Park Ranger John C. Fonda

Park Ranger John C. Fonda

United States Department of the Interior - National Park Service, U.S. Government

End of Watch Wednesday, March 9, 1960

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John C. Fonda

Park Ranger John Fonda and District Ranger Gale Wilcox, along with the Assistant Chief Ranger, were on back country patrol on cross-country skis in Grand Teton National Park, Wyoming. The three came upon the Snake River, which had frozen over, and judged that it was safe to cross. The Assistant Chief Ranger began to cross first, followed by Ranger Wilcox and Ranger Fonda.

Ranger Fonda had made it only 15-feet from shore when the ice broke and he fell into the river. Ranger Wilcox, who could not swim, immediately belly-crawled to Ranger Fonda's position to try to reach him with ski pole. The Assistant Chief Ranger also went to the location to help also. The ice then cracked and the other two rangers fell into the river. The Assistant Chief Ranger was able to remove his skis and then tried to remove the skis of the other rangers but was unsuccessful. He then climbed out of the water. He was able to pull Ranger Wilcox out of the water but Ranger Fonda, who was still treading water with his skis on, went under and did not resurface.

Ranger Wilcox was suffering from severe hypothermia and was unable to move or speak. The Assistant Chief Ranger, who was also suffering from hypothermia, immediately set out for the nearest ranger station to radio for help and medical supplies. When rescue workers arrived at the scene they found that Ranger Wilcox had passed away from exposure.

Ranger Wilcox was posthumously awarded a Citation of Valor from the Department of the Interior and the Bronze Medal from the Carnegie Hero Commission for his efforts to save Ranger Fonda. The Assistant Chief Ranger was also awarded the Citation of Valor.

Ranger Fonda was a Korean War veteran. He had been a full time ranger for the Park Service for two years and had served as a seasonal ranger for six years. He was survived by his wife and daughter. His daughter is now a U.S. Marshal.


  • Age 28
  • Tour 8 years
  • Badge Not available
  • Military Veteran

Incident Details

  • Cause Drowned
  • Location Wyoming

wildlife management

Most Recent Reflection

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Here it is again dad… March 9. You have been on my mind so incredibly much since mom passed away on September 22. I lost a knee one day and then mom the next. The fall resulting in a quad tear above the knee replacement two months later was big wake up call! The realization that my now 63 year old body isn’t quite as tough as I thought it was is quite humbling. I so wish that you and mom could accompany me on the trails here in Washington State as I rehabilitate! Everyone who knew you always said your absolute rule was that a hike or climb was never quicker than it’s slowest person! It is slow but steady.

You would love this little 22 month old black lab dad. Dagnye went with me to the hospital daily the last 10 days in August to see mom and even though she didn’t really recognize me much, Dagnye rested her head in Mom’s lap every visit and gave her kisses. I love you so much. Please give mom hugs and kisses for me.

Always yours,

Marta Leigh Fonda, daughter of U.S, Park Ranger John Clinton Fonda and Retired Deputy US Marshal

March 9, 2023

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