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Public History News

On February 18th, several Stevenson Public History majors traveled to Baxter Farm, in southern Frederick County, in order to conduct an initial field survey of that historic property....

How does the official record of those being wounded in battle differ from the reality of the event?...Click here to read more.

Stevenson's Public History Program chose this 36 degree morning to launch a new tradition-- the "History Mystery" day trip....

Stevenson University and Maryland's Department of Natural Resources have teamed up to create an exciting new learning opportunity for Stevenson's Public History and Science majors. ...Click here to read more.

PFC Malvin L. Brown of Baltimore-- America's first smokejumper fatality (1945)

Ablaze from Japanese incendiary bombs in spring and summer of 1945, the forests in the Pacific Northwest--so necessary to our defense-- were literally in danger of going up in smoke.  Our government found a solution in its smokejumpers.  Realizing the existing smokejumper community was too small to fully combat the fires without reinforcements, General George C. Marshall ordered the 555th Independent Parachute Infantry Battalion (PIB) undertake a classified mission as smokejumping reinforcements.  Initially formed in 1943, by late 1944 the 555th PIB-- or "Triple Nickles" as they called themselves--were awaiting an opportunity to prove themselves as combat paratroopers.  Specifically formed as an African American, segregated, separate parachute battalion, the 555th readily accepted the classified mission they received to save America's forests.

555th Airborne waiting for a routine equipment check. Source: National Archives

According to the Army, the 555th fought numerous forest fire throughout the 1945 fire season. With detachments in both Oregon and California, "unit members courageously participated in dangerous fire-fighting missions throughout the Pacific Northwest." The National Smokejumpers Association web page tells PFC Malvin Brown's story.   "A call came in to Pendleton Monday, Aug. 6, 1945, for military smokejumpers. Their mission would take them southwest across Oregon for nearly 150 miles to the Umpqua National Forest. Ten jumpers, including Brown, would jump the fire located near Lemon Butte, 38 miles northeast of Roseburg. It was burning in the tall timber of western Oregon where 200-foot-tall trees are common. No one knows for sure what went wrong, but at 5 p.m. Brown began to slide down his rope after landing in one of these tall trees. He somehow lost his hold on the rope. Reports say he fell approximately 150 feet into a rocky creek-bed far below. Death was believed to be instantaneous...That night and the next day, Brown’s body was carried out to a road more than 15 miles away by his fellow paratroopers."  The web page goes on to state:  "Brown was born Oct. 7, 1920, in Baltimore, the fifth child of Steve and Ethel Brown. He was 24 years, nine months and 29 days old when he died. Private First Class Malvin L. Brown is listed as the first smokejumper to perish on a fire jump."

Largely unknown within the Baltimore community today, PFC Brown's sacrifice was uncovered through efforts of Stevenson University Public History majors researching information for an exhibit they are designing for the Maryland Military Historical Society.  The exhibit will chronicle the experiences of African American Marylanders who have served in the defense of their nation from the French & Indian War through today's War on Terror.  Easily transportable, the exhibit is expected to begin its tour through all of Maryland's 23 county library systems as well as Baltimore's Enoch Pratt Library system beginning next fall.

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