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Virgil, 86, of Sun City, Arizona, died January 31, 1995, after a brief illness. He was born in November 1908 in Chelan, WA. Along with Glenn Smith and his brothers Frank and Chet, he was one of the four original members of the 1939 USFS experimental parachute program which led to the establishment of the smokejumper program. "I was driving a laundry truck in Wenatchee, WA, in 1939 when Frank contacted me and asked if I wanted to make some money?" That took him to the experimental program at Winthrop. "The first tree I landed in was about a 100-foot pine. I stayed there for about two hours trying to get up enough nerve to climb down. The ground crew told me to come down by wrapping my arms and legs around the trunk and sliding down. Didn't make sense at first, but I tried it and it worked. After that, they gave us ropes to use." Virgil only jumped the 1940 season at Winthrop. On August 11, 1940, Virgil and George Honey jumped the second fire in Region 6 history. It was his only fire jump of his short smokejumper career. He later worked in Spokane as a parachute technician rigging for the Army pilots until the war was over. Virgil went to Belfast, Ireland, in 1944 to instruct Army parachutists and rigger in preparation for the invasion. After the war he owned and operated a couple motels, owned a couple shrimp boats in Texas and lost all in a 1970 hurricane. He moved to Hawaii and started hang gliding, at the age of 65, for ten years until the authorities refused to allow him to continue. Virgil retired to Sun City, AZ, in 1991.



Publication Date

January 2002


Smokejumping; Smokejumpers -- United States; National Smokejumper Association; Wildfire fighters; Obituaries


Forest Management

Smokejumper Obituary: Derry, Virgil W. (Winthrop 1940)