NINA FAYE ADAMS
I was eighteen, living at 1st and 1st in a duplex with my parents, Ethel and George Adams, sisters Imogene and Rita Ann, and brothers Bub and Kenneth. Mt eldest sister Mozelle lived in the other apartment with her husband, Paul Gannaway, and baby, Paula jean. Paul's brother Bob came over, woke me up, and said Mosanto was on fire. The door blew off, hit him, and left a big gash on the side of his head. The windows fell in on me; pieces of steel crashed through the roof, the bureau and the floor at the foot of my bed. I got up and put on a dress and shoes, unaware the shoes were full of glass until the next day.
I ran to Monsanto and found Dad coming out black with oil and hurt real bad. People were laying all up and down the streets. I stopped a car and took him to Beeler-Masnke. On the way we saw his friend Jim Platt who rode on the cars running board. Dr. Beeler checked Dad and said to get him to a Galveston hospital because he didn't have anything to work with. I put them on a pickup to Galveston, then looked for the rest of our family. Mother worked at Clark's on Texas; Bub was at the docks. I found Imogene bloody and hurt with Rita. Mozelle had facial cuts and an eye full of glass and lost sight in that eye. Paul was on the docks. We never located his body or that of his friends, Bud Bunker. We lost our cousin, Willard Langley, and my six year old brother, George Kenneth, who was riding his bike. Bub was the last to find us. Those of us that survived found each other on 6th street. Cousin Billy Adams lived in Galveston and had to put a Red Cross flag on his car to get into Texas City. He took us to his home. The next day he brought me and Bob back to look for Paul. We found Kenneth's body at the gym.
We lived in Snug Harbor, Claude, baby Donald Lee, and I, a refinisher of old furniture and other things needing a shine. Earlier, I walked to Cameron's dime store to purchase shellac. They weren't open yet, and an inner voice told me not to wait around. So, I went to Western Auto, made my purchase and went home. My neighbor had heard on the radio that a ship was on fire in the harbor loaded with ammunition. She said to go inside.
Before I could get inside, the loudest boom I have ever heard went off. Then, another terrific boom sounded. The entire front door which was locked, was blown out of the wall. Things shook at Carbide, and employees could leave to check on their families. Frightened, bleeding school children were running home. Some asked for Band-Aids or washcloths, and some just for a hug. Claude said 6th street was a terrible mess. He saw a pair of shoes sitting in the middle of the street as if someone had been blown out of them.
His supervisor, Mr. McGinnis, told us and others from the lab to come to his home in Dickinson for the night. We wired our folks in Virginia to let them know we were okay. They heard Texas City was blown off the map. The next day we went to Houston to Claude's cousin's house. His older brother sent a wire saying he'd come get us if we wanted to come home. My eyes filled with tears. Neighbors and friends had lost loved ones. Who could ever forget it?
AMES, LUPE SARAGOZA
I was nine and a Danforth fourth grader. We heard a loud noise, our classroom windows shattered, and everyone raced into the hallway.
The wall collasped over the stairs, and we heard screams from those who were trapped. The only way out was to slide down over the wall to the first floor. We were told to run toward 6th street as for as we could.
I followed the crowd north with no idea where I was going or what I could do when I got there. When I reached the end of Texas City, I saw my family. Hundreds were gathered in the pasture, and hours later we boarded a bus to LaPorte. Then we stayed with relatives in Houston until we could return home.
Blown overboard from a ship, my father was taken to St. Joseph's Hospital in Houston. He developed gangrene in his leg. My sisters, brother and I made plans: if anything like this ever happened again while we were in school, we would meet at the merry-go-round and leave together. At home we planned to lay out clothes and important items every night to make a quick get away. Dad passed away on June 4th, 1947.
We children of R.C. "Andy" Anders remember him through the many stories he told us. He worked for G&H Towing Company of Galveston. A call came in for volunteers to take tug boats to the Texas Coty port to help free the High Flyer from the dock. Mud had packed in around the ship from the first blast, trapping it. Tugs trying to free the ship were finally told to cut loose and return to Galveston. The High Flyer exploded as we rounded the bend in the channel. The water was sucked from beneath the tugs. When the water came rushing back, Dad's tug was pushed out into the Bay. Mom recieved a shortwave radio message later that he was all right and in Galveston. (by R.C. Anders, Jr., Janet Anders Minshaw, Barbara Anders Trimble, and C.E. Anders)
I was at home in LaMarque when the Grandcamp exploded. My two sons, Lee and Benno, were with their grandfather at the Texas City Feed Store. My husband , Dr. William T. Anderson, was at First National Bank in Texas City. The explosion blew him to his knees, and a glass window crashed over his head, but he was not hurt. He had to come home over back streets because of traffic and general chaos.
I'm a nurse, and I went with him to our clinic. Patients were arriving at the clinic mostly on foot and were everywhere in the clinic they could sit, lean or lie. I assisted in the treatment of cuts, burns and various wounds for the next three days. Dr. Anderson and Dr. Weldon Kolb treated patients from early morning to late evening during that time.
We lost many friends and acquaintances that day. The saddest partof those days was when children and parents were looking for each other and loved ones could not be found. The desperation of that time will stay with me all of my life!
We were all out on the Danforth school grounds looking at the fire. Kids joked about the ship blowing up. The stairway was loaded with kids and it began collapsing. Kid's mouths opened to scream, but I heard nothing. Outside, our little first grade nieghbor grabbed my hand for me to take her home. Mother always said, "Come on if anything happens." So I raced home, unaware my arms, face and head were cut. Granny and sister Timothy were ok, but my dad, Tim O'Sullivan, and my brothers, Larry and Julian, weren't home. Mom was out looking for us. I did okay until a loud speaker truck came by announcing another blast. I was young, and a lot went by me. I didn't know my two uncles were fighting the fire. I didn't understand the whole city was affected.
I went to Kemah with friends, Roy and Marie McGlaun, and wanted to go until I realized we left everyone else behind. The radio aired messages from people trying to locate family and friends, and we finally reached our nieghbors girl's family that way. My brothers and I went to Burnett, missing the hardest part-indentifying the dead, going to funerals and visiting the bereaved. When we went back to school, it was scary. Remaining walls were propped up by 2x4's. To make things worse, our first day back there was a severe electrical storm. Each thunderbolt jarred memories of the explosion.
We all went through school together, but we never discussed the explosion until college. As a teacher, I never understand why fire drills aren't taking seriously. I told my students I had to know where they were. If their parents asked if they got outside I could say, "Yes." They could never understand the importance of that until they lived through something like the disaster. I told them to never chase fires. My heart used to jump in my throat when I heard a siren. People would say, "Let's go see the fire," and I'd say "You go ahead. Not me!" Even now, when I hear a loud noise.....I remember.
AREY, JOY MEDFORD
A Central High junior, I was hurrying to a downstairs class and stopped with other students the smoke. Some went to the docks. We weren't in class long until the windows blew in, and we rushed outside. Someone yelled that I was covered in blood. I hadn't noticed. Someone else said I should go to Beeler-Manske. When I got there, it was filled with people so much worse off than me, I left. I saw my dad on 6th Street. He was a volunteer fireman with Hieghts Fire Department and had grocery shopping, then to the docks. He planned to return and help. As he drove off the blast turned his car over. He scrambled out and started running. We met and ran home. Mother and brother Bob were okay but horrified to see me so bloody. My cuts were stitched up in Dickinson, and we arrived at my Uncle's in Livingston late that evening.
When we came back, Dad and Uncle Boss went to get our car. When they righted it, not one glass milk bottle was broken. So much devastation, yet those milk bottles were fine. We were so fortunate. Mother later told us she was in the back yard and the ground started rolling in waves. She thought the world was coming to an end. For many, it was the end of their world.
ARNOLD, MARTHA GOOCH
My husband Earl and twelve-year-old son Rex had eaten breakfast. Ray was in his highchair, Earl left for the blimp base, and Rex left with his buddy, Harold Baumgartner. I told him to be home by 9:00 a.m. to watch fifteen month-old Ray while I was at the shop. He returned excited about the fire and wanted to go back, but I said, "No fire watching." I poured myself another cup of coffee, and my world erupted into fire and smoke, sound and confusion. Our house rose in the air and settled back down on its foundation with a bone jarring crash. Windows imploded, doors blew off hinges, furniture crash in wild disorder. Wallpaper hung in shreds, and pictures smashed on the floor.
I turned and looked out the space where our kitchen door had been, toward the docks, and watched an airplane fall apart and two bodies disappear into the blackness. Immense chunks of flaming debris soared and crashed to the earth. A mushroom cloud billowed above the docks as Mosanto's upper stories disintergrated. Pipes, bricks and other shrapnel crashed around us. Something huge and glowing hit the house next door and plunged through the roof.
Ray had disappeared, and I found himtrapped behind the kitchen door, wedged in back of the stove. He was covered with glass, too frightened and shocked to cry. I couldn't get to Rex, so I ran outside, banged on the walls with my fist and yelled for him to come out. I grabbed him as he stumbled out the back door and shoved him against the door jamb of the garage - the only safe place I could see - handed him Ray and told him to stay put. Mrs. Bell screamed for help. A man came down the alley and, with super-human strength, lifted a wall off her twin's crib. As I ran back to the garage, a huge chunk of metal hit the street in front of a car. It swerved into the ditch, righted itself and kept going. The metal, so hot it melted the asphalt, was as large as a one-inch door. A woman ran from her house, picked it up and hurled it into the ditch. It later took four men to move it.
Rex wrote his father a note telling him we were going to the Stroud's in Kemah. Mrs Bell let us take her small son Mike with us while she waited at home for news of her dock-worker husband. A man staggered by, burned head to toe, clothes and flesh hanging in shreds. Two men tried to take him by the arm. His flesh came away in their hands. He stumbled on. His body was found three blocks up the street. A young girl with a gashed forehead passed by. I spoke to her. She smiled, brushed blood from her eyes, said "Yes, thank you," and kept going. The concussion hit me in the back of the head with such force I could only see a small circle. Getting out of town was a nightmare - cars stalled blocking streets, electrical and telephone wires littered the steets, their poles askew or snapped in two. Most people were driving like maniacs; behind us oil tanks exploded and burned, gas lines exploded, and the fires continued to spread.
Rex said he was knocked out by the falling medicine cabinet and slumped to the floor before the window inploded, shooting shards of glass across the spot where his head had been. I asked every settlement to prepare shelters for evacuees and promised to have cots and supplies sent--part of our disaster plan. Our narrow route was packed as emergency traffic began to flood in. I pulled over behind a couple to let an ambulance pass and asked them to please go back to town and bring out people who needed help. The woman told me they couldn't do that because their dog was too upset. I don't remember what I said, but he turned around and drove back toward Texas City. Dorothy Stroud welcoming us into her home was the one plesant event of that awful day. She made us eat, then I headed my car back toward Texas City, but it refused to run, so I thumber a ride in a passing ambulance. We reached the roadblock at Texas City, and I saw Earl, jumped out and waved him down. He was a mess, all covered with oil, blood and chemicals. His face was streaked with tears. After finding Rex's note, he went to the docks and spent the day bringing out the injured and dead. He saw bodies of friends and bodies beyond recognition.
On a later trip back, we stopped at the barricades, and I asked Chief of Police Bill Ladish to relay word to Mrs. Bell that Mike was fine; he told us her husband's leg was blown off, and he was in bad shape from concussion injuries. We returned to the Stroud's and, on the way, wired my father in Albuquerque. Later as we chatted in the Stroud's yard, a car drove up. A man with a sheriff's badge and an FBI man got out, demanding to know who had kidnapped the child. It took some talking, but we convinced the sheriff--Mike's granddad--that Mrs. Bell forgot we had him, and Chief Ladish failed to convey my message.
We returned home Friday, and Earl shoveled out two washtubs of glass. It took hours to restore any order. Ridiculous things had happened. A box of tissues on a bedroom table had been ripped open and the tissues now sat neatly stacked in the kitchen. The cover blew off a serving dish, three cocktail glasses blew inside, the cover was replaced, and nothing was cracked.
On Sunday, a crowd of weary men, woman and children gathered at the football field for a short memorial service, drawn together as a community in their grief.
ARREDONDO, HELEN TARIN
My dad, Rudoph Tarin, sisters and I shared a duplex at 32 1st Avenue South with Uncle Gilbert and Aunt Elvira Tarin. My sister Delores was visiting from Houston, and we had just awakened when the explosion happened. It knocked us to the floor and destroyed everything. My aunt told us to run from the fire. We took off running in our pajamas. A lady gave me her sweater. Our nieghbors son, Felix Beltran, joined us with a cut on his head. We took him to Grandmother Sandino's house. Dad was directing traffic near the blast site and was bounced like a ball. Completly covered in oil, all of his clothes were blown off except for his underwear. He was taken to the hospital and we didn't hear from him until much later that day.
We were sent to Houston to stay with Uncle Pete and Aunt Willie Cavazos. Cousin Armando Medina was killed, and Uncle Nick Medina Sr. was badly injured. We lost friends and family. We went to look at the house and get our clothes. A huge piece of metal had landed right in the middle of the bed where we had slept. We lost everything!
I went to the gym to find missing family members. It was awful. The smell was worse. Armando's body wasn't found for a long time. Adjustment has been hard, but I'm thankful to have been spared, able to tell my story. I remain thankful to God for His blessings and mercy and my good health.
I was a Danforth first grader, and a group of us were at the corner of 3rd Avenue and 5th watching the weird orange smoke. Someone said, "Something going to happen," and it did! Windows shattered, glass flew everywhere, our teacher jumped behind the easel as she yelled for us to run outside. Apparently fire drills had been for naught.
Mother worked at the newspaper, my sister was in school, and my father was at work at Republic Oil. The school yard was a maze of students and parents gone wild looking for each other. Mother was entering Butler & Grimes Five & Dime on 6th Street. One of the big plate glass swinging doors blew out and shattered on top of her. She escaped with minor cuts and scratches.
After what seemed an eternity, my sister, mother and I found each other on the playground and eventually found my dad on 6th Street looking for us. We went to our home on 4th Avenue and 1st and found the back wall blown in and everything breakable broken. We left for my grandparents' home. I looked back. All I could see was roiling, jet-black smoke and gigantic flames without end.
ARRINGTON, TESS LINDSEY
We lived at 612 10th Avenue North. I was a Danforth 1st grader. Daddy was at Carbide. The blast threw me on the floor. Mother, my sister and I met in the hallway. Mom said, "All hell must have broken loose," which really scared me because she never talked like that. A man ran through our house hollering for us to come with him. Mother said if he would get her robe, she would go. He ran out the back door.
Daddy was our greatest concern. Mother found out Carbide was not the source. Most of our windows were blown in. The front door was off it's hinges, and glass, wooden frames and sashes were everywhere. We went to check on Betty McGrew behind us. Edith, her daughter-in-law, was working her last week at Monsanto, as she was expecting her first child. Aunt Betty was fine but worried. Her son Jim came to check on her. When he could get to the area where Edith worked, he searched and searched, but never found her.
Mother sat us down for cereal. Daddy walked in and got us in three giant steps, hugging us all. Aunt Betty's son Jack, with KPRC, brought reporter Pat Flaherty. They came to our house, and Mr. Flaherty broadcasted the news over our phone. Ron Stone talks about him reporting from another house in his book, so I guess he moved around. I know the first broadcast was from our house-I caould hear him in the living room and then hear him on my radio. My main job that day was listening to the names of people in area hospitals read over the radio. We lived a block from Danforth Clinic, and trucks loaded with the injured lined up all around there. Sirens blew all day long. When Daddy got off work, he took us to Mother's Mother in Houston. She was a nurse and returned to Texas City with him to help at the clinic and morgue. I don't remember going back to school or making First Communion. We lost Father Roach. Every time I hear a siren, I think of that day. We were so blest. None of us were hurt.
ASHMORE, INEZ B.
I worked at Monsanto but was
home on 12th Avenue North, ill. Grandmother came in and told me to look at the
orange smoke. When the blast went off, windows blew out and broken glass, wood
and blinds were everywhere. My Guardian Angel was watching over me. My father
and sister were at Carbide; Mother, her friend, Mrs. George Hetherington, and
a church friend had driven down to Bay Street to see the smoke. Friend Georgybel
LeGendre came by later that day in mild shock. She worked at Monsanto, escaped
injury and had been transporting injured people to Galveston hospitals in her
station wagon. We picked glass, insulation and other debris from her hair and
tried to clean her up a little before she went home. She later learned her father
Later I worked at an office in the Mainland Building typing lists of wounded, dead and missing. Then I worked at Monsanto's temporary site as they rebuilt. Years later, Father re-papered our dining room and found glass embedded in the walls. Quite a reminder!
I stepped out my back door at Third Avenue Villas to hang diapers on the line and noticed beautiful orange smoke. I was bathing my baby Jeanie when the explosion occurred. We were covered with glass, and I was cut. Elma and J. B. Jackson took us to Loop 197. My husband Bill was at Carbide. When he came home and saw the blood, he was frantic and searched the clinics for us. Our friend, Elizabeth "Fritz" Fitzgerald Spora, was at Monsanto and wandered to the Jackson's apartment from the plant, dazed and confused. Bill took her to her family, and we left for Diboll.
ATKINS, IRENE S.
My daughters and I watched the smoke rising over the harbor, and as we went inside the house, we were tossed around amid flyinh glass. I'm a nurse, and I went to Danforth Clinic to help. We gave basic first-aid and sent people to Galveston and Houston hospitals. About 3p.m. we had tended almost everyone, and the young doctor I was working with said: "Now, let's fix your broken nose and broken clavicle." I hadn't noticed my nose was pushed to one side or that my collarbone was broken. They just felt weird. My husband Gail was in Nacogdoches. He passed so many emergency vehicles, he wondered what sort of catastrophe had accurred and where. At the job site, a man told him Texas City had been wiped off the map. He left immediately; the car over-heated and stopped. He hired a plane. On reaching Texas City, the pilot circled around looking at the smoke and flames trying to find a spot to land, finally flying as low and as slowly as he could, and Gail jumped out somewhere in the vicinity of Loop 197. A Houston doctor drove him to our home on 13th Avenue. We stayed with my sister near Bay City. On the 18th we returned home to rebuild our lives.
I worked at Pan Am and had finished
the 4 to 12 shift the day before. Fire alarms woke me up, and my wife Yvonne
and I had breakfast while Kent had his bottle in his crib. Then we went to my
mother's, Zoe " Mom" Atwoods, across the alley and watched the smoke.
My oldest brother, Charles "Chubby" Atwood, lived in our garage apartment
and worked at Pan Am. Our dad, Fred R. Atwood, Sr., worked in the safety department
at Monsanto. We picked up Chubby's wife Marie and rode down to locate the fire,
stopping on 4th Avenue South. Deciding that Monsanto wasn't at risk, I rolled
up my car window. An airplane was over the grain elevator. I started the engine,
and BOOM. The car lifted up on my side, the window shattered against my head,
cutting my left eyebrow. The car sat back down, and I saw flanged piping connections
on the Mosanto towers spewing as they burst into flames.
The second blast hit us, and the car roof collasped on my head. A few feet farther, a slab of roadbed fell on the left front fender crushing it almost to the tire. I could barely see over the steering wheel. We sped home.
Our greatest concern was for my Father. Charles rushed home from work, and younger brother Jack raced home from Central High. Dad was assistant safety supervisor and would be in the thick of rescue efforts. Charles and I searched for him at the clinics and first-aid stations. We were blocked from the docks by police, so we crossed the field, passing a crashed plane, and we when reached Monsanto's parking lot, we knew he couldn't have survived. At McGar's, as bodies were carried in, I thought I saw Dad's body, but the FBI would not let us enter the building until a formal system of indentification was in place. Gwen and husband, Edd Guinn arrived from Shreveport, and our brother, Beverly D. "Red" Atwood, came in from Fort Polk, hardly a joyous reunion.
We made repairs to our houses as cars with P.A. systems toured the town urging everyone to evacuate. Most of the family stayed with Yvonne's sister and brother-in-law, Calla Mae and Buster Barger. Charles and I stayed with Emory Halls. When the ship blew the next morning, Charles sat up in bed and said: "Well there goes all the hard work we did on our houses." Some days later I discovered a deep hole between the house and garage dug by an 87 1/2 pound piece of one-inch thick plate from one of the ships.
The next day we returned and viewed bodies. We found dad at the gym and indentified him by an old surgical scar on his throat. W. H. "Bill" Posey, a close family friend from Memorial Funeral Home in Houston, took charge of Dad's body, assuring us he died instantly. We thanked God we were allowed to find Dad, that he was not among those missing or unable to be indentified.
We thanked the Lord, even in our sorrow, that the rest of the family was spared. Texas City was and is a family orientated community ready to rebuild, regardless of the catastrophe.
My husband was on jury duty, and I was washing in my new automatic washer and heating water on the cook stove. I plugged in the washer, the lights flickered, and I heard the first blast and then the second. I ran across the shell road which later became Loop 197 and asked a lady to take me to Hieghts Elementary to get my children. We were outside the city limits, and there were no homes between us and Snug Harbor, only open prairie. When I got home, the prairie was full of people. We had a milk cow and lots ofmilk and butter, and also homemade jellies, but no bread. I made biscuits and fed people. Women with babies sat inside; others sat in the shade of the house. My husband stopped to watch the fire, next to Father Roach and Mr. Ellis, owner of Ellis' Restaurant. Because of jury duty, he and his fellow juror left. They heard and felt the blast as they reached Hi-Grade Packing Company on Broadway. When he got home, about fifty people were at our house, and I was out of food. He drove to La Marque and bought stuf for sandwiches. Someone came by and said if I had injured people, to put a white flag on the fence, and they would be taken to the hospital. Later they asked if I could take care of the people that night. I said no. A bus toke them to Dickinson. The next day, Micheal Ellis asked me to come to the cafe and help feed the men working at McGar's. The cook Micheal and I fed them all. My husband worked at the Tin Smelter evenings and mornings, and then at the disaster site searching for bodies. It was like a bad dream. It doesn't seem possible it was fifty years ago.
AVITTS, LUTHER, JR.
The picture of the Grandcamp exploding is
still vivid, having been replayed in my mind a thousand times. I was 22, engaged
to be married, working at Carbide and preparing to return to the University
of Texas to complete my education under the G.I. Bill of Rights. Word spread
a ship was on fire at the docks. Curiosity led me to the roof of one of the
buildings, and I had an unobstructed view. Soon my attention was rivited on
the igloo-shaped mass that formed at the point of explosion and was rapidly
expanding upward and outward. Two layers or walls sped toward us and arrived
with a deafening blast. It was the compressed air of the shockwave.
Everyone left. My brother-in-law, Johnny Glossen, and I drove downtown but were stopped and asked to take an injured man to a medical facility. We took him to a clinic on 6 Street and put him with the rows of injured people laid out in the adjacent lot. Then we went to Aunt Zelma Hearn's but she was gone, so we went to our homes to let our families know we were okay.
I was playing in a vacant lot and heard sirens and saw
fire trucks and police going to and from the docks, and smoke of many colors.
Cutting across the large pasture, known as "La Seccion," where people
kept thier livestock, I headed to the fire. My father saw me and told me to
get home. My sister , Mary Lou, saw me and said the same thing. I walked off,
and when she was no longer watching, I stopped and looked at the fire. The concussion
knocked me out. When I came to, bodies were all around me. The smoke turned
morning into night. My right leg was broken in several places. People stampeded
by, and a man put me on his shoulders, saying not to worry, we would get out
of there. He walked to 3rd Street and rested on the porch of Ship Ahoy.
My older brother Manual passed by, took me in his arms, thanked the man and raced home. Mother was hysterical - our father was missing. Cousin Joe Luna drove us to a 6th street clinic, then I was taken by car to John Sealy with my brother George. My uncle, Roy Rodriquez, brought me home 3 months later. I did not know for 6 months that my father had died in the blast. My mother, Jessie J. Ayala, also lost 2 brothers and a nephew.
I was sixteen and had been up since 3 a.m. delivering the Texas City Sun and went home about 6 a.m. My father, George T. Ayala, was having breakfast with my mother Jessie and getting ready to go to work at the docks. He was a machinist by trade but moonlighted as a longshoreman. I rode my bike to Danforth to wait on the school bus to try out for the baseball team at the field on Bay Street and 16th. Joe Pedraza wanted to go look at the fire because it seem so near his home, but I talked him out of it. We were at the field when the Grandcamp exploded. I looked toward Monsanto and saw a small plane fall out of the sky. Cunks of metal sailed through the air, and all of us were knocked off our feet. Dazed and in shock we ran toward our homes.
On 6th Street, I passed jewerly blown out on the sidewalks, but I did not see one person try to take any of it. They were to busy heading for medical help. My little brother Daniel was sitting in front of Danforth Clinic with a tag on his toe, his left knee horribly misshapen. My other brother George was there too, and I told him to stay with Danny while I checked on Mother and the girls. When I got home, no one was there, and the house had been blown off it's foundation.
My sisters, Molly and Mary Lou, were near the site of the blast, but not hurt to bad. That day we lost our father, uncles, Joe and Elias Juarez, and cousin Raul Luna, shown in pictures and film fighting the fire on the ship wearing a World War II Air Force hat.
I lived with my parents, George and Jessie Ayala, a few
blocks from the docks. My father was a longshoreman, and when he left for work,
he returned because he forgot to kiss my four-year-old sister Becky. Dad had
workes for Reed Roller Bit Co. in Houston. He became a longshoreman to be closer
to us. Mother was outside watering her plants and called me to see the smoke.
Flames could be seen, and she told me to go see about my father. At first I
refused, but she was so worried that I headed for the docks. My friend, Mary
Hernandez, asked if she could go with me. When we got there, she stopped to
visit with friends. I got to the ship, looked up, and my dad pointed his finger
for me to go home. On the way, I saw a friend, Josie Gonzales, my cousin, Kiki
Luna, and her fiancee, Eddie Arriga. We started talking. I also saw my sister
Molly and her mother-in-law, Amelia Fuentes, and my younger brother Danny. I
yelled at him to go home and thought he had. Then I was knocked uncounscious.
When I came to, I started home, but a ditch of fire stopped me. My sister Molly was on the other side begging me to jump over it. But I was afraid of falling in. I finally got courage to jump over it. We made it home, and all of us started walking down 6th Street. The Red Cross took me to the airport, and I was flown to Herman Hospital but didn't stay there because they were crowded with disaster victims. We stayed with our Aunt Rodriquez. The next day we went to our Grandmother Compian's and learned our father had been killed. We lost our uncles, Joe and Lee Juarez, Amelia Fuentez, All the friends I saw on the docks, and many more.
BABCHICK, HARRIET KAUFTHEIL
Wisps of childhood
memories float by like clouds. Cousin Jerry whipping me around in a game of
"Statues," the gritty feel of sand in my bathing suit as we drive
home from the beach, but one memory from fifty years ago stands out from the
rest. I lived with my parents, Leah and Leon, and my younger sister Rosalie.
Mother came from a Jewish family that immigrated from Russia in the early 1900s.
One by one, Aunt Celia and Uncle Charlie Lerman got them to Texas City. All
the men but Uncle Danny worked in Uncle Charlie's dry goods store. Mother was
the family's peacemaker and their favorite, and our home always had the coffeepot
going and friends and family over. She was slim, fair and had beautiful dark
blue eyes, inherited by her children. My dad worked as an electrician in the
refineries until Uncle Charlie persuaded him to be his general manager. He was
blue-eyed, big and strong with a gorgeous voice. He was Texas City's unofficial
That morning, Dad went to work, and Mother loaded my little sister Rosalie and me into our green '45 DeSoto to get my required smallpox vaccination for school that fall.
She stopped on 6th Street at Evan's grocery, and when she stepped on the curb, there was a tremendous boom. The earth shook violently, and the plate glass window exploded. She was thrown into a bed of glass. As she crawled through the rubble, another explosion hit as strong as the first. She was covered with tiny glass fragments but otherwise unhurt. She drove directly to Uncle Charlie's store where he later handed out clothing and blankets to anyone who needed them, and it was like newsreels of the European war. Smoke filled the sky; desperate people filled the streets. Dad and Uncle Charlie were waving us away from the building which was in danger of collasping. Uncle Charlie yelled for us to go to Danforth to get Suzie and Jerry.
We found them holding hands in the school yard. Then, we went to Grandmother's ("Bubba") to get her and Uncle Phil, an invalid. Bubba's refridgerator had fallen over, narrowly missing her. The store, school and Bubba's were all near the docks and heavily damaged. Our house looked fine from the outside, but inside it had some damage. Usually in times of trouble, we went to Aunt Celia's and Uncle Charlie's, but today was different. The entire family came to out house because we were the farthest away from the waterfront. We were a big, noisy, tight-knit family who got into everyone's business but always looked out for one another.
We formed a caravan and drove to the Galveston residence of Uncle Charlie's sister Pearl. I wasn't scared at all; I was with my family. We drove past the refineries along Galveston Road with it's chemical- filled ditches that smelled like spoiled cabbage and rotten eggs burning our eyes and throats, and we tried to hold our breath all the way to the Wye. Aunt Pearl and Uncle Joe lived over a grocery store in a tiny apartment.
The men had to go back to Texas City to secure the store, merchandise and money which had been left unguarded in their haste to get their wives and children to safety. They also wanted to help out anyway they could with rescue efforts. The women and children stood out on the balcony that night and watched Texas City burn. I clung to Mother, comforted by the warmth of her hand over mine. We went inside, and pallets were made for my cousins and me. I laid awake wondering which prayer I could say to speed my father back to us. Many hours later, I heard his voice and knew we were together -- a family again.
My family were among the fortunate ones. We each survived to tell our story of the great disaster.
BABIN, J. D.
I was 20 and worked as an oiler on the Albastros,
a tugboat owned by G & H Harbor Tugs out of Galveston. We were at Todd's
Drydock, railing a ship, and late for our Texas City job where we were supposed
to off-dock the Grandcamp.
On our way there, the Grandcamp exploded, and it shook building in Galveston. Told about it over our two-way radio, we continued on over and rescued three survivors from the ship channel, one badly injured. Many dead bodies floated in the water with them. We weren't equipped as fire boats, so we took the men on in for medical help. Our company asked for volunteers later to go back and pull the High Flyer away from the docks because they couldn't raise her anchor. A crew with cutting torches tried to cut the anchor chain. The J. R. Guyton or the R. T. McDow was with us on the bow. We were on the stern of the High Flyer with lines attached, ready to tow her away, when heavy black smoke poured out of the holds, and the deck seemed to breath. Capt. Jack Goodwin ordered us away, and we were sure glad.
Three minutes after we left, a tremendous blast blew the High Flyer apart. I was in the engine room door-way, and it knocked me down. The sky lit up like high noon, and I saw steel bigger than cars flying through the air. They found the ship's tail shaft sticking up like an arrow on Rattlesnake Island clear across the ship channel. Red-hot shrapnel peppered our boat, but none of us were hurt. Mate Angelo Amato saw the other tug go down, and Chief Engineer Andy Anders said to look for suvivors. We were surprosed and happy to find them still afloat. The blast killed their engines and generator. When their lights went out, Amato though they had sunk. We pulled along side and hollered but got no response. They were deafened temporarily. Some were injured, but everyone survived, though one man lost his eye.
We thanked God for our lives. It was a spectacular, terrible experience. Many died and many were injured. I pray that nothing like this ever happens again.
BAKER, CARRIE BORN
I was waiting for
a Houston salesman to come show me drapery material. As we looked at his fabric,
the blast blew the door open in his face, and he took off for Houston. I grabbed
Sheary and ran outside. Deafening sirens were blaring. Police cars and ambulances
were everywhere. My nieghbor's husband and son-in-law worked at the docks, and
she kept fainting.
A nieghbor came by in his flatbed truck and made us get in. I didn't want to leave but another explosion was expected, and I had to get my brothers, sisters, and baby to safety. My older brother drove to Houston to tell my husband Tommy and Dad where we were going. They were due at the docks but hadn't finished thier other job. We were taken to Kemah and dropped off at a shale pile in the middle of nowhere on Hwy. 146. Later, we were moved to a Clear Lake Red Cross shelter. There a woman who knew my sister Dorothy took all of us to her house.
My brother-in-law, Truman Baker, was a Monsanto foreman, last seen going to the fire. Tommy and brother-in-law, Walter Stidham, were part of group searching for bodies. They kept looking for Truman and Walter's father. It took a long time to find them. Fingerprints and dental work indentified Truman. Tommy never liked to think of the explosion because all he could see was the bodies and pieces of bodies, and smell that awful smell. When he thought of his brother, he remembered his face caved-in.
I knew a lot of people that died that day. Many I worked with at Monsanto or lived near. I lost friends, family and many acquaintances. I will never forget that day even though many names have faded from memory.
I was a first grader at the Heights. On the way to school
in Mrs. Vorheese's car, we knew something was on fire at the docks. When we
arrived at school and got settled in our room, I moved closer to the windows.
When the explosion occurred, all the window panes shattered, and sharp pieces
of glass were sticking in my desk. I saw what I thought was a flock of black
birds flying by the window and later realized it was debris and shrapnel flying
through the sky from the explosion.
I dashed to the door. My teacher tried to restrain me, but I got to the front door and tried to get out. A young man, either a teacher or aide, asked if I was ok and told me I could not go outside; then, he bolted the door. The back of his shirt was covered with blood. My parents picked me up, and we stayed at my grandmothers house in Alvin for awhile.
BAKER, WANDA LOU
I was a secretary at the Joint Agency of the Texas City Railroad Terminal.
We were watching the beautiful orange smoke, totally unaware of the danger. We had billed the product as fertilizer. Our janitor said later, "That sure was powerful manure Miss Wanda." The explosion leveled our building which was about a block from the Grandcamp. I lay there and screamed, thinking, "Why doesn't mother wake me up?" When fully consious, I tried to wiggle around and managed to squirm around and get my head out.
A truck picked some of us up and took us to a clinic on 6th Street. People were lying on the lawn, in much worse shape than I, so I started walking to my home on 15th Avenue. Mother was at a red light on 6th and 9th. I tried to flag her down, but she didn't realize it was me. I walked over and banged on the hood until she realized who I was.
We went to a clinic in Dickinson, and I passed out. When I came to, a man in a white coat was cleaning me up. He said I'd need about 3 stitches in my throat and a few in my arm. However, when the doctor was doing his work, he said twelve stitched in my neck and six in my arm. "Whoa! That other doctor said only three or four," I protested. To which he replied " That was no doctor. That was the barber next door over here to help."
That scene typified the prevailing attitude of that day, everyone helping each other. This kindred spirit is the main reason we stayed, rebuilt and are no stronger and better than ever.
BALENTINE, JESSE W.
I was at the garage in the 700 block of Texas Avenue, and a metal overhead door on the southside of the building caved in around the back end of a Buick. Window glass shattered and flew everywhere. Luckily I had crouched down behind the other side of the car. Day turned to night, and there were other explosions. I thought the building might collapse, so I went outside, and the sky was full of flying debris. The buildings were on the southside of the lot where Ernest and Marie Massey, and George and Ernestine Derden lived. Jack Lawrence Used Cars was at the front of Texas Avenue.
People were running around like crazy, confused. A few days later, we went to the gym on 6th Street and to McGar's to view bodies, trying to identify people we knew were missing. Later George Derden and I were walking on the water's edge just north of Monsanto and discovered a human leg that had floated to shore, blown off at the hip.
We lived in an apartment between 2nd and 3rd Avenue. It was a beautiful day, so I took my 15-month old daughter Connie and walked to Mainland Laundry. My husband Joyce worked across the street at Meyer's Garage, and we went over to visit with him.
Everyone was walking towards Monsanto to see the fire. He asked if I wanted to ride down and see it, but I didn't, so we went inside and sat down by the plate glass window.
I read the newspaper while he played with Connie. The blast blew the window in on us and cut Joyce between the eyes. We thought Connie had been cut too, but she was covered in her father's blood. Everybody was running and screaming. Car part were flying everywhere.
The Dwight DuPuys, for whom my husband worked, drove Connie and me to my family in Baytown. Joyce stayed in Texas City to see what he could do to help. My sister in New Jersey called the Red Cross to find about about us and was told Connie was missing and I was dead. She flew down here and looked for our bodies at the gym. We later found each other.
I praise and thank God for sparing us when so many others were lost.
I lived in a garage apartment behind my parents, the Frank M. Mathises, at 227 5th Avenue North. My younger sister Frankye sat with my baby Karla while I went to get a pair of tongs to use in sterilizing baby bottles. As I was about to enter the store, the explosion occurred, severely damaging the store and sending glass flying. I didn't know what had happened; I saw people running down the street covered in oil, part of thier clothing missing. I knew I had to get home to my baby and started running. Then, I remembered I had my car and went back to get it.
When I got home, the stairs had been blown away from the apartment, but Dad had rescued Karla and my sister. Karla had been asleep in her crib. The explosion blew the window over her bed, filling it with glass, but she did not recieve a scratch. A large piece of steel came through the roof, kitchen cabinets, floor and embedded itself in the garage's concrete floor. The main house recieved extensive damage as well.
Dad insisted we go to Austin to stay with friends while he stayed in Texas City to see about the house and help out where he could. The rest of our family: Mother cleone, Frankye and Nelda, sister Bonnie Holmstrom and daughter Donna, Karla and I headed out of town, stopping at the Rosenberg hospital for forgotten food and diapers. They had no idea of the extent of the damage in Texas City and thought the news media was exaggerating. They gave us some supplies and removed glass from my leg.
When we returned, Mother cared for Karla, so I could help at theSalvation Army serving food to the workers. I was asked twice to try and identify bodies, one of the hardest things I have had to do. I couldn't identify anyone. I still cry when I think about it because the picture is so vivid in my mind. I went to funerals at the First Methodist Church, and the wall behind the pulpit was gone.
Now and then, a scene from those days pops into my mind. I was blessed to have survived such an event and have enjoyed a wonderful life since then.
BARBER, ANNA CLYDE
I was 36 and lived two miles from the docks. My husband Thomas worked at Pan Am and had just gotten off graveyards. He and a nieghbor left early that morning and flew a Piper Cub to Galveston for repairs. Before returning they stopped for coffee, probably saving thier lives. As they taxied down the runway later, they thought they had run over something large. It was the concussion running into them! Then they saw black smoke above Texas City. If they had left without thier coffee, they might have been blown out of the sky, as were two other Piper Cubs circling over Monsanto at the time of the blast.
Four volunteer firemen on our block were killed. A drill stem from the Grandcamp fell in our alley. It was thirty feet long and sixteen inches in diameter. My parents came from Alvin and picked me and my children up.
Thomas stayed to fight fires and search for the dead and injured. For years any loud noise would scare me. After the explosion, nobody chased fire anymore.
BARGER, DUANE E.
I worked in Pan Ams paints division and was loaned to the pipefitters that morning to help repair a unit. As we pulled exchanger bundles, there was a ground jarring- rumble. We thought it was the unit but soon realized there'd been an explosion on the docks. I went home to check on my pregnant wife, Sheila (Alford), and young son Darrell Lee. It took me over forty minutes to go twenty-one blocks. No one was at my home, but I could see plenty of damage to the windows and doors and blood on the stove and baby's bed. I found out it was Sheila's blood. She and Darrell were okay and with friends Herman and Mae Evans.
Mother was able to account for all our family except my father, Warren Marshall Barger, and Sheila's dad, Joe Smith Alford. Uncle Dick Barger and I searched every aid station, clinic, hospital and morgue looking for them, hoping for a miracle. Mr. Alford was seen in the Marine Hospital. He was facing the Grandcamp and was blown through a Quonset hut and lost a leg. He spent many years trying to forget the event before he died. My father was the Light Oils Dept. supervisor at Republic. He and the rest of management were on the docks trying to get the ship moved from port - they had a Barrel House operation there. Dad was walking up the gangplank of the Grandcamp.
About six weeks after the blast, a portion of his body involving a leg, part of his torso and neck was found, indentified by dental records, and hair matched with hair from one of his many hats/ This part of him was interred in the family burial plot. If other parts were ever found, they are buried at the memorial park for the unidentified dead.
I am thankful all other family members were spared and am grateful to those who came and helped those of us in need. I will always love Texas City and owe it a lot.
I was home when the blast occurred, doing
my homework and watching the pretty smoke rising from the docks. My dad Joe
was home from Republic Oil and had gone to bed. I went outside, climbed a tree
and got on the roof of Dad's shop building to watch the fire. My mom, Lela,
came to see what I was doing, and I asked her to drive me, sister Dorothy and
brother Jimmy down to get a closer look. We drove down and parked on the seawall
and were sitting there when Uncle Allen Baucum drove by and told Mom it was
not safe for us to be there. We went back home and I got back on top of the
shop. The blast knocked me to the ground.
Dad and I went to find Aunt Fannie Sander's children. Danforth had a lot of damage. We searched a long time before we found them. Dad drove down Bay Street, and I showed him where Mom had parked the car. Another car was parked a few feet from where we had been. Parts of the ship had ripped into the car killing both people, a classmate of mine and his mother.
We drove straight home, picked up the family and went to the Conroe Courthouse to spend the night and get away from the nightmare that had devasted Texas City, locked away in our memories forever.
I was a Central High sophomore, and after the blast I
ran home. My parents Carl and Mildred Medley, had six children; I was the oldest.
There were six boys. The oldest, Carl Jr., a junior high student, was at the
dentist's office. Thornton and Jeff were in Danforth Elementary, and James,
Lee and John, the youngest, were home with Mother. My father was between Carbide
and Monsanto checking on a job. He came home and took us to stay with some friends
From our front porch, you could count many houses with lost family members. There were kids at school who had lost fathers. I thank God everyday for my family and that we were spared. I lived in Texas City until a few years ago, and, although I was born in West Virginia, I call Texas City home.
I was ten, a Danforth fifth grader on the
second floor in my homeroom class. Surprisingly enough, I was at my desk when
the explosion happened.
Everyone was neat and orderly, like during a fire drill. Mrs. Wilson, my teacher, had blood all over her face but never changed her expression. She just line us up single file and got everybody out of the room real orderly.
The stairs had collasped, so the teachers took us to the other end of the building, and we used those stairs. When we hit the school yard, of course, everyone scattered. We had had many fire drills.
I thought someone had bombed us. The school yard was wild. I ran home as fast as I could, and we all gathered in our yard. For some reason I had twenty-one pencils and a fountain pen when I got home but don't remember how I got them.
My friends and I never talked about the blast much. I learned to run away from fires and learned to be thankful.
The jumior high softball boys met at Danforth at 8 a.m.
to take the bus to the practice field on Bay Street and 16th. Waiting for the
bus, we all studied the fire and it's unusual smoke. I was on second base when
the ship exploded. All of us, including Coach Galbreath, were knocked to the
ground. I looked around, got up and started home.
Coach motioned for all of us to get back on the bus, but my mother Irene O"Sullivan, always said, "If anything happens, head for home!" So that's what I did. I ran to 6th Street and passed the A & P store. All the glass was out, and goods were all over the street. The first person I saw at home was Granny Griffin. My youngest sister, Timothy Ann O'Sullivan, was there also. My brother Julian, sister Sonja and I went to Burnet that day, but I don't remember the trip. I remember Burnet but don't know how I got there.
BARTOLINO, BETTY BENSON KRAUSS
I was secretary to Basil Stewart in Industrial
Relations at Republic and worked on the second floor. Most of management, including
Mr. Stewart and the manager of personel, were concerned about the fire and were
on the docks. The personnel secretary came upstairs, and we watched the fire
from the staircase window. I was in the powder room when the restroom door fell
on me, and the light fixture shattered above me. Our building moved from side
to side, and we could hardly get downstairs. Outside we ran toward old Galveston
She became concerned about her two-year old son. He was at her mother's small framed house one block from Monsanto. We caught rides until we reached her parent's home. We found a piece of the ship had gone through the roof. Several bloody rags were lying about, and her father was in the backyard, incoherent. We went to the small downtown hospital where truckloads of mangled bodies were being brought. The corridors were running with blood. Here son wasn't there.
I knew Mother was thinking the worst, but I stayed until we found her son at her grandmother's; then I took a bus home. My purse was still at the office; the driver let me ride free. Mother thought I was dead or injured. then my Husband and I drove to Houston to see Basil Stewarts wife and tell her he was on the docks just before the Grandcamp exploded. She thought he was doing rescue work. A very sad day. The first of many.
My aunt and uncle, the Henry Dalehites, stopped at the harbor to check on his boats. He was killed; my aunt was injured. My carpool driver was killed, and Republic tagged me as necessary personnel. I recieved purchase priority to buy a Ford Coupe at $1,447.00. My new car and my first bank loan.
BAUMGARTNER, EUNICE NEELY
My husband, Maurice R. Neely, worked 12:00a.m. - 8:00a.m. that day at Pan American. He came home, the left to go to Texas City. When the fire whistle blew, I knew he would go to the fire. He was a volunteer fireman.
Relatives checked hospitals and morgues to no avail. I learned later from an eye witness that he and fire chief Henry Buamgartner were on the Grandcamp when it exploded.
My daughter Nina was in school, and my son James L. was at home.
BAUMGARTNER, FERN WHITTINGTON
It was my eighth birthday. My mom, Mae Kettrick, was baking a
cake, and I was hoping for a surprise party. I'd never had a real one with kids
and presents. The teacher left for a few minutes, and I got up in front of the
class and invited everyone to my birthday party, knowing I wasn't having one.
All I could think of was the presents I'd get if the whole class came. Then,
there was a tremendous explosion and an awesome flash of light, like the sun
exploded. I thought god's wrath was falling upon me for lying about the party.
The force of it blew me into the blackboard. Day turned to night, and I knew
he was on his way! Terrified kids ran over me. My cousin, Mary Etta Jannero,
saw me trying to get out of the way and carried me down the hall on her back.
When we got outside, I screamed non-stop. I was going to hell that very day.
The entire school yard was filled with bloody children and parents, all in wild
eyed panic. Add to thier screams the sounds of fire trucks, car horns, ambulances
and the constant mighty roar of all the fires, exploding storage tanks and bursting
gas lines, and you have one horrendous nightmare. Even now, I get a lump in
my throat and tears in my eyes when I recall that desperate scene.
Brother Raymond, eleven, and best pal, Preston Glover, handled fear differently than I, still screaming at the top of my lungs. They drew a circle in the dirt and quietly played marbles. Preston's mom came to get him, but when she saw me in hysterics, decided to stay until my parents arrived. Mother had baked my birthday cake, put a pot of pinto beans on to cook and was about to take a bath. Stepfather, Sonny Kettrick, working graveyards, got out of bed for a drink of water. The explosion blew the water out of the bathtub, and Mom dashed out of the apartment in her slip, barefooted. Sonny caught her at the foot of the stairs with her robe in his hand.
Mrs. Glover, still holding my hand while I screamed my head off, saw a tiny lady in a ruby-red chenille robe racing down 3rd Street followed by a big man in a tee-shirt, pants and slippers that flopped with each step. I'm sure she was overjoyed as I to see them because I stopped screaming.
Our apartment was wrecked-- staircase partially blown down, kitchen cieling caved in with walls decorated in birthday cake and beans. We stayed in Somerville at my grandmother's. My friend, Gloria Dahl's, ten year old brother Robert drowned when the tidal wave carried him out into the Bay. No one in our family was killed or injured. My husband Harold, whom I married years later, lost his father, so in a sense, I did lose a family member. Our three children and little grandaughter never got to know his father, the fire chief, who with his equally brave men, lost his life that day on the Grandcamp.
Despite everything, I have never considered living anywhere but here.
BAUMGARTNER, HAROLD J. "BUMPY"
We lived at 519 7th Street North behind City Hall. The Kirbys lived on the
south side of us and the Maddux family on the north. We were having breakfast,
and my father was leaving for work at the Texas City Terminal. I noticed the
smoke, told Mother about it and went outside for a better view. It was about
8:20, and nofire alarm had sounded. Two friends, James Menge and Bucky Whitly,
rode up on thier bikes and asked me to ride with them for a closer look. I yelled
to Mom that I'd be back. Near Texas from 6th Street we saw the fire was on the
docks. We stopped near 3rd Street where the dock road crosses the dirt levee.
Policeman Jim Bell rode up to direct traffic and prevent non-essential people from going to the docks. A huge crowd had already gathered. The Grandcamp's whistle sounded several short blasts, and the crewplaced large timbers over the hatch emitting orange smoke, Hold #4, to introduce live steaminto the hold to smother the fire. My father had told us about a fire in the hold of a ship moored at this pier two days before which took about 20 minutes to put out. The Coast Guard inquest into the cause of the disaster verified that fire had been aboard the Grandcamp in Hold #2.
James and Bucky joined some friends on the east side of 3rd. (Bucky later died instantly from a shrapnel wound to the head.) I moved down the levee on the south bank as my brother rode up on his motor scooter. He had clutch problems and didn't stay long. A young couple in a '36 Ford Coupe parked across the street from me as a continual stream of spectators joined the scene. No. 4 hatch cover rattled and jumped up and down after the pressurized steam was introduced, causing decomposition gases to evolve. The siren at the terminal sounded at 8:30 a. m. Many people left the immediate dock area, including the ship's crew. The Texas City Fire Department had not been summoned to the fire. Seven minutes later city sirens sounded, and fire trucks soon arrived. The first, driven by Clarence Wood, approached the ship about 8:45, followed shortly by the other three which initiated much activity- firemen playing out hoses, dropping suction hoses into the slip, spraying streams of water on the burning ship, and men arriving in private cars until a full compliment of twenty-seven men were there. Hold #4 started rattling and jumping and blew a seal. Some of the timbers, now afire, flew into the air and fell back into the open hatch. When the smoke erupted, it was dirty brown, indicating an advanced state of decomposition of the ammonium nitrate or that possibly Bunker C fuel was leaking into the hold and burning with the nitrates.
Sharp, cracking sounds came from the hold as firemen on deck played water streams into the hatch. I could see my father, Fire Chief Henry J. Baumgartner, on the ship with about a dozen men. The water looked like it was turning into steam. No one knew it, but it was already to late to conquer this fire. Right after Dad arrived, he told a fellow terminal employee: "This is a dangerous fire. We need all the help we can get!"
Two Piper Cub airplanes circled the docks. I looked up as one banked above me to turn towards the dock. Louder cracking sounds came from the ship. I looked down. The ship disintegrated before my eyes.
Objects of all sizes shot into the air from the fireball before the sky turned hazy and dark. The ground shook violently. The shock wave - overpressure- sped across the open field and slapped the trees to the ground. There was no time to react. The seismic wave reached me in about 0.2 seconds, the shock wave in 1.7 to 1.8 seconds. The ground shock's noise and the intensity of the overpressure were incredible. It lifted me over the levee, and blew me across 4th Avenue and rolled me into a ditch about 190 feet away. I waited to see if more explosions would follow as people ran screaming from the area, caught in no-man's land with no place to hide. To the north and south lay a block of open land, to the east, an inferno. There was no time to reach the homes to the west.
Jim Bell picked up his Harley-Davidson, about 850 pounds, tried to crank it, but it wouldn't start. Knowing objects would be falling from the sky, I looked for substantial shelter and dove through a hole in the wall of a damage garage. An elderly black man in suit and tie was on his knees praying. Showers of shrapnel and objects rained down over the entire area, hit the garage and crashed into the surrounding homes, creating incredible sounds. Those noises, which often shook the ground, were joined by human wails of pain and screams for help. We were pelted by splinters of wood from the garage's structure and roof as it was being destroyed around us. The roar and heat of the fires was tremendous. After what seemed an eternity, the barrage stopped.
Our shelter beaten down around us, my companion and I bolted out the back and were entangled in high-tension cables coiled like loose springs on the ground. Thank God, power had been knocked out. I ran north down an alley for a block when a black lady, too frightened to go back into her house, screamed for me to save her baby. I followed the baby's cries through the rubble and found the crib crumpled in a corner. A large piece of steel had come through the ceiling and sheared the crib in half before going through the floor. The head and footboard collasped inward, squeezing the baby's head between them and the mattress. I finally got the baby out and gave it to the hysterical mother.
Along Texas Avenue, I saw more injured people and businesses with severe damage on blood-splattered sidewalks. Doors, windows and storefronts were demolished. Merchandise spilled outside. At the alley of the Rainbow Cafe, something told me to stop. A car going 50 to 60 mph shot across 6th Street airborne, disappearing down the opposite alley. I hoped damage would lesson as I neared home, but in front of the telephone company on 5th Avenue, there was a twisted piece of metal wieghing 20 to 30 pounds buried in the street- familiar sites by now, but I hadn't expected to see them over a mile away.
Family, relatives and friends were in our front yard and were relieved when they saw me. Mother was bleeding from her forehead, temple and left finger, but her thoughts were on the fate of her husband and the welfare of her family.
All of our family was accounted for except my father. Aunt Wininna Baumgartner was in a Galveston hospital in critical but stable condition. She has been by a Monsanto window. Rescuers found her on the first floor under rubble of the second floor. There was no word on any of the twenty-seven firemen. But I knew my Dad was gone when the ship exploded because I had seen him on deck a moment before. I knew he couldn't have survived.
Our home was in shambles, and the Kirby's and my family stayed at a Dickinson volunteer firemen's home in Dickinson. A little after 1 a.m., my brother and I were going inside to bed when the southeast sky lit up like day- a white fireball rose into the night sky, and white-hot meta fragments and metal debris shot into the sky. The ground shook for several seconds. Then the report was heard- a tremendous roar.
The next morning, my mother Christine, Uncle Emmett "Hasp" Hale, son-in-law Kenneth, and I went to McGar's and were met by Mayor Trahan who stopped to console Mother. There was still no word of any of the firemen. We viewed the bodies there, at the gym. The grim reality begin to sink into all the family as we sadly walked home together. My oldest brother, Charles, drove home on his motorcycle from Norfolk, West Virginia, where he was stationed in the U.S. Navy. He tried to get information about Dad, but none would ever be forthcoming. Mom chased many rumors; someone had seen my father leaving the dock area in a daze; another said he'd seen him in the wreckage of his office with a pipe through his chest, dead; and a person in a Houston hospital had part of an I.D. card with a last name ending in "-t-n-e-r."
We spent Friday cleaning the house, throwing away items that couldn't be salvaged. Saturday, my brother took me to pick up my bicycle. It seemed impossible that I had escaped without so much as a scratch. If I had stayed home doing my homework, I would have been cut to ribbons. My desk was riddled with glass shards embedded in the top and sides.
On Sunday we attended a memorial service at 5:00 p.m. at the football stadium with a backdrop of black smoke and burning storage tanks.
BEAN, DOROTHY WELCH
I was at Central High School, a short distance from the dock.
On my way to study hall, I stopped to look at flames and smoke high in the air
over the docks. Shortly after I got to study hall, the first explosion occurred,
and the teacher told us to get under the tables. The boy beside me asked: "Is
this the world coming to an end?" I didn't know what to think. then there
was another explosion. The halls were covered with broken glass, and kids were
slipping and sliding all over it. Many were cut; I was in shock. My mother and
aunt came to get me, and we left town. No one had seen my dad, an American Oil
operator. We went to Camp Wallace. That night we heard another explosion. Grandfather
came from out of town to check on us and went to the gym to look for family.
Dad later showed up unhurt. Two of my friends lost a parent.
My family was so blest not to have lost any loved ones. It was truly a horrifying experience.
BEAN MAE HUGHES
We lived at 320 2nd Avenue North, and my husband Fred left for the docks that
morning. He was a volunteer fireman and had been for twenty years. He was killed
when the Grandcamp exploded, and we never found his body.
My children, Louise, Wesley and Vivian, and I continued to live in Texas City. I am 90 years old, and have never forgotten April 16, 1947. I would like to thank all who helped my family and also those who stayed and help rebuild our city.
BELCHER, LOU ALICE
My husband W.I.Belcher was off work, and we were working in our
backyard at 711 12th Avenue North when we heard the explosion and saw the mushroom-shaped
cloud of smoke over the docks. We knew it was bad. We were worried because of
my brother, Lee Coffman, was working at Monsanto, and our eldest daughter Lubelle
was teaching at Danforth Elementary.
My husband left walking to find her, and they met on 6th Street. She had been badly cut by flying glass and had been hit on the head by a falling light fixture in the school library.
After getting her students outside, she started home to get medical attention. She recieved first-aid in Dickinson, but it was several days before we could get her to an eye specialist in Houston for treatment. The glass was never removed from the eye socket, and she passed away 47 years after the blast, still combing glass slivers from her scalp.
It was several days before my brother's remains were found and identified. Yes, I remember April 16, 1947, well, as do many others who experienced similar or worse events.
(by Jack Corbin)
BELDEN, JOAN VOILES
I was a Danforth first grader in Miss Eva Howard's class. My friends, Dalton
Ewing and Marilyn Steward, were in my class. An overhead flourescent light crashed
across my desk and shattered. The back wall of lockers fell onto the floor,
and the entire wall of outside windows shattered and flew all over the room.
Our door slammed, opened and collasped out into the hall. The fire alarm sounded,
but our class was already headed for the school yard. Outside, we all raced
in different directions. I headed for 6th Street and home. The sights and sounds
seen and heard on the way were horrible, almost unbelievable.
My father, William P.C. "Bill" Voiles, was a commisioner, and, when Mayor Trahan saw me, he gave me a ride to Mary and Jimmy Matthews' home because he didn't have time to take me to my house. Mother met Carol and me on the corner at Dixie and Nick Nichols'. We saw Joe Tillman, who lived two doors from us, rushing from work, rags wrapped around him, covered in oil and grime, the bottom of his feet sliced. Behind us, a piece of the ship's anchor fell through Dr. Harlens roof. Everybody was anxious for news of loved ones and friends and waited together. We stayed with family friends that night. Carol woke me up when she felt the second explosion. Days passed before Mother arrived to tell us of our very sad loss - and the start of getting on with the rest of our lives. Our father had been killed.
BELK, LEONARD T.
I was one of the longest days of my life. I worked at Carbide,
had just gotten off night work and was at my parents'. Dad left for work at
Pan Am; he was a pipefitter leadman in charge of the dock gang that morning
and was either hooking up a ship or a barge when the Grandcamp exploded.
Back then, he and his crew always came up Logan to Texas Avenue on their way
to the docks, when they passed our house, Dad honked so we'd know he was going
to the docks.
Mother was out back doing laundry when the ground shook and trembled. The sky was black. Small pieces of metal were falling all around. The concussion broke the wringers on the washing machine. Mom asked me to try and find Dad.
Everything was in utter chaos at the docks. Frank's Cafe was leveled to the ground. Out front in the oil and sorghum molasses was Dad's truck. He'd gone inside for water while Mr. Shaw went back to the plant for gas masks so they could unhook barges.
When I got there, they were loading bodies into dump trucks and ambulances. I kept searching, but I couldn't find Dad. There was so much destruction, so much death. It's hard to describe the sorrow.
Six men were in his gang. Three were killed and three survived. Gorman MAyes, a good friend I went to school with and in Dad's crew, told me Dad was taken back to the refinery. I went to Pan Am's dispensary and found him, half clothed. They were washing him in order to see his wounds. He had a broken elbow and cracked pelvic bone. It troubled him until he died in 1974.
He told me when he turned the knob at Frank's to leave, the Grandcamp exploded, and he was under the door, lumber, saltwater, oil, and molasses. He managed to turn his head, saw a small ray of sunlight and use his head to push his way out. Leon Henry came out behind him and always said Dad saved his life. They became good friends after that.
BERG, DAISY LEE PROSSER
I remember the last morning Lucille Wade rode to work in our car pool, clutching
some pansies, telling she was engaged and wouldn't be going over the hill to
Monsanto much longer. She was right. A little over an hour later she was dead.
I can see her now as she was that day - happy, laughing, young and beautiful.
For a while I watched the fire, then went to my office to use the adding machine. When I plugged it in my chair started shaking and plaster fell from the walls. A co-worker grabbed me, threw me to the floor and covered me with his body. A second blast blew out the front wall and glass covered us. He told me to run toward Texas City. I ran so fast, I outran the tidal wave. I didn't stop until I reached 11th Avenue. My life changed forever.
Searching for loved ones, I went to all the hospitals and morgues.
We found my brother, so swollen for being in the water for days, it didn't look like him. That image was erased from my mind, and to this day I remember him as handsome, young and full of life and love. Too young to die. He was my protector, taught me right from wrong. I miss him still.
He was jogging on 3rd Street the day before. I stopped him and asked him to go with me to visit our Grandmother Rohden because she was old, ill, and might not be with us much longer. He said, "you never know......I may go before she does." He was dead the next morning.
I hope everyone remembers my brother as I do. His name was Earl Niles Prosser, Jr. He was a wonderful human being.
BERGERON, ELLA WOHLEB DROZD
The night before my husband, Clem Wohleb, was killed, he said
that at work that dau, he had heard church music but didn't know where it came
from. Weeks before he heard the ticking of a clock at home in an area where
there was no clock. He also told Mother Albina, who was staying with us to help
when the baby came, that if anything happened to get out of town.
I shall never forget that day; it seems like yesterday. My husband was only thirty, and I was twenty-nine. That morning he patted his son Reagan on the head and said, "He looks like me." Then he went to the door, turned around, came back and laid his pocket knife on the dresser. He walked back to the door, looked at me and left. I can still see his face looking back at me. It seemed like my life ended over night.
I really don't know what I was going to do. We had moved to Texas City and bought two lots, and only the foundation of out home was laid. The Red Cross finished building the house for me, and we moved into it in August 1947.
The disaster was the most horrible thing that ever happened to me and my family. Only God saw us through it. Clem wasone of the 63 unidentified, and I give my thanks to everyone who helped us during that time.
I'd been a professional fighter for three years and was in the bathroom getting
ready for another day at the gym when I heard a rumble and felt the ground shake
under my apartment. I figured it for a thunderstorm until my friend, Claude
Hunter, busted in bellowing that Texas City had blown up, and people were needed
to take the injured to hospitals. We raced over the causeway, used back roads
and got into town. We picked up two fellows - all we had room for - and took
then to John Sealy. The return trip was a madman's race. Everyone drove as fast
as they could in every kind of vehicles on wheels, slowing down some on Broadway
but not much. We didn't have to because at every intersection twenty to thirty
people blocked the crossing traffic for us all the way to the hospitals which
were ready and waiting and took the guys right in.
We returned and brought back four people the next trip. On our third trip, some guys asked us to help rescue people trapped in a warehouse, but we were stopped by officers and told another explosion was possible. On our way back home, my car was rammed and totaled.
Before T.V., live boxing was one of the number one entertainmants, and Galveston was a major boxing center. Phil Flake was the fight promoter. Six or more fights a year were held in the Galveston auditorium to a packed house. People came from miles around. Sam Maceo, Vic and Frank Fertitta, and thier nephew Viv Maceo were all big supporters of sports and entertainment in Galveston. They were very upset over the Texas City Disaster and got entertainer Phil Harris to organize a big benefit show in Galveston with a lot of top stars like Frank Sinatra, Ann Sheridan, Rochester of the Jack benny show, Diana Lynn, Harris and his wife Alice Faye and many others to raise money for the Texas City Relief Fund. The Maceos and the Fertittas picked up the tab for the housing and feeding of the performers and all thier staffs.
Then they decided to put on a Benefit Boxing Card on May 7th, three weeks after the explosion, which they promoted in the paper as "possibly the greatest array of pugilistic talent ever to perform in one fight ring." Some of the top ten fighters in the world came in for it; Tony Janiero, third-ranked welterweight; Steve Belloise, a top-ten middleweight, and Galveston's own Buddy Garcia, my friend, who flew in from New York. They did it gladly and weren't paid a dime. Thier expenses were paid by Maceos and Fertittas. Five thousand dollars was raised for the Relief Fund. That was a lot of money back then. I managed to win a six-round decision, and Buddy Garcia got a KO. he also rounded up some fifty people, mostly fighters and including me, to donate blood.
It was a terrible time. I'll never forget it for lots of reasons but mostly because of the way everybody pitched in to help each other in lots of way - not just locals, but people from other towns and even across the country. Big people and little people, all doing what they could.
BESSIRE, HARLIN EMMETT
After my Air Force discharge I spent a week at my family's
farm in Hill County. Then Uncle Lloyd Bessire, who worked at Monsanto,
offered me a home and help in finding a job. I was hired at MOnsanto
in February as a polystyrene unit operator.
Our shifts were different, So I requested a shift change so we could share a ride. It was changed to evenings a week before the blast. I was on the porch watching the fire. When I walked inside, windows shattered, things were thrown about, and the air was filled with objects that seemed to fall in slow motion.
We rushed to Danforth school to find my cousin Margaret and found her at 6th Street and 25th. We stayed there with many others. Then late that day, we all went to Howard Kirkpatrick's home in La Marque. After we returned home on 17th Avenue, my uncle and I returned to Monsanto. He was a guard, and I worked recovering bodies and cleaning up the plant. It was an experience which will stay with all of us forever. I feel very fortunate to have escaped injury.
BIBERSTON, LUPE SALAZAR
I told my sister-in-law and my mother-in-law to check out the lime-orange
sherbert sky. We sat with babies, Pete Jr. and my Jimbo, and watched
people rushing to the fire. Sirens wailed as I fed Jimbo and put him
down for a nap. I started for the kitchen and WHAM! The house shook,
windows crashed, and the ceiling came tumbling down on us. I grabbed
Jimbo out from under the glass and wall debris and ran outside, thinking
a gas pipe had exploded in the house.Debris was falling from a darkened
sky. Storage tanks exploded, and electric wires whistled past us.
I couldn't believe Jimbo could sleep through all the commotion. We raced down Texas Avenue away from the raging fires.
In front of Danforth school, I met my mother, Anita Salazar, two-year-old sister Patty, and brothers, John, Fabian, and Paul "Chief." Mother had a serious head injury that spurted blood all ove Jimbo when she bent over to check on him and said, "He's not asleep. He's unconscious!" A passing motorist drove us to Dickinson, and Mother and Jimbo got medical help.
We stayed at Our Lady Queen of Angels Catholic Church to search for the rest of our family.
My sixteen-year-old brother Tony had been killed. We were told by many he was helping the injured. Whether he died in the first or second big explosion, we'll never know. In the following days and weeks, my parents drove hundreds of miles looking for him at every hospital, clinic, gym, morgue and places of shelter, praying they'd find him. They viewed all the bodies and all the body parts. Through the years, they remained inconsolable in their anguish and frustration in not finding him. For those of us who never found our loved ones, the nightmare lingers today, for we know not where they rest. However, we have faith that our paths will merge again.