Monday, September 17, 2012

September 11th, 1950

Headline from The Detroit News

September 11th is a day that most people remember and mourn the events of September 11th, 2001.  Eleven years ago terrorists attacked our country, not our soldiers, not our ships or planes, but our civilians.  This is a tragedy that will undoubtedly never be forgotten. Today, however I’d like to talk about an event from a September 11th a lot longer ago.

To be 100% completely honest with all of you, I never even knew of this event, which being a history buff, kind of bothers me.  For some reason I know a ton of historical facts, but when it comes to local history I find myself at a loss for facts or information.  So earlier today when I saw a Facebook post saying “September 11th 2001 and 1950, dates we will never forget”, I decided it was time to do some research.  A quick search on Google found me the information I needed.  Apparently the local boys of the 109th Field Artillery, out of Wilkes-Barre, were involved in a horrific train crash on the morning of September 11th, 1950. 
It was a thick foggy morning on the day of September 11th, 1950.  The troop transport train known as PX54444 West was heading to Camp Atterbury, Indiana.  The 109th was scheduled to do some training here in preparation for their deployment to Korea.   Early in the morning, a problem with the train was discovered.  From what I understand it was that there was a break and the air brake line that needed to be repaired.  Following procedures the troop train deployed a flagger, who dropped flares and allegedly changed a railway signal in order to let others know the train had been stopped on the tracks.  Many of the servicemen were catching up on sleep while these repairs were taking place.  The train departed Buttonwood Yard (Located in Wilkes-Barre) around 2 PM the day before.  That morning the train was outside of a small town called Coshocton, Ohio.  Little did they know what was about to happen.

The 109th is one of the oldest units in continuous existence in the United States Military.  The original incarnation of the 109th was under the command of Colonel Zebulon Butler in 1775.  They were originally set as an infantry unit, and later (1917) were designated as a Field Artillery Regiment.  They have served the Wyoming Valley for more than 200 years and continue to have men overseas to this day. 

Overhead Picture of the wreck
Ground level view
On that fateful morning, a Pennsylvania Railroads passenger train named “Spirit of St. Louis” was running late on its schedule.  The engineer was later quoted as saying they were traveling “too fast”.  Even with the stop signal engaged, the passenger train flew by it, not even noticing it.  Part of me wonders if this was more due to the reports of heavy fog than the carelessness of the engineer.  Out of the dense fog the passenger train had no chance to stop and slammed into the back of the troop train at 4:42 AM.  The flagger deployed by the troop train was no more than 500 yards from the train when he saw the lights from the oncoming passenger engine.  The tape from a speed recorder put the speed of the passenger train somewhere around 48 miles per hour. In the months that followed it would be determined that the engineer of the “Spirit of St. Louis” failed to follow operating signals and was going too fast, this is what led to the wreck.  The diesel engine that was pushing the troop train was propelled forward into the cars holding the servicemen.  The first car was thrown in the air and landed cross ways onto the second car.  Accounts of this say that the second car was sheared down to the floor.  This caused a domino effect of cars hitting into the back of other cars.  The Diesel engine that was pulling the passenger train was thrown down an embankment and into a creek.  When all said and done, in a matter of minutes, 33 guardsmen were dead and countless others were injured. 

Caskets were unloaded draped in American Flags
In the days that followed it was discovered that all of the dead came out of the 109th out of Wilkes-Barre, PA.  The dead were placed back on a train that was sent back to Pennsylvania.  An unconfirmed amount of people, believed to be numbered in the thousands, came out to honor the dead as the train they were on pulled into a train station in Wilkes-Barre (Some of the Ohio newspapers list them returning to the Lehigh Valley, however then they go on to say they took a mile ride to the armory.  Clearly they had the Wyoming Valley confused with the Lehigh Valley.).  The Caskets of the dead were unloaded, all draped in American flags, at the Market Street Station in downtown Wilkes-Barre.  They were placed on 33 separate transport trucks and taken on a slow ride through downtown Wilkes-Barre en route to the Kingston Armory.  Hundreds lined the streets of WB to witness the procession.  The Public were barred from the armory in order to let the families be with their loved ones, before making arrangements for funerals and burials. /div>
I originally wanted to post this on September 11th, however I wanted to make sure I had all my facts straight.  Plus I was waiting a few days in order to personally interview my grandfather Vince.  He entered into the Korean War in 1953.  He recalled the details almost immediately.  “A lot of my friends were on that transport, just the other day I saw one, his back was all messed up from that and still is to this day.”  He went on to say.  He also mentioned that a kid her grew up with died in the accident.  “Royer, Richard Royer, he was a good kid, he had a bit of a stutter, but we grew up together, hard to believe someone I knew was killed”.  My grandparents collectively recalled the day the troops returned home saying that there were “tons of people” and it was a “really big thing back then”. 

The Wyoming Valley is very rich in history.  Some events are better and happier than others.  In this case it is one of the more terrible stories, but a story that needed to be told.  I for one find it to be interesting that the date is infamous for more than one event, especially one so close to home.  From the people I asked about this, not many knew or had any idea this had ever happened.   So I really felt the need to get this out there, in order to inform people and let them know that history is an important subject that should be learned and more importantly never be forgotten. 

Below you will find a list of the soldiers that died on that day, including my grandfather’s friend Richard A. Royer.  Please take a moment to think of what they and their families lost that day:


  • Disbrow, William R. - Service Battery
  • Edwards, Sgt. William C. - Service Battery
  • Fletcher, Cpl. Joseph E. - Service Battery
  • Hornlein, Pfc. Martin - Battery B
  • Jackson, Pfc. Ronald J. - Battery B
  • Kuehn, Lester J. - Battery B
  • Okrasinski, Sgt. Bernard S. - Battery B
  • Ostrazewski, Cpl. Thomas M. - Service Battery
  • Royer, Recruit Richard A. - Battery B
  • Sobers, Recruit William F. - Battery B
  • Tierney, Pvt. William F. - Service Battery
  • Wharton, Sgt. Gilbert B. - Battery B
  • Zieker, Pfc. Donald C. - Battery B
  • Harding, Pfc. Clyde - Battery B
  • Ludwig, Pvt. Wallace R. - Service Battery
  • Thomas, Capt. Arthur J. - Service Battery
  • Wallace, Recruit Thomas W. - Service Battery
  • Wellington, W.O. William M. - Battery B
  • Armbruster, Cpl. Carl - Plains, PA - Service Battery
  • Balonis, Pfc. Leonard - Plains, PA - Battery B
  • Barna, Corp. John L., Plains, PA - Service Battery
  • Carr, Recruit Eugene - Larksville - Battery B
  • Cox, Sgt. John W. - E. Plymouth, PA - Battery B
  • Dougherty, Recruit William J. - Larksville - - Battery B
  • Fargus, Recruit Hugh L. - Plymouth, PA - Battery B
  • Gallagher, Pfc. E.W. - West Wyoming, PA - Service Battery
  • Handlos, Pfc. Harold - Larksville, PA - Battery B
  • Luzinski, Cpl. Larry - Trucksville, PA - Battery B
  • Martinez, Recruit Frank C. - Bronx, NY - Battery B
  • McGinley, James F. - Exeter, PA - Service Battery
  • Norton, Recruit Charles - Hanover Township - Battery B
  • Pudlowski, Pfc. Raymond - Hudson, PA - Battery B
  • Zabicki, Pfc. Edmund F. - Edwardsville - Battery B

1 comment:

  1. There was a WVIA documentary on this if my mind serves me correctly.