pm, a little ahead of schedule, we all gathered again at the Chico Cemetery for a ceremony honoring Capt. Faulconer, 1st LT Sawyers, 1st LT Sutton and 1st LT Hixenbaugh and the official naming of B-47 Ridge. As in the 2016 memorial dedication, Keith was once again the Master of Ceremonies and, after the invocation and National Anthem, had the privilege of introducing our guest speakers. The list of speakers included U.S. Senator Steve Daines, U.S. Congressman Matt Rosendale, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte and former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke.
There were many who donated their time and resources to make this event happen, not the least of which were Franzen-Davis Funeral Home of Livingston Montana, Chico Hot Springs, Park County Sheriff’s Office, Paradise Valley Fire and EMS, again Rocky Mountain Rotors and last but certainly not lease, Bryan and Sally Wells of Emigrant/Pray (Old Chico) Montana.
Footnote and Additional Thanks —
About two weeks after the dedication of B-47 Ridge, for the second time this summer, 67 year old Bryan, his son Josh and his 72 year old friend Kirk Baltrusch, made the hike to the crash site. This time Bryan’s two pack goats, Nip and Tuck hauled up additional items needed for mixing the concrete in preparation for the final resting place for the monument. I’m thinking that Bryan and Josh will be making another hike up that mountain to place the monument with the help once again of Rocky Mountain Rotors. Amazing.