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"Papa" James Michael Sackett January 23, 1950 ~ August 5, 2018

Swan Song

 

August 9, 2018



SEELEY LAKE - “Papa” James Michael Sackett, was born Jan. 23, 1950. He grew up in a little cabin in the Appalachians with little to nothing. He learned to be self-sufficient at a young age by having to hunt small game so they could have meat for supper! He had a younger brother, Jerry. He was always protective of his little brother which is how he ended up in the Marines. Giving up a dream of becoming a veterinarian, he joined hoping it would prevent his brother from being drafted. That was Jim. Even from a young age he was always putting the needs and safety of others ahead of his own. It was who he was to his very core.

He joined the US Marines in 1966. He chose the Marines for two reasons. First, according to his Uncle who was a Marine, they were the “toughest, meanest, orneriest SOB’s there are.” Jim figured, “that’s gotta be me!” And for anyone who knew Jim, being a Marine fit him like a glove!

Second, he thought they had the coolest uniforms so, Marines it was! Boot camp at Paris Island was no picnic, being singled out due to his small stature. He decided that maybe being a Marine wasn’t for him however, trying to quit didn’t exactly go as expected. Jim was one of only a very few who ever successfully went AWOL from Paris Island. Once caught, that “success” earned him a fast track to Force Recon school rather than a court martial! The General told him, “anyone who is that damn sneaky, I have a job for in Vietnam!” Jim had found his calling.

Jim spent the next 27 years serving his country in one difficult and dangerous conflict after another -three tours in Vietnam plus time in the Gulf war, Desert Storm, Kuwait, Beirut, and Panama. He trained and certified as a scuba diver, paratrooper and sniper. He earned seven purple hearts, two silver stars, one bronze star and countless other medals. He was never one to brag about his achievements while in the military but he was very proud of his service to his country.

After his discharge in 1994, Jim found another way to serve. He became a fire fighter. As a trained paratrooper, parachuting into a fire ground as a forward observer seemed to be a perfect fit!

Over the subsequent years he trained and certified in wildland as well as structure firefighting. In 2005 he and his wife Marsha moved to Seeley Lake and they quickly became a fixture in both the community and the local volunteer fire department. He worked as a Lieutenant, training officer, safety officer, EMT and as the department maintenance officer for many years. If you were to ask any of the people in or around Seeley Lake who have ever called 911, they pretty much all know Papa Jim! In fact, if he ever didn’t show up to a call, the patient or caller was usually asking, “where is Jim? Is he coming”?

I do not believe words will ever be able to adequately express the impact he has had on so many lives. He was passionate about the importance of what he did and refused to accept anything less than the best from those he worked with, trained and mentored. He was unbelievably protective of those he cared about and would do anything for someone in need. Even though his blood family was small, the number of people who he considered his family and those that consider him family is huge!

Papa wasn’t perfect. He had a temper and he liked to say it like he saw it! He struggled with personal demons from his many tours of duty throughout the world in some of the most difficult and dangerous environments imaginable. And yet he was, to his core, one of the kindest, most selfless men you could ever have the privilege to know. He worked in service to others to the very end.

He was helping fight fires, train probies and maintain his beloved fire department until barely a month ago. He was hard as nails and yet gentle enough to help a little girl build a pinewood derby car at the Seeley Lake Fire Department Open House in June of this year. He would have given his life without hesitation to protect one of his people and for Jim, everyone was one of “his” people.

Papa Jim died Sunday, Aug. 5 with his wife and some of his fire department family by his side. There will be a memorial service, Saturday, Aug. 11 at the Seeley Lake Veterans Memorial Park at 10 a.m. followed by a Celebration of Life and potluck at the Seeley Lake Fire Department Station 1, 200 Firehouse Lane. Cards and flowers can be sent to the Fire Department, PO Box 309, Seeley Lake, MT 59868. 

Papa, you are loved by many and will be missed terribly. Your fire family will continue to stand watch, honoring the example you set for all of us. Rest easy. You’ve earned it.

Semper Fi

 

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