Navy Monument Trail

Navy Monument Trail

A monument summoned from deep in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness

PBY-5A, picture courtesy Wikipedia

for the Siskiyou Hiker

In 1957 a monument was constructed by volunteers to honor the fallen. But over the years, the trail faded away until our crews summoned it in 2017

11 NOVEMBER 2017 | BROOKINGS, ORE. — On January 31, 1945, a World War II bomber carrying five crew and three passengers flew into a storm on the Southern Oregon Coast.

When the bomber went down deep in the South Chetco watershed, it took the lives of all eight service men on board.

  • U.S. Navy Lieutenant Laurence M. Courtis of Massachusetts
  • 2nd Lieutenant US Army Douglas C I Bacchus of Washington
  • Aviation Machinist’s Mate 3rd Class Petty Officer Leon Albert Wilcomb of Montana
  • Aviation Radioman Petty Officer 2nd Class James Francis Quil of Washington, D.C.
  • Aviation Radioman Petty Officer 3rd Class Earl D Sylvester of Michigan
  • Seaman First Class Bejamin J Freeman of Arizona
  • Aviation Machinist’s Mate 2nd Class Petty Officer Benno Clair Beck of California
  • and Ensign Alvin Dallas Ellis.

    “Alvin was my uncle,” says Chris Ellis, who lives in Nevada, and recently reached out to the Club for current information. “He was the co-pilot.” In 1957, twelve years after Alvin’s crash, a bronze monument was erected by volunteers at the crash site to honor the fallen.

    Navy Monument, picture taken 2017

    “My father went there with Rene Casteran years ago,” Ellis adds.

    Rene Casteran served as Ranger in the Kalmiopsis Wilderness, where the plane went down, from 1986 – 2008, and writes about the experience of taking Alvin’s brother, Homer, down to the bomb site.

    Wreckage, 2017

    “Homer was the first family member of any of the men buried there to do the hike down,” writes Casteran. He says Homer had come to a point in his life where “it was extremely important that he got to to see where his brother was buried.”

    Casteran describes the hike as punishing to Homer Ellis, and that on the way back up the steep trail he “gasped for breath.”

    Many years passed since Homer hiked to his brother’s burial site with Casteran, and the Navy Monument Trail, as well as the Red Mountain Trail that feeds it, faded out of existence. It filled in with downed logs, and got swallowed by brush, and wasn’t really possible to hike safely anymore.

    Junction of Red Mountain and Navy Monument Trail

    Then in April 2017 we worked with the Gold Beach District to secure a grant through the Curry County Resource Advisory Committee to restore this trail complex in the far southwest arm of the Kalmiopsis Wilderness.

    “It’s great to open up trails,” says Executive Director, Gabriel Howe. “But this was also a way to honor service in a whole new way. It’s exciting to hear from people like Chris Ellis who are so supportive of our work.”

    Crew Leader Valentin Chavez showed his support by leading a crew on the trail there for 10 days. He described it as an impenetrable jungle. “The mosquitoes were horrendous, the days were long and hot,” as the Chetco Bar Fire roared a few miles away.

    But Siskiyou Mountain Club’s crews finished the project, summoning access to the Red Mountain Trail, and the Navy Monument Trail.

    “My dad told me there was crew and two tag-alongs on the flight,” says Ellis. “And they were flying a brand new PBY-5A bomber.” The WWII float plane was especially effective for attacking Nazi submarines, and remained in service through the 1980s. It’s still used today for fighting fires.

    In September, the Chetco Bar Fire made its way through the Navy Monument Trail.

    “There was a lot of tanoak in there,” says Field Coordinator, Aaron Babcock. “It’s going to take a lot of work to keep it open.”

    “I’d like to hike in there someday,” says Ellis. “I’ll have to make it out there.” ###

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