Friday, November 30, 2012

70th Anniversary of Cocoanut Grove Fire

This past Wednesday November 28 was the 70th anniversary of the horrible Cocoanut Grove Fire in Boston. 492 people died which was the second worst fire in American history. A fire in a Chicago theatre in 1903 killed 602. This was the premiere nightclub in Boston and some of my aunts and uncles lived in Boston at the time and I am sure they had been there.

The Boston College football team was undefeated and heading to the Sugar Bowl when Holy Cross beat them 55-12. I remember my father talking about this. He was in the Army in Mississippi and was having his hair cut and the barber told him the score. My father said that the barber must have heard the score wrong. BC was undefeated and Holy Cross was 4-4 and BC was heavily favored. The barber told my father he heard it correctly and my father was shocked.

BC had reserved a large table in the center of the nightclub but when they lost they cancelled going to the club. If  they did, the BC football could have been wiped out. The fire led to reforms of fire codes in the country and major improvements in the treatment of burn victims. And earlier in the month, 6 firefighters died in a fire in East Boston when a building collapsed. So this was just a horrible month in Boston.

And many of the victims could have lived. Side doors were shut so patrons couldn't leave without paying. A window was boarded up. Other doors opened inwards and the crowd trying to escape just piled up in the front of the doors. And the main entrance was a revolving door where the panicked crowd piled up and prevented people from escaping.

The cause of the fire is still in dispute. Many blame a busboy for lighting a match that ignited flammable material but he was exonerated. It is estimated that there might have been 1000 patrons in the club that was designed to hold 460. Five people survived by hiding in a walk in refrigerator and some crawled  out through the kitchen. One Coast Guardsman got out and then went back in 4 times looking for his date, who unknown to him, had escaped. He had extensive burns over half his body, spent 21 months in a hospital and had hundreds of operations. He married the nurse that took care of him.

The site of the fire is now a parking lot in the Bay Village on Piedmont St. There are a couple of small plaques there. I haven't been there but plan on taking the train into Boston and walking over there and pay my respects.

Thanking you for your time, this time, until next time, FRAN

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

70th Anniversary of "Fighting Sullivans" Death

70 years ago today  the five Sullivan brothers from Waterloo, Iowa,  died when their ship, the USS Juneau was torpedoed in the South Pacific. It survived the first attack  and was limping back to port when it was hit again, exploded and sank. Their sister's boyfriend was killed at Pearl Harbor so the brothers went to the Navy Recruiting office and signed up. They insisted that they all serve together and the Navy complied. Today that would not be allowed.

There is a famous scene in the movie Saving Private Ryan where the mother is at the kitchen sink, looking out at the fields and the dirt road leading up to the house. She sees a military car coming up the road, and when they get out to tell her she has lost one of her sons, she collapses and falls to the floor.  This scene was inspired by the five Sullivan brothers. I can't image parents losing one son in a war let alone five. How did they ever cope with that?  When the brothers were at home, they used to climb the water tower on their property and wave good bye to their father  as he headed off to work on the railroad. After the boys died, when the father left for work each morning, he would look up at the water tower and salute.

One of the brothers was married and left a young wife and baby boy. She is still alive today, and the son married and had a son and daughter. The daughter  teaches 3rd grade and each year she tells her students about her great uncles. And in Waterloo today there is a museum, convention center, park and a street bearing their name. If I ever get to Iowa, I definitely plan to go the museum in Waterloo.

Yesterday was Veteran's Day. I have a section in my book about holidays and their meaning and I discuss Memorial Day but not Veterans Day mainly because I consolidate my thoughts about both holidays under Memorial Day. I went to a Veterans Day luncheon yesterday as a guest of a veteran friend of mine.  A local restaurant puts on a free lunch for several hundred veterans and  their guests. They have been doing this for years. A wonderful gesture on their part! And local school kids wrote notes thanking all the veterans for their service. They were posted throughout the restaurant. Pretty neat.

 I could not help but think of all the veterans who have served and are serving now, many of them far from home and on multiple deployments.  And I thought of all the soldiers over the last 200+ years who have gone over that hill and never came back. I thought of the five Sullivan brothers and what their family went through.  And I thought of all the soldiers in Walter Reed hospital and all the other hospitals and wonder how their recoveries are going. They all paid the price and  many the ultimate sacrifice so I could have a wonderful lunch, looking out at the water, on a beautiful late, fall day.

Thanking you for your time, this time, until next time, Regards, FRAN