By the Community, State and Nation
U. S. NAVAL AIR STATION*
Corpus Christi, Texas
By CAPTAIN THENT0N D. BOAZ (MC) USN
1 May 1947
Brief outline of events pertaining to my actions in connection with the Texas City disaster of 15 April 1947. Times are approximate.
16 April 1947
1205: Received a phone call from Captain Hubbard stating that there had been some kind of an explosion with many dead and injured at Texas City. Texas, and that he had received a request for immediate medical assistance and supplies to be flown to the scene of the disaster. The request came from Mr. Jeff Bell, Secretary of the Corpus Christi Chamber of Commerce. Immediate steps were taken to assemble supplies and medical personnel to be flown to Texas City.
1320: I took off in a R4D transport plane with 7 doctors, 6 nurses and 2 corpsmen. Two doctors, Lieutenant D. W. Brown and Lieutenant L. M. Roberts, and one flume, Lt. Commander M. C. Banaszek, were from the station Medical Department. All others were from the hospital. This plane also contained a small amount of medical gear, although the majority of equipment and supplies followed in another Douglas transport plane about 20-30 minutes later. The following equipment and supplies were included from the station Medical Department:
|25 Stokes stretchers||2 large emergency|
|22 Army type litters||(hurricane) boxes|
|452 Morphine syrettes||2 large boxes sterile|
|6 Resuscitators||Miscellaneous drugs|
50 or more gas masks (from Naval Air Station)
A similar amount, or more, was furnished by the hospital and included with the above.
A third Douglas plane transported a load of supplies and equipment from the Moody Clinic, Corpus Christi, Texas, along with at least one civilian doctor. This plane landed at Galveston, whereas the first two planes landed on a small grass field on the outskirts of Texas City, between landings and take-offs of many small planes.
1430: Landed at Texas City Airport Reported to Commodore A. O. Rabideau (Commanding Officer of Orange. Texas, Naval Station), Senior Naval Officer present, just prior to his leaving by plane. He instructed us to report to Captain Terry (MC), USN, at the City Hall, which we did after stopping several cars on the highway and obtaining rides to town (3 miles).
There were a few wounded on cots at the Airport and were well cared for.
1450: Reported to Captain Terry at City Hall, He suggested that we stand by until a little order was obtained, in order to determine if our unit was needed. Apparently most of the wounded had been given emergency treatment and evacuated to hospitals of other towns and cities. Minor injuries were still being attended to.
While standing by, amongst much confusion and crowds of people, I was asked if we brought plasma and gas masks. Went to the Airport in an old station wagon with siren and red light at a speed too great for safety. The special officer driver stated that the masks and plasma were needed down on the water front. We obtained the gear and proceeded to the water front, which turned out to be in between the streams of smoke, between the fires and along the wharves. There were 50 to 100 policemen and rescue workers delving amongst the ruins bringing out bodies. Apparently no one was expected to be found alive. We were alongside the High Flyer, which blew up that night and killed and injured about 60 people.
1600: Reported back to City Hall. Since it was getting late we had to decide if our unit was needed; otherwise we were to return to Corpus Christi.
A conference was held with Dr. Quinn, a local civilian doctor who was in charge of all casualties. Captain Goodbody, Captain Terry, and Commander DuVigneaud. Dr. Quinn asked if our unit would go to NAS, Hitchcock, Texas, and set up in a stand-by status to look after any future casualties, as they were preparing for more explosions. Dr. Quinn stated that although there were many doctors from that part of Texas in the city, they were unorganized and would be leaving before night. He stated that it would be a great relief for him to know that our unit was standing by at Hitchcock. The Air Station at Hitchcock is about 12 miles from Texas City and is on a reduced status.
The Corpus Christi Naval Medical Unit proceeded to Hitchcock, under the direction of Commander DuVigneaud. The unit took a truck load of supplies and equipment from our planes.
1720: I returned to NAS Corpus Christi with the two planes and the majority of our gear. I was interviewed by a local civilian reporter on my return.
17 April 1947
I flew to Hitchcock Air Station in a small plane, on orders from Admiral Sprague, to see if our unit was needed further, and to make plans for their return if not needed. Three dozen 14 x 17 X-ray films were delivered to Commander DuVigneaud, as he had requested.
Commander DuVigneaud and I drove to Texas City and discussed the matter with Dr. Quinn. He requested that the unit remain at Hitchcock until the next day if possible. He stated that he had instructed all of his emergency medical workers to direct future casualties to Hitchcock in case of more explosions and casualties. I returned to Corpus that afternoon and the Unit remained at Hitchcock.
18 April 1947
0850: Admiral Sprague talked with Commander DuVigneaud over the phone in my presence and learned that it was agreeable for our unit to return. The Admiral informed Commander Duvigneaud that the planes would be for them at Galveston Airport at 1100 for their return.
1245: The Unit arrived at NAS Corpus Christi, Texas.
*This is a report.
U. S. NAVAL HOSPITAL*
(Part played by U. S. Naval Hospital, Houston, Texas, in caring for disaster patients, Texas City, on and subsequent to 16 April 1947)
At approximately 0953 the morning of 16 April the Medical Officer in Command was informed of a radio broadcast calling for medical assistance at Texas City because of a very severe explosion and resulting fires.
Immediately orders were issued to equip two ambulances with supplies, doctors, nurses, and corpsmen to be dispatched to Texas City, a distance of 46 miles, to set up first aid stations and the ambulances to he used for transferring injured to hospitals, with instructions to the senior medical officer that this hospital was open to receive any patients that he might send to it. These ambulances and personnel departed this hospital at approximately 1015 and arrived at Texas City at 1115 and immediately went in to action in the disaster area, doing both rescue and first-aid work.
In the course of the next hour to hour and a half two more ambulances with more nurses, corpsmen, and doctors were dispatched from this hospital.
A message from the senior medical officer representing the hospital at the scene advised that the situation was well in hand, but as many requests were still being received by radio and other communications for more doctors, nurses and aides, at 1300 a bus loaded with doctors, nurses and corpsmen and a van loaded with all types of medical supplies and equipment were dispatched to the scene, the hospital Executive Officer being in charge of this party.
The Executive Officer was instructed to offer the services of his detachment and all supplies at Texas City and if not needed to proceed to Galveston, Texas, a distance of ten miles from Texas City, where the greater majority of victims were hospitalized, and render whatever aid was desired by the several hospitals in that city. As a result of this trip some of this personnel were left at hospitals in Galveston and did not return to this hospital until approximately 0400 on the morning of 17 April, having been told that their services were no longer needed.
On the afternoon of the disaster, 16 April, a radio broadcast announced that the Naval Hospital. Houston, had opened up all available wards for the reception of disaster victims, and 500 beds were put in a state of readiness to he used for any casualties.
In addition to the Naval Hospital Staff, doctors, hospital corpsmen and nurses were called from the Naval Station, Orange, Texas, and three of the doctors proceeded by air in company with the Commanding Officer of the Naval Station, Orange, Texas, Commodore A. O. Rabideau, to the scene of the disaster. The corpsmen and nurses from the Naval Station, Orange, proceeded to Naval Hospital, Houston, to be used as replacements for those sent from this hospital to the scene of the disaster.
The Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, Texas, and the Naval Hospital, Corpus Christi, Texas, dispatched planes with supplies, 8 doctors, 6 nurses and 2 corpsmen to the scene of the disaster, arriving in the early afternoon. They tendered their services and rendered first aid, then proceeded to Naval Air Facility, Hitchcock, Texas, to set up a temporary hospital for the reception of patients and remained there until the morning of the 17th of April, then evacuated their patients to a hospital in Galveston and returned to their stations.
On the morning of 17 April the Medical Officer in Command with the Commandant, Eighth Naval District, Rear Admiral A. S. Merrill, proceeded by car to Texas City and offered the full facilities of this hospital and then to Galveston where the Medical Officer in Command made a personal visit to each hospital, making the same offer. Since then there have been repeated and frequent requests for supplies, drugs and equipment including operating tables, operating instruments, superficial X-ray therapy machines, mortuary supplies, splints, drugs, plasma, penicillin, linen and sterilizers, all of which has been readily supplied.
This hospital received 5 disaster patients on 16 April and 13 on 17 April, only one of whom was in a critical condition and died on the morning of the 17th after having been in this hospital approximately 16 hours.
On the morning of 19 April the Medical Officer in Command sent a representative to visit the hospitals in Galveston, Texas, to once more offer the services of personnel, equipment and supplies to them, up to capacity.
Twelve hospital corpsmen from this hospital have been on duty at U. S. Marine Hospital, Galveston, since the disaster.
The following doctors, nurses and hospital corpsmen were in Houston Naval Hospital unit that went to Texas City:
Captain C. C. Terry (MC) USN
Lieut. Comdr. G. D. Broyles (MC) USN
Lieut. Corndr. C. G. Aycock (MC) USN
Lieut. It. M. Campbell (MC) USN
Lieut. W. C. Hurly (MC) USN
Lieut. (jg) J. F. OMalley (MC) USNR
LieuL M. A. DeLisa (NC) USN
Lieut. H. L. Delk (NC) USN
Lieut. (jg) G. L. Barrett (NC) USN
C. E. Hart, CPhM. USN
E. A. Ordway, CPhM, USN
L. L. Elton, PhMlc, USN
D. J. Hefels, PhM2c, USN
D. E. Rogillio, PhM2c, USN
D. E. Davis, PhM2c, USN
J. A. Finch, PhM2c, USN
J. J. Brown, HAlc, USN
*This is a report
U. S. NAVAL HOSPITAL
Corpus Christi, Texas
(Report of Disaster at Texas City, Texas, 16 April 1947)
By COMDR. O. G. DUVIGNEAUD (MC) USN
In compliance with the verbal instructions of the Medical Officer in command of the U, S. Naval Hospital Corpus Christi, Texas, I took charge of five medical officers, five nurses, one chaplain, and two pharmacist’s mates of the Naval Hospital Staff and boarded a plane, provided by the Commander, N.A.B.T., about 1300 on 16 April, 1947. Two medical officers and one nurse from the Naval Dispensary, Naval Air Station, Corpus Christi, joined this group. We arrived at Texas City, Texas, at about 1400 the same date.
We were met by Commodore Rabideau, USN, who instructed us to report to the City Hall. It took more than an hour to reach the City Hall because of the crowds seeking missing or injured relatives. During this hour we visited several Clinics already in operation to offer the services of our personnel or our supplies. They were not needed at this particular time. The treatment of casualties was under control. The seriously injured had been evacuated to hospitals in neighboring cities and additional medical and surgical supplies had been received.
At 1500 we were able to reach the City Hall and report to Dr. Quinn, who was in charge of the entire emergency program. Because we were an organized group his decision was to assign us to the Dispensary, located at the 11. S. Naval Air Station at Hitchcock Field.
We found the Dispensary in excellent condition and immediately set it in operating condition for any emergency. One doctor, two nurses and fourteen hospital corpsmen from the Naval Air Station, Dallas, Texas, joined us at the Dispensary.
The evening of 16 April 1947, we received two ambulance loads of patients with minor injuries. At 0110 on 17 April 1947, the second ship exploded. We were alerted immediately but it was several hours before casualties arrived. At 0700 of the 17th, we received several ambulance loads of patients. Twelve patients required hospitalization, one of which was a traumatic amputation of the foot. We performed a guillotine amputation and then refrigerated the extremity.
At 1200 the 17th we reported to Dr. Quinn for further orders. He requested that we remain until the 18th at least, because we were the only really organized group that could be relied upon completely on short notice.
On the morning of 18 April we evacuated our patients to the John Sealy Hospital, Galveston, Texas. We checked out with Dr. Quinn, who agreed that further stay was not indicated. We arrived at Corpus Christi by plane about 1400 on 18 April 1947.
Personnel sent from U. S. Naval Hospital. Corpus Christi, Texas, to Texas City, Texas, in response to a call for assistance in the disaster to the City on 16 April l947.*
Comdr. D. G. DuVigneaud, (MC) USN
Lieut. G. W. Hyatt, (MC) USN
Lieut. H. E. Hamel, (MC) USN
Lieut. (jg) W. R. Lochausen, (MC) USN
Lieut, (jg) J. D. Capehart, (MC) USNR
Lieut. Comdr. D. M. Bacon, (NC) USN
Lieut. L. H. Schinske, (NC) USN
Lieut. M. H. Statts, (NC) USN
Lieut. L. Bridges, (NC) USN
Lieut. (jg) A. B. Clement, (NC) USN
*List included in report made to Dr. Quinn by Lt.
Comdr. D. J. Kosky. ChC, USNR
D. H. Hadley, Jr., HAl, USN and T. R. Everett, HAl, USN
Lieut. Comdr. D. J. Kosky, ChC. USNR
ATLANTIC RESERVE FLEET*
Following is a resume of the activities of the Medical Departments, Texas Group. ATLANTIC RESERVE FLEET and the Naval Station, Orange, Texas, during the Texas City disaster:
The Orange personnel composed of:
Lieut. Comdr. T. D. McCarthy, MC (S) USNR
Lieut. (jg) M. H. Bierman, MC, USNR
Lieut. (jg) J. E. Dernoncourt, MC. USNR
Walker, R. D., CPhM, USN
Left Orange via air in two planes owned and piloted by Mr. Brown and associate from Brownair Airport. We left Orange at about 1200 and arrived at Municipal Air Field at 1245, Galveston Texas. The above were taken to the John Scaly Hospital by car. On arrival at the hospital they dispatched about 50 boxes of Morphine Syrettes to Texas City Emergency area, and an unknown quantity was given to the John Sealy Hospital, from supplies furnished by the Reserve Fleet. The John Sealy Hospital was also furnished several cartons of badly needed battle dressings, field kits, petrolatum and other miscellaneous items. All were immediately assigned to the preoperative receiving ward where a hurried evaluation of the injured was made and the patients prepared by administering plasma and whole blood as indicated.
A team was formed and assigned to the operating room to do emergency surgery. The more critical patients were cared for first. The patients were then sent to a different post operative ward. We worked continuously for about 12 hours. At the time of our departure there were only about five cases more needing emergency surgery. Word was circulated that after about 1200 P.M. all casualties were being evacuated to Houston. We left John Sealy Hospital in a volunteer Red Cross workers car and were brought to the U. S. Naval Hospital, Houston, to see if we could do more work.
Injuries at the scene of the disaster were fractures, simple and compound, of the extremities chiefly. There were several spine injuries, too; multiple lacerations on different parts of the body with scalp and head wounded predominating. Most of the cases at the area complained of difficult breathing due to concussion.
Most of the injuries could be explained by flying debris. Burn wounds were rare. It is the opinion that all burn cases were too near the explosion to survive. There were perforated eardrums in mostly all cases cared for by the Orange Navy Group.
A second plane was flown directly to Texas City under supervision of the Commodore of the Naval Station and carried two navy nurses, Miss Dorothy Allied and Miss Marie Shef, who remained at work in Texas City until approximately 5:00 P.M., when they were directed to report to the Hospital at Houston. First-aid and emergency care was completed as required.
Commander R. B. Sheppheardson, (MC) USN, the senior medical officer of the Naval Station, was in Houston on business and reported direct to the Naval Hospital to offer his services and assist.
A group of personnel from the Naval Station and the Texas Group formed a caravan and were sent and directed to report first to the Naval Hospital at Houston for routing orders. The Texas group personnel were composed of pharmacists mates particularly selected because of extensive operating room and combat first-aid work with the Marines during the war. List follows:
Ens. F. H. Smith, (HC), USN TEXGRP
Darton, W. E., ChPhM. USN “
Mason, J. M., ChPhM. USN “
Slaughter, W. P., ChPhM, USN “
Tillman, R. B., PhM1, USN “
Clark, T. W., PhM2, USN “
Tomcho, A. G., CPhM, USN “
Wilson, M. E., PhM2. USN “
Shirley, D. F., PhM1, USN “
West, H. E., PhMI, USN “
Schrumm, F. J., PhM1, USN “
James, R. J., PhMl, USN “
Chernowsky, P. E., PhMl, USN “
Fritz, W. R., CPhM, USN “
Connolly, J. J., PhMl, NAVSTA
Gateley, J. H., PhM2 “
Whiteman, W. S., PhM3 “
Palacios, A., PhM3 “
Lambert, C. S., PhMl “
Hayes, C. N., Hal “
These personnel used four station wagons furnished by the Naval Station and reported direct to the Naval Hospital, Houston. Supplies which were badly needed were brought, such as 200 boxes of syrettes (morphine) first-aid kits, battle dressings, petrolatum, etc. The station wagons were convened and used as ambulances.
Drivers from among the above drove ambulances from the Hospital and assisted as attendants. Others worked on wards as reliefs for personnel sent direct to the scene from the Hospital and filled in in various ways in a most commendable manner. It might be mentioned that all left without their meals prior to noon, without any additional clothing, shaving equipment, etc., and were extremely anxious to serve.
The Naval Station ambulance was en route from Houston at the time of the disaster and was directed with corpsmen from Hospital on arrival at the scene. The driver was Barker, Galveston, Texas
*This is a report
Office of the Assistant to the
DISTRICT DIRECTOR OF NAVAL RESERVE
405 Post Office Building
18 April 1947
From: Asst. District Director of Naval Reserve (local) Galveston, Texas
To: COMMANDANT, EIGHTH NAVAL DISTRICT
Subj. Texas City Disaster — Aid rendered in.
For the information of the Commandant, the following is a report on Naval Reserve activities during the Texas City Disaster.
Immediately after the initial explosion, which was viewed from my office window, I contacted the local American Red Cross to offer any assistance we could render. They were told all facilities we possessed were at their disposal, including radios, men and other materials. Lt. J. H. Beeman, commanding officer of Division 8-88, and myself were asked to carry all available first-aid kits and gas masks from the Naval Reserve Armory to the scene of the fire. On our way to Texas City, fifteen miles away, we picked up several doctors and hospital corpsmen; radio announcements had been made for all other Naval Reserve doctors and corpsmen to report to local hospitals.
Upon our return to Galveston Red Cross Headquarters, we were asked to provide bedding, sheets, pillow cases, pajamas, and medical supplies from the Naval Reserve Armory to supply two evacuation centers set up in Galveston — one at the New Marine Corps Reserve Armory and the other at Menard Park. Naval Reservists worked practically all night at evacuation centers. This group was placed under the command of U. J. H. Beeruan and remained on duty until 0800 the following morning, being relieved by member of the local Marine Corps Reserve.
At noon Rear-Admiral A. S. Merrill arrived with Capt. Clyde Brunson and was interviewed by the press and radio stations. Several radio announcements were made listing the Commandants arrival and explaining what had been offered and provided by the Navy Department.
Later during the evening the American Legion was assigned to furnish military police but could not fill their quota so an additional plea was made by radio for Naval Reservists to volunteer their services.
So far today no organized assistance has been required of the Naval Reserves, but since the fires are still raging, we are holding men in standby should they be called.
The regular Wednesday night Naval Reserve meeting was not held but men who rendered assistance when called upon were credited with drill attendance.
/s/ Herbert M. Mesinger
Lieut. (jg)., USNR
Capt. E. E. Kerr
407 Post Office Bldg.
Houston 2, Texas
REPORT OF DR. CLARENCE F. QUINN, MEDICAL COORDINATOR
To the Honorable Mayor and City Commissioners
Re: Disaster in Texas City on 16 April 1947 Official Report of Medical Coordinator
On 16 April, 1947, the city of Texas City was rocked by a blast of a ship explosion (later learned to be the Grand Camp). This ship was berthed at the slip directly across from the Monsanto Chemical Company.
Many sightseers were in the immediate vicinity and suffered death and serious injuries. The Monsanto plant did not explode but many of the personnel were killed and injured due to the direct effects of the blast. Individuals living in the vicinity of the blast suffered death and serious injuries.
A number of persons living at great distances from the site of the explosions sustained injuries which required attention from physicians. Many of these injuries are disabling to the point of permanent future disabilities.
At the moment of the first explosion the doctors of Texas City were scattered far, attending to the various duties expected of doctors in an industrial community. Many were making calls and some were in the clinics attending their regular sick calls. One or two were in the operating room terminating their surgery.
As the terrible death declaratory blast rent the air, all doctors immediately returned to their respective clinics and prepared themselves for the influx of casualties which they knew would immediately be brought in.
No one had long to wait. Soon the injured came on foot, in trucks, private cars and trailers. The facilities of all clinics were soon taxed and doctors found themselves in the position of not being able to give definitative treatment but merely to treat shock, which means giving morphine, blood plasma, and supplying blankets, sheets, etc., for protection and warmth. After the blast, we were without water and electricity. It was impossible to wash wounds and even utilize electric lights for carefully checking the wounded. Our X-ray machines were valueless. Our limited facilities for large numbers of patients made the task almost hopeless from the start. Our clinics overflowed.
Soon we found ourselves on the outside, but with the greatly needed supply of cots and blankets we were able to carry on our task of evacuation.
For some time we waited for ambulances. Our patients had been prepared for evacuation and we wondered where our ambulances were. We later learned that our ambulance drivers were dead and our ambulances were blasted into disintegration. They were at the scene of the explosion.
As the demand for evacuation became greater, we developed plans for evacuation. Two buses were utilized, and properly prepared patients were loaded for the trip to Galveston. Soon the magnitude of patients demanded evacuation by any means found practical. Pickup trucks were used with cots which provided transportation for two individuals. Trucks which brought the injured to the various clinics were further used to transport the wounded on to the hospitals of Galveston. Private cars were used to carry certain cases to the hospitals. We were handicapped no end by not being able to hospitalize these cases in Texas City. Many cases were marked for evacuation which could have been hospitalized here in Texas City had we the hospital space.
All wounds were dressed and only after hours were the doctors able to suture wounds of the Texas City people injured not so severely as the unfortunates at the immediate site of the blast. These people who came to their doctors soon after the blast were sent home after first aid and requested to return in two or three hours for final treatment.
The doctors of Texas City worked many hours after the emergency caring for those injured who came in and returned to their homes to return later for definitative treatment. Many of these cases left Texas City and sought medical assistance farther to the west La Marque, Dickinson, Alvin, Pasadena, and Houston. The doctors of these communities rendered great assistance and in the future must be considered a part of any emergency plan for this area.
A second ship, the High Flyer, exploded at 1:10 A.M. on the 17th. Casualties were light as this blast was anticipated. The doctors were all at their clinics awaiting these injured and they were taken care of as they were brought in.
At the time of the Texas City explosion, it was feared that large numbers of patients with severe burns would be encountered, as in the Cocoa-nut Grove fire and similar disasters. Had such been the case, we would have accepted some of the many offers of help from leading plastic surgeons over the state and nation who wired or telephoned to see if their services were needed. Actually, however, with less than 10 exceptions all of the patients who were severely burned were dead before any help could reach them.
It is true that persons with horribly mutilated faces from flying steel and other debris were killed instantly by the effects of the blast on the brain, lungs, and other internal organs. The situation does not resemble that found in large Army and Navy Plastic Surgery Centers during the war where hundreds of soldiers were collected for treatment with extensive disfiguring wounds of every description.
Plans are being carried forward for physical, occupational, and economic rehabilitation of all disaster victims. Meanwhile, the plastic surgery situation is “under control” and no plastic surgeons from states other than Texas are considered necessary to take care of this phase of the disaster.
Much credit must be given the hospitals of Galveston, John Sealy, St. Mary’s, the Marine Hospital and the immediately opened hospital at Fort Crockett. Most of these hospitals were already crowded and the manner in which they provided space for our wounded and the medical service which they provided demands commendation.
Medical students at the University of Texas (Galveston) gave their time according to their ability for nursing or treatment. Residents and interns came to Texas City; while their arrival was too late to assist in the early treatment of casualties, they were able to give assistance to a tired group of Texas City doctors.
Credit must be given a group of alert Galveston citizens who immediately organized a patrol along the highways entering Galveston so as to allow reception of patients at the hospitals in the minimum length of time. It is recorded that vehicles carrying wounded could attain speeds of 80 miles per hour without fear of cross traffic.
Our police of Texas City should be given credit for their wonderful assistance in initiating the evacuation of these wounded. Only one road out of Texas City was available and this road was crowded with a panic stricken people.
Our thanks should be directed toward our doctors of the Mainland who took care of many of our wounded who left Texas City when they realized the doctors of Texas City were too busy with the seriously wounded immediately adjacent to the scene of the explosion.
Many people came to our assistance. Supplies came in from all sections of the country. The Butane Gas people of Port Neches sent in a trained team consisting of a nurse, safety engineer, medical technicians, and an ambulance. A nurse from Alice, Texas, who was on vacation, gave her entire time to working in a dispensary set up in the jail. Many other nurses, graduate and practical, gave their time in working at this dispensary or at the morgue. Shortly after the emergency period ended, many bus loads of nurses came into Texas City with motorcycle assistance. These were immediately sent on to Galveston, where the job of hospitalization was being accomplished.
Many individuals, including surviving executives, gave of their time in rescue work to the point of endangering their own lives. Many volunteer litter bearers worked until exhaustion overtook them as they attempted to carry the dead from the dangerous areas. Only through such efforts was the work of relief accomplished.
The assistance given by the Army and Navy is recounted in separate reports but it is proper to state that the Navy had trained personnel at the scene within a few hours, under the direct orders from the Navy.
General Wainwright, Commander of the 4th Army with Headquarters at Fort Sam Houston, appeared at the scene and ordered his 32nd Medical Battalion to this area for medical evacuation. Their arrival was necessarily late for the initial evacuation program, but their assistance in recovering bodies from the disaster area was invaluable. The Fourth Army also set up field kitchens and gave generously of Army rations not only to wounded but also to workers and displaced persons. The commanding officer at the scene was Gen. Sheetz, who cooperated in a wonderful manner with civilian heads of departments.
The Navy Medical personnel who gave so much time and expert assistance was sent to Texas City under orders of Admiral Swanson, Surgeon General of the Navy. Supplies came into Texas City from without and from both the Navy and Army. Our thoughts were only commands to higher sources for anything we requested. All items were expendable. No responsibility was attached to the receipt of any article or its disbursement. Blankets were given freely. Plasma was distributed to all through the clinics, as were bandages, gauze, tape and antiseptics.
To the officers and men of both the Army and Navy units our everlasting thanks are given. They came to us in our hour of need and we shall never forget their labor.
The Salvation Army came upon the scene and immediately undertook their program of relief.
On reaching the scene of the disaster, the American Red Cross organized their program. Our task could never have been handled without this well planned assistance.
Although not a medical issue in the strict sense of the word, the work of the morticians and embalmers of our dead must not be overlooked. Many of our dentists gave much time in assisting in identification of the dead through dental work.
We have suffered a devastating blow, but with Gods assistance and the charity of our fellow Americans we shall rehabilitate our wounded. Our dead have been buried. Our widows and orphans have reconciled themselves to their loss in the words, “Not my will, O Lord, but Thine be done.”
Our thanks to the people of the United States for their wonderful assistance in providing funds and medical supplies. Without their help we could not have taken care of our gigantic problem in providing for our injured and needy.
The doctors of Texas City and the Mainland appreciate their great responsibility in these terrible catastrophes and pledge their services in any future disaster to care for the wounded and rehabilitate those requiring their attention.
A plan is being prepared by the doctors of the Mainland for treatment of casualties in case of a future disaster. We feel that with the added facility of a hospital on the Mainland, our doctors will be able to care for our own people in case of emergency and perhaps even assist the people of our neighbor Isle, Galveston, should such assistance be required.
Dr. W. W. NESBITT, Medical Director
The Marine Hospital has 202 beds; 28 were empty at the time of the disaster. An emergency ward was created in the recreation building, and about 34 more beds were set up. By concentrating ambulatory patients in the rest of the hospital, sufficient ward space was created to permit all patients to have bed care.
There were 110 patients admitted within 3 hours; many more were given treatment and then released.
Postmaster Raymond Steward and 15 of his employees came in immediately to help, filling in with brooms or anything else necessary.
The excellent service of all volunteers was greatly appreciated.
*From interview by Doris Bangeman.
NAVY ASSISTANCE AT TEXAS CITY*
J. C. FORD, Commander USN
District Public Information Officer
Navy personnel throughout Texas and as far away as New Orleans and even Washington considered the Texas City disaster a veritable “call to arms.”
Inactive personnel volunteered their services side by side with those on active duty. Planes whisked Naval medical personnel from Corpus Christi, Orange, Galveston, Houston and Dallas, and other points. Supplies were close behind.
The Commander in Chief of the Atlantic Fleet advised that the hospital ship Consolation could be made available.
James Forrestal. Secretary of the Navy, wired the Mayor of Texas City, offering sympathy and aid.
The Houston Coast Guard Auxiliary Commander took two radio equipped 20 knot Mathews cruisers to the scene for official duty.
Commander R. E. Chrome, senior Battalion commanding officer, Houston, reported, “The immediate response was great.”
At 12:50 Cdr. Vincent de P. Hurley, USNR, commanding division 8-90 of the Houston Organized Reserve, departed the Naval Reserve mooring area with the picket boat bound for Texas City. Aboard were 17 medical personnel and all equipment thought necessary.
Lt. Cdr. Lawrence J. Isaacson, Asst. Dist. Director of Naval Reserve in Houston, reported.
The Naval “well done” was extended to the hundreds who volunteered, and to Naval personnel of all cities who assisted.
*Excerpt from informal letter
15TH BATTALION, U. S. MARINE CORPS*
Lt. Col. CA. ROVETTA, U. S. M. C.
During the wild rumors of the first few minutes, I heard that the Medical Arts Building in Galveston had blown up.
We of the Marine Corps felt that we could best help by affiliating with the American Legion. We announced over the radio for all Marine Reservists and ex-Marines available for volunteer duty to report to the Legion Hall. Response by members awaiting reactivation of the 15th Infantry Battalion, USMCR, was unanimous. One volunteer was a girl, a member of the Marine Women’s Reserve.
Among other duties, we stood guard at the temporary morgue in the Central High School Gymnasium, also the Red Cross Supply distribution point.
*Excerpt from informal letter
UNIVERSITY OF TEXAS MEDICAL BRANCH HOSPITALS
Texas City Emergency Activity
By B. I. Burns, PH. D., M. D.
Medical Director of Hospitals
The hospitals affiliated with the Medical Branch, with a combined capacity of 653 beds, consist of the Main John Sealy Hospital, the Women’s Hospital, the Colored Hospital, the Children’s Hospital and two Psychiatric Hospitals. In the first three classified as general hospitals, there are something over 260 beds occupied by patients in the category to which the great majority of wounded from the disaster area belong, general medicine and surgery.
While the 260 patients from the Texas City disaster does not constitute a large group from the standpoint of hospital beds, still it is an extremely large group to handle on an emergency basis. Approximately the same number of patients were treated and discharged immediately.
Within a few minutes after news of the disaster reached us, two teams of surgeons and nurses were en route to Texas City. Plasma and whole blood were sent immediately. Within an hour after the explosion was reported, it was known we would receive patients, and a number of rooms in the out patient building were set up as temporary emergency rooms. Patients began to arrive within the hour, were seen in the Emergency room, given necessary treatment, and routed either to hospital beds, the operating room, or discharged.
To make room for more than 255 additional patients in a hospital already operating at normal capacity, it was necessary to find out how many patients could immediately be discharged from the 260 beds which were the type needed for the injured patients, and to determine where additional beds could be placed.
In order to provide additional beds, children were transferred from one floor of the Children’s Hospital to our own Stewart Convalescent Home and to another home in the city made available to us. This floor accommodated nearly 40 patients.
Some space was available in the State Psychopathic Hospital because a shortage of nurses made it impossible to utilize this space for the purpose for which it was intended. About 30 wounded patients were hospitalized in this building.
Further relief was had through the offer of hospital facilities at Fort Crockett, where patients who did not need further surgery and could be cared for with less facilities were transferred to this hospital.
The Army provided a staff of doctors and nurses for the Fort Crockett Hospital from the Army Medical Department at Fort Sam Houston (Brooke General Hospital) and Randolph Field (Station Hospital). Additional beds were provided in the John Sealy Hospital and the Colored Hospital by crowding the general wards including a private ward.
Like all hospitals, we have been short of nursing staff for the past few years. Before the afternoon of April 16 had passed, we had more volunteer nurses report to us than we could assign to duty. The same is true of volunteer doctors.
Our own medical faculty and student body responded and gave invaluable help throughout the emergency. Volunteers through the Red Cross and independent volunteers came in larger numbers than could be assigned to duty.
Without waiting for requests, merchants in the city were delivering to us beds, bedding, linens, surgical supplies, drugs, etc. As soon as the report had had time to be broadcast over the country, we were receiving telegraph and telephone messages from the Red Cross, from pharmaceutical houses, and from sister hospitals, informing us that they were sending such important items as penicillin, tetanus antitoxin, plasma and whole blood by airplane. Red Cross organizations sent truck loads and plane loads of surgical supplies.
I wish to record here our deep appreciation of the large number of volunteers not connected with the Medical Branch who offered their services and to point out that the hospital activity could not have been expanded to the extent that it had to be within a matter of a few hours, without this volunteer help. This experience made these individuals especially valuable during an emergency. It very soon became apparent that the organization under which the hospital ordinarily operates was adequate. Regular hospital employees performed as usual, except that every one of them increased his activity many times and many individuals worked day and night as long as needed. This was true of the preclinical medical faculty, medical and nursing students and of the regular hospital staff.
In a teaching hospital, medical and nursing staffs operate under a departmentalized organization. The personnel of each department is responsible to a department head or director. Volunteers from whatever source readily fit into this organization and it is difficult to see how it could be improved upon for disaster service. Lines of responsibility for an activity of extraordinary proportions are the same as those necessary for a day to day functioning. The smooth way that everyone fell into line was a matter of favorable comment,
Members of the preclinical faculty, who do not ordinarily have duties in the hospitals, assisted in every type of activity ranging from directing traffic to assistance with the medical and nursing care of patients, working throughout the day and night of the 16th and into the day of the 17th without rest.
Student nurses performed any type of service necessary and many of them protested when ordered off duty to rest. Junior and Senior medical students were especially useful in the medical care of patients, doing medical histories and physical examinations. This work has been highly commended for its completeness and speed. Without this help, at a time when residents and interns were otherwise occupied, these records would have been greatly delayed.
Other students, some of whom had had medical corps experience in the Army or Navy, assisted in the administration of plasma so that each patient who needed plasma had it administered in the emergency room and it was carried to his hospital bed with him.
The hospital has on its staff some 76 residents and I8 interns, graduate doctors who are continuing their training. Many of these men, although not at the present following surgical training, have recently seen active service in the armed forces, and many non-surgical residents became emergency surgeons. Five operating rooms with complete staffs of surgeons and nurses were active for a total of 36 hours.
The fact that our medial and nursing staff performed efficiently was not unexpected, but it was impressive to see the whole hospital organization in operation in active medical and surgical care at one time. The manner in which our own medical nursing and non professional personnel performed was extremely ratifying. This, with the additional support which we received, and know we will always receive from outside volunteers, is comforting when we contemplate that another disaster might occur.
I am sure that not one of us would have been willing to forego the opportunity to participate in the care of the patients injured in the Texas City disaster, but none of us would care to repeat it. We hope we will never again be called upon for a similar performance, but we have confidence that we have the type of organization which will give a good account of itself in any emergency.
DRUG ROOM, JOHN SEALY HOSPITAL
By CHARLOTTE COLEMAN, Chief Pharmacist
The cooperation we received in the drug room was wonderful. With the aid of the drug houses, the drug salesmen, the local pharmacies and the Red Cross, we were able to supply all the drugs so desperately needed.
The unselfish efforts of our entire force, the volunteer pharmacists, and other workers made it possible for us to stay open day and night.
I want to thank everyone for their valuable help and their unfailing courtesy and kindness during the disaster.
JOHN SEALY HOSPITAL
By VERA M. WANDLESS, Asst. Housekeeper
At 9:00 A.M., on the morning of April 16, 1 had just finished detailing “extra work” to the maids of the wards, bringing protests. Nevertheless, before that day was over, each girl had done her full share ungrudgingly, willingly, without complaint. Theirs was the drudgery, the work so essential to the maintenance of smooth operation by the nurses and doctors whose magnificent work will, I hope, be stressed and lauded by such as an qualified to do so.
It seems that to ready an institution for the work we did during the disaster would need years of experience and preparation. We actually had little more than one hour. How was it done?
Many of the doctors and nurses have had military training, and that experience no doubt helped greatly. Yet I feel that the thing most responsible for the smooth performance of the terrific and magnificent job done by our hospital rests in the fact that each person slipped into his proper place, starting with the medical profession at the top and then on down the line.
Without realizing it, humanity justifies itself to its Maker at times of stress. We show that we have absorbed the teachings of centuries, “Do unto others——’
MERCY BY AIR*
By WILLARD C. HASELEUSH
Just one hour and fifteen minutes alter the explosion of a nitrate loaded French freighter touched off a chain of death in the little Galveston Bay industrial town of Texas City, the first mercy planes were circling for a landing on the community’s small turf airport. Thus began the greatest peacetime emergency aerial mercy operation in Aviation history, in which hundreds of airplanes hurriedly mobilized aid from twenty far-flung localities in thirteen states.
But for the airplanes, the disaster’s toll of approximately 500 persons killed or missing and 2,500 injured would have been higher. Air traffic controllers operating from an emergency radio truck on the little airfield, improvised nerve center in a pattern of larger airports at nearby Houston and Galveston, cleared nearly 4,000 airplane take-offs and landings. Incoming, the planes brought doctors and nurses, Red Cross officials, tons of blood plasma and embalming fluid, gas masks, food, foamite to smother the fires, asbestos flame fighting suits, bedding for the homeless. Outgoing, they shuttled the injured to hospitals.
“Without the swift help brought in by air, the death toll would have been higher and the suffering more terrible,” said Mayor J. Curtis Trahan of Texas City. “We needed help in volume and we needed it fast. The airplanes got it to us.”
Military, airline, Civil Air Patrol and private airplanes rushed aid to the scene from as far as California, Colorado, North Dakota, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and Georgia. Chief CAA Air Traffic Controller Robert J. Larsen, at Houston, said between 3,000 and 4,000 air operations landings and take-offs were cleared.
The CAA ordered an emergency control tower set up in a truck at the Texas City airport, which is minus a traffic control system. Larsen said the CAA first borrowed a jeep from the Army and used it to generate power for a signal lamp gun until the transmitter and radio receiver could be set up in the truck.
The CAA operated its emergency tower continuously from 8:00 P.M. on the day of the first explosion. The control tower picked out the top priority loads as planes circling aloft began to pile up, and brought them in. Dozens of other craft were directed by radio to Galveston or Houston — depending on the urgency of their cargoes.
As in every other disaster, lack of instantaneous direction of relief and rescue efforts resulted in confusion among aircraft and pilots participating. It was everyone for himself until hours later when the first traffic control jeep began operations. But from the experience can be drafted plans for such emergency measures by the Civil Aeronautics Administration, Army, Navy, airlines and Civil Air Patrol. Hundreds of airplanes of all types are always instantly available, but the problem is to coordinate their operations, especially to channel private owner aircraft into the most effective utilization.
Two air accidents occurred at the moment of the first explosion. A light plane, carrying Fred Brumley and John Norris of Pelly, Texas, took off at 9:02 AM, from the Texas City airport. Brumley and Norris planned an hour flight over the water front. Ten minutes later their ship was 1,500 feet over the Monsanto chemical plant. The Grand Camp blew up, touching off the chemical plant, and the concussion caught them. The plane crashed on the water front, its back broken by the blast. A second light plane also cruising near by was crumpled in midair and plummeted to a small island in the bay.
First planes in the area were Navy hospital ships from Corpus Christi, according to the Galveston tower. They landed at 10:30 AM. Right behind them was a flight of seven C-47’s from Brooks Field in San Antonio.
All commercial airlines in the area offered and gave assistance. Pioneer Airlines donated three passenger planes and one cargo ship to relief agencies and made eight freight runs between Houston and Texas City carrying blood plasma, embalming fluid and medical supplies in two-engined Lockheeds.
Braniff International Airways sent its DC-3 executive ship from Dallas, loaded with newsmen, direct to Texas City. Before noon, Braniff had a newly converted DC-4 cargo ship en route to Houston from Dallas, loaded with embalmers, embalming fluid, medical supplies and doctors. It held a DC-3 at Houston for six hours for evacuation use if needed.
Eastern Air Lines, Pan-American World Airways, Chicago and Southern and American Airlines flew doctors and flumes as well as Red Cross and Salvation Army officials, newsmen and photographers into the area from all parts of the country. TWA sent doctors, nurses and medical supplies from Kansas City in a special flight. In Washington the Civil Aeronautics Board issued blanket authorization for the tightly regulated air carriers to interrupt schedules to lend assistance in the stricken area.
A Coast Guard plane from Chicago’s Great Lakes Naval Training Station arrived in mid-afternoon with medical supplies. Civilian craft came from as far away as the West Coast. Many newspapers and picture services flew men into the area in their private planes.
Seven AAF C-47’s based at Bergstrom Field near Austin flew 6,550 air miles carrying 141 passengers and l5,835 pounds of blood plasma and other medical supplies and 2,000 blankets to Texas City. Lieut. Col. Stanley Tobiason, of San Carlos, Calif., in command of emergency operations at Bergstrom, said the passengers included 51 military cooks, 30 state patrolmen. one officer and 26 enlisted men of the Fort Sill, Oklahoma, Corps of Military Police, two officers and 25 enlisted men specialists in emergency rescue work and one complete C-46 load of nitrogen and oxygen.
One Bergstrom ship was sent to Scott Field, Ill., for additional plasma. Another was sent to Devil’s Lake in North Dakota to pick up military cooks for field kitchens which already bad been flown to Texas City.
The Naval Air Station at Dallas made repeated trips to Texas City with blood, gas masks, X-ray equipment, beds and blankets. Two medical officers, two officer nurses, 12 hospital corpsmen and eight fire fighters were flown immediately from Dallas.
Lieut. Col. Irvine H. Shearer, Army commander at Hensley Field, sent six AT-11 ships to Galveston loaded with doctors and flew 2,000 pounds of blood plasma from McKinney Hospital.
Kelly Field sent four C-47 air evacuation planes with 30 doctors and 50 nurses. Another flight of four C-47’s brought medicine from St. Louis.
Maj. Gen. Robert M. Webster, commanding general of the Air Transport Command, placed his entire fleet of air evacuation planes and medical personnel at the disposal of the Texas City authorities. Douglas Skymasters and Sky Trains assembled at Kelly Field from
Army fields at Macon, Ga., Denver and Chicopee Falls, Mass., were alerted.
Thirteen C-47’s of the indoctrination division of the air training command landed loads of gas masks and medical supplies on the bumpy Texas City runways half an hour after word was flashed that poison fumes from chemical and nitrate fires were menacing rescue workers.
The heavy work of moving in four WAA warehouses full of bedding, hospital supplies, flashlights, asbestos suits and radio equipment plus more supplies from Akron, Hattiesburg, New Orleans and San Antonio fell on 18 ships from the Naval Air Station at New Orleans.
Among private plane owners volunteering their services was W. O. Bankston, Dallas auto dealer, who was en route to Houston in his twin engine Beechcraft when his pilot heard a broadcast of the disaster news. Jim Gray, Beechcraft distributor, donated a transport plane to fly nurses to the scene from Dallas. A Lockheed Lodestar and two Noorduyn ambulance planes were rushed to the scene by Col. D. Harold Byrd, Texas CAP commander, and CAP planes from Houston and Fort Worth rendered aid.
When Texas City, finding time for tears at last, gathered four days after the explosion to pay tribute to its dead in mass memorial rites, floral offerings were flown in, as was a plane load of New Testaments.
*Reprinted with permission of Southern Flight, P.O. Box 750, Dallas, Texas, George E. Haddaway,
Editor and Publisher
FEDERAL WORKS AGENCY
BUREAU OF COMMUNITY FACILITIES
ByO. W. FARMER, Warehouse Manager
The first explosion occurred about 9:00 AM., April 16. 1947; we heard and felt the concussion a few seconds later. The personnel saw the smoke and flames in the direction of Texas City and knew then a terrific explosion had taken place.
Mr. Edward H. Dean of our Division Office called by telephone about 11:00 o’clock, stating that they had obtained knowledge of the disaster and wanted to know whether any damage bad been wrought here, also the extent of the damage done in Texas City. At that time we had only radio information, as did they; however we advised the action taken by this office regarding sending fire-fighting equipment and were commended for our action. Later, an emergency call came over the radio requesting blankets, mattresses and medical supplies. A truck load of blankets was dispatched to John Sealy Hospital and to Texas City.
During the afternoon, our Division Office again called by telephone, advising that a representative would arrive in Houston at 9:00 P.M. with authority to open this installation for refugees, and requested an appointment with the American Red Cross Chapter, Galveston, Texas. Action was taken to equip the 500 Area, consisting of 28 barracks, for housing.
This activity required the reopening of all utilities, lights, water, and gas, the assembling of bunks, and equipping them with mattresses, pillows, pillow cases, sheets and blankets. Each barracks building will accommodate 100 individuals.
It was also necessary to prepare a mess hall, for immediate use. Additional help was required to accomplish this. Business Agents of the Unions, Contractors’ employees and our own personnel were called upon for assistance; all responded immediately. A great deal of credit should go to Mr. O. S. Howe, Business Agent, Carpenters’ Local Union No. 526, Mr. W. H. Ash, Superintendent, Baugh and Scott, Contractors, Mr. W. J. Brown, Superintendent, F R. Ball Construction Company, and their employees, who assisted us in accomplishing our task.
Arrangements were made with the U. S. Army, through Brigadier General Sheetz and other members of his staff, to supply Mess Sergeants, Military Police, Medical Unit, to staff the mess, maintain order, and direct refugees to housing accommodations, and care for the sick and injured. Response was instantaneous.
Refugees began to arrive some time between 7:00 and 7:30 P.M., and were escorted to housing facilities. These people were in a pitiful condition, scared, bruised, some with minor injuries, hungry, and bereaved.
I accompanied Mr. Miller, Division Warehouse Manager, to Galveston, to fulfill our previously arranged appointment with the Galveston Chapter of the American Red Cross, to make arrangements for the official reopening of Camp Wallace.
We returned to Camp Wallace shortly after midnight.
The second blast occurred shortly after 1:00 AM. This explosion rocked Camp Wallace more than did the first.
Approximately 200 refugees registered in during the night. Food, sent out by American Red Cross, arrived periodically.
The following morning a steady flow of refugees entered the Camp. Before the week end, some 1,200 to 1,300 people were occupying the facilities.
Thursday afternoon our Messrs. W. H. Sindt. Division Engineer, Fort Worth, and H. A. Brentlinger, Chief, Material Section, Washington, D. C., arrived. They surveyed the situation. Mr. Harrison, Field Director, American Red Cross, arrived, assumed command.
Our morgue was small and would hold only three bodies. We were advised by Messrs. Arnold and Pressler of the Carbide and Carbon Chemicals Corporation, and the Monsanto Chemical Company, respectively, that they would require facilities in excess of 100 bodies.
Our refrigeration plant was discussed, inspections made, and both units were operating within 24 hours. (The morgue was closed on June 22, 1947, the date of the mass funeral.)
This agency furnished office equipment to the American Red Cross and to Texas City.
The following employees rendered active services in connection with the disaster:
Federal Works Agency: H. A. Brentlinger, W. H. Sindt, J. L. Miller, Oscar W. Farmer, Milton H. Yantis, Clara D. Wheeler, Calvin J. Lehman, Juanita Ward, Chester S. Brandon. Claude A. Anderson, Edwin A. Mayeaux, Hiram C. Limerick, Jewell L.Greer, Arthur L. Bessent, Vernon A. Williams, Alfred L. Culbreth, Noal Elliott, Hiram C. Limerick, Jr., Jefferson D. Esclavon, Michael Terraso, A. M. Risdon, W. B. Gilkison, B. H. Harrison.
Contractors: Wm. Hugh Ash, Evelyn M. Ash, W. J. Brown, Ralph De Borde, Chester L. Colwell, Lester L. Colwell, Myron G. Eaton, Alec E. Carson, Everet O. Trammell, Robert B. Carson, W. C. Clarke, John L. McElwain, H. R. Belcher, Harvey C. Payee, William H. Hoffman, L. C. Luppens, James Rollish. Theodore Rasmussen, O. C. Unbahagen, T. V. Howard, E. J. Hansen, W. J. South, O. M. Adams, Frank Gonzales, Marvin Nelso, E. A. Biffle, Tom Brown. Raymond Gonzales, J. H. Streater, A. D. Titus, Julius Kennedy, Charles H. Edwards, W. P. Gunn, C. A. Shepherd. Clement J. Prino, A. Prino, Raymond DeOrleans, C. J. Hauser, A. J. Warren, Jr., Emil Grossman.
By the Community, State and Nation Part Three
What the People Said and Did
For the People, by the People
By the Community, State and Nation Part One
By the Community, State and Nation Part Two
By the Community, State and Nation Part Three
Lest We Forget
United We Stand
In God We Trust
Annals of Texas City