Remembering One of the Heroes of America’s Worst Bird strike.
My father had stories of how he had physically pulled people out of one life-threatening situation or the other. More often than not, it was out of the water, and it involved ropes.
On July 5, 1943, during World War II, it was in the Navy, and he rescued 17 crew members from his sinking destroyer, the USS Strong, in Kula Gulf.
On October 4, 1960, it was in Boston Harbor, and he didn’t know how many people he had rescued.
Fifty-nine years ago, on October 4, 1960, as a three-year-old girl, I sat behind my house on the beach and watched as the L-188 Electra plunged into Boston Harbor six seconds after take off.
My father had been painting the house and said he heard engines drone and cut out. He turned from the ladder, confused, to see a geyser shooting out of the harbor.
Then the tail of the plane emerged.
He uttered, “Oh my God!” and jumped into action.
I don’t remember the crash, but I do remember the chaos that ensued. Crowds at the waterfront straining to see what was happening, watching the small flotilla from the Cottage Park Yacht Club racing out toward the runway.
Dad told me what it was like out there.
The chaos. Death floating around him.
How he passed by some of the seats that hadn’t sunk.
“All of them were a bloody mess. You couldn’t tell who was unconscious and who was dead. But if they were face down, I went by them.”
Triaging can be a painful experience.
“It killed me,” he said.
In all, he and others pulled five or six from the water. People were asked to hold on to whatever he could find. He continued paddling through the debris. He circled back to ask if they could hold on so he could keep looking for survivors.
If he got a nod, he’d move on with the promise to return.
If they shook their heads, he went into the water to hold them up until a boat came by, hoisting them up with ropes. Dad was also an arborist, or a tree surgeon, as they called them in those days.
Those ropes saved a lot of lives.
He wasn’t happy with the results of his efforts. As one passenger, a man estimated to be in his 40s was being hauled up, the driver took off prematurely. My father could tell the man was in pain.
“The poor sucker looked at me like, ‘you let me down.’ It might have killed him.”
But there were others. One was in an oil-stained uniform. Though it could’ve been the pilot, it was impossible to confirm.
Fast forward three months. The doorbell rang. My mother opened it to find an officer in an Army uniform standing there with his wife, arm in arm.
“I’d like to see your husband if he’s home,” he said.
She invited them in to sit down in the living room. The young man walked slowly with a cane, steadying himself against his young wife and sat down. But when my father entered the room, he stood up and put out his hand.
“I don’t know what to say to the man who saved my life except ‘thank you.’
Sixty-two of the 72 passengers on board were killed — nine with serious injuries.
And one showed up at my front door.