Thousands Gather To Rember Lolo Hotshot Justin Beebe, 'Little Brother'
Beneath a giant American Flag, a dozen green hotshot crew carriers from around Montana sat with their lights flashing outside Ogren Stadium in Missoula on Saturday morning to honor Justin Beebe.
Beebe was a Lolo Hotshot who died fighting the Strawberry Fire in Nevada last Saturday. He is the only U.S. Forest Service firefighter to die in the line of duty this year.
His friends and family gathered to commemorate an avid teammate, son, fiance, and an outdoorsman who was affectionately known as the Lolo crew’s “little brother.”
Beebe, originally from Bellows Falls, Vermont, wanted to be a firefighter so badly that he hand-delivered his resume to locations across the west, along with a small jar of Vermont maple syrup.
Assistant Superintendent of the Lolo Hotshots, Shawn Faiella, remembers his interview.
“And he pulls out that little can of maple syrup. And he’s like, ‘Hey, I just-- every person that I come to along my travels here when I’m trying to get a hotshot job, that takes the time to listen to me and what it is that I want, I give them this little can of maple syrup.”
Faiella also remembers the day he called Beebe to offer him the job.
“And finally I’m like, ‘Okay dude, here’s the deal. We want you to come be a Lolo Hotshot.’ I tell you, that was awesome. I love good people, and he’s a good man. And I was so stoked to be like, he’s coming to us. He’s coming to be a Lolo Hotshot.”
Senior Firefighter Cody Forgea was with him that day in Nevada, and recalls the rookie hauling more than his fair share of gear.
“Beebe stayed on our heels the entire hike, carrying an excess of 70 pounds of gear and equipment, he never fell back. Our little brother was doing it.”
Assistant Superintendent Faiella was also there.
“So then we’re out there, on that day. And I hear, and I make my way. And it’s my boy, and it’s not good. But we pull through it. And it happened. And there’s nothing that can prepare you for that moment or nothing that can prepare you to be a speaker at some place like this. But we stuck together, as Beebe would want us to, and did our best. And now we’re here.”
In their letter to Justin, his parents and fiancé write about this bearded and rugged outdoorsman being gentle enough to plant apple and oak trees in Vermont, always with his sidekick lab named Boo.
During the memorial, more than one person mentioned seeing signs of Justin creeping up in unexpected places. Here’s Shawn Faiella:
“Justin’s truck is parked in my driveway, and the blower blows something. And I’m like ‘What in the hell is that?’ So I bend down, and there’s two acorns underneath his truck. And there’s not an oak tree on my street, that I’m aware of. I’m pretty-- I know my trees. And there’s two acorns kicking it underneath this truck. So I grab ‘em, I continue on, and I get to the front. And there’s a little apple sitting in my yard. And I’m like, ‘He’s here. This is him. This is his spirit.'”
Cody Forgea knows that he won’t forget Justin anytime soon.
“I’m gonna miss giving him hell for bringing his own maple syrup to breakfast at fire camp. I’m gonna miss him peeking over our shoulders in the saw shop. And I’m gonna miss his big bearded smile. We’ll still be able to connect with Justin, though. We’ll drink his favorite beer, we’ll eat his favorite food, and we’ll fish his favorite spots. So the next time you’re up Rock Creek and you see a hummingbird peeking over your shoulder, make sure to be kind. Because it’s just Beebe, saying hi and seeing what you’re doing. My hat’s off to you, buddy. We’re gonna miss you.”
Justin’s family and fiance ask that all of us take a long walk in the woods to honor his spirit.
Squad Leader Dan Poole offered this poem by Joyce Kilmer:
"I think that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is pressed
Against the earth’s sweet flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in Summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.''