The 1962 Death of My Daddy Jim – a Strategic Air Command B-58 Hustler Pilot in the 364th Bomb Squadron of the 305th Bomb Wing at Bunker Hill Air Force Base
This first newspaper article was sent to me a couple of years ago from the wife of one of the pilots, John T. Burch, who was in the plane when the accident occurred.
I have no copy of Page 11, Column 5…
July 17, 1962
The Anderson Herald – Anderson, Indiana
Bomber Blast Kills Crewman
PERU, Ind. (AP)—An explosion described as minor and unexplained killed a crewman on a B-58 Hustler bomber Monday as the supersonic craft flew a test mission about 35,000 feet.
The incident occurred after the bomber attached to the 364th Bomb Squadron of the 305th Bomb Wing at Bunker Hill Air Force Base had been in flight an hour.
The craft was en route from Nashville, Tenn., to Lafayette.
Bunker Hill authorities said the victim was 1st Lt. James P. Estrada, 28, the planes’ defensive systems operator. He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. James Estrada, Houston, Tex.
Base officials gave this account:
Maj. Leonard V. Sullivan, Fresno, Calif., commander and pilot, sensed a loud report, felt a yaw to the right and detected depressurization trouble in the tandem seated craft’s three chambers.
He checked with the other two crew members and received acknowledgement from Capt. John T. Burch, Cleveland, Tenn., navigator, but none from Estrada.
Sullivan returned to Bunker Hill and landed.
He and Burch found Estrada unconscious and rushed him to the base hospital where he was dead on arrival.
The Vidette Messenger
July 17, 1962
Plane Explosion Investigated by AF Officials
PERU, Ind. (AP) – The Air Force was trying today to determine the cause of an explosion that killed a crewman as a B58 Hustler bomber was flying a test mission.
First Lt. James P. Estrada 28, Houston, Tex., defensive systems operator on the supersonic bomber, was killed Monday as the plane flew above 35,000 feet enroute from Nashville, Tenn., to Lafayatte.
Base officials said the plane had been in flight an hour when Maj. Leonard V. Sullivan of Fesno, Calif., commander and pilot, sensed a loud report, felt a yaw to the right and detected depressurization trouble.
Checks With Crew
The plane carried a three-man crew. Sullivan checked with the others, received acknowledgement from Capt. John T. Burch of Cleveland, Tenn., navigator, but not from Estrada. He headed for Bunker Hill Air Force Base and landed.
Sullivan and Burch found Estrada unconscious and rushed him to the base hospital, where he was declared dead on arrival.
The plane is attached to the 364th Bomb Squadron of the 305 Bomb Wing at Bunker Hill. Base officials said it had undergone major modification prior to the flight and had passed all tests.
Estrada had been in the Air Force almost five years. His wife and their three daughters have been living in the base housing area.
July 17, 1962
Star-News, Pasadena, California
Blast Death Probed
BUNKER HILL, Ind.—UPI—Air force [sic] officials today began an investigation into a “minor explosion and depressurization” which caused the death of a crew member aboard a B-58 Hustler jet bomber enroute to Lafayette.
It was believed the explosion occurred yesterday in the right inboard engine, part of which ripped off and tore through the plane as it flew at 35,000 feet on a test run from Nashville, Tenn.
Bunker Hill information officer Maj. Glen A. Proffitt said the engine piece hit and killed 1st Lt. James P. Estrada, 28, defense systems operator of the jet.
August 05, 1962
Nevada State Journal – Reno, Nevada
Jet Explosion Inquiry Starts
BUNKER HILL, Ind. (UPI)—Air Force officials Saturday began an investigation into a “minor explosion and depressurization” which caused the death of a crew member aboard a B-58 Hustler jet bomber en route to Lafayette.
It was believed the explosion occurred in the right inboard engine, part of which ripped off and tore through the plane as it flew at 35,000 feet on a test run from Nashville, Tenn.
Bunker Hill information officer Maj. Glen A. Proffitt said the engine piece hit and killed 1st Lt. James P. Estrada, 28, defensive systems operator of the jet.
KOKOMO (Ind.) TRIBUNE
Sunday, Dec. 30, 1962
Bunker Hill AFB Airmen Killed in Accidents
B-58 Tragedies Took Costly Toll; Value of All Property on Base Rises to Nearly Billion Dollars
Three accidents, which took the lives of five Air Force officers, involved B-68 Hustler bombers at the Bunker Hill Air Force Base near Kokomo during the year now closing.
On April 12 one of the powerful Hustlers lifted on a normal take-off from the south runway, then suddenly yawed to the left and plummeted groundward, exploding into a fiery ball.
Miraculously, two of the crewmen, Capt. William F. Hale and Lt. George P. O’Connor, were uninjured after landing with only partially-opened parachutes.
Capt. Duane D. Dickey, 29, Orosi, Calif., was not so fortunate and perished with the aircraft.
In an investigation of the crash, searchers found the cause to be a defect in the flight control system. All aircraft were grounded until the Hustlers could be modified, further insuring the safety of their crews.
On July 16 at about 35,000 feet over southwestern Indiana the freak disintegration of a starter on another B-58 sent a small fragment of metal hurling through the fuselage of the plane, taking the life of First Lieutenant James P. Estrada.
Estrada, the 28-year-old defensive systems operator of the aircraft, was pronounced dead on arrival at the Bunker Hill AFB hospital. The bomber, piloted by Maj. Leonard V. Sullivan and navigated by Capt. John T. Burtch, was able to put down at Bunker Hill without further mishap.
The third and most tragic crash occurred on Sept. 14 near Butlerville, taking the lives of three crewmen. Found in the mangled wreckage of the plane were Lt. Col. John J. Trevisani, Capt. Arthur I Freed and Capt. Reinardo P. Moure. Trevisani was commander of the 366th Bomb Squadron.
Flying at supersonic speeds greater than Mach II (twice the speed of sound), the Hustler literally disintegrated, strewing wreckage over about a 16-square-mile area. Since the Butlerville crash the 58’s have been grounded from any supersonic fight.
While the loss of five officers was a tragic chapter in the history of the base, the big military installation continued to grow. Its total value rose to $906,405,000 during the year.
Land, facilities and added aircraft, represent a $156,000,000 increase since June. Most of this figure is accounted for by the additional aircraft, although security does not allow disclosure of the exact number added.
Military personnel on the base number 5,000 with 300 civilian employes [sic] and about 5,000 dependants [sic]. Last year the base payroll was $5,557,000.
The year’s fiscal expenditures for food, maintenance and military purchases were approximately $34,000,000.
Among new construction were the refinishing, inside and out, of airmen’s dormitories and the personnel building; a revamping of the swimming pool; addition of 14 “Hustler Huts” to house B-58 bombers; new banks of runway lights; a blast ramp at the end of one runway; and repair to the concrete work of the runways.
Officials and personnel at the base continued to show a friendliness and co-operation with residents in the communities surrounding the base and recently exemplified this feeling in the large donations presented to the United Fund campaign in the area. Howard County’s share was $1,815.
Thursday, June 15, 1967
The Kokomo Tribune – Kokomo, Indiana
Vol. 117—No 286 Page One
Jet Was Stationed at BHAFB
Inquiry Begun in Crash of B-58 And Death of Plane’s Navigator
DARROUZETT, Tex.—The crash of a B-58 Hustler from Bunker Hill Air Force Base and the death of the plane’s navigator were being probed Thursday by a board of inquiry from Clinton-Sherman Air Force Base.
The board from Clinton-Sherman, the Strategic Air Command’s nearest facility, was called to the crash scene near the Texas Oklahoma border after the 305th Bomb Wing plane plummeted to the ground about 5:30 p.m. Wednesday.
The supersonic bomber crashed west of Darrouzett in the northeastern corner of the Texas, Panhandle. Cause of the crash was not known.
Officials at Bunker Hill identified the dead crewman as the navigator, Capt. William R. Bennett, 31, Lakeland, Fla.
The survivors were identified as the aircraft commander, Maj. Clinton R. Briesendine, 38, Dallas, Tex., and Capt. Gary M. Cecchett, 26, the defense systems operator of Irmwin, Pa.
Bunker Hill spokesmen said the aircraft was on a routine mission and carried no nuclear weapons.
A witness to the crash, James Cook, who farms the land where the plane went down, said the bomber completed an air refueling with a tanker when the crash occurred.
An Air Force spokesman at Clinton-Sherman, AFB, Clinton, Okla., said he doubted the report of a refueling, however.
The Clinton-Sherman spokesman said the inquiry could take two months.
Cook said the plane crashed about a mile from where he was standing, and he helped the pilot from his ejection capsule.
“He (the pilot) had a little scratch on his head and the other one didn’t have anything.” Cook said.
“We hunted for more than an hour for the other (third) guy—his ‘chute didn’t open,” Cook said, adding the body was about 200 yards from the wreckage.
Last radio contact with the bomber was with the Federal Aviation Administration office at Gage, Okla. A spokesman there said the pilot reported a flameout and was trying to land at Gage, but then told the FAA the crew was ejecting.
All three crewmen lived on the base at Bunker Hill.
Bennett was married and had two children, Briesendine is married and has three daughters, while Ceccett is single.
Wednesday’s crash marked (continued on Page 2, Col.1)
Inquiry (Continued from Page One)
The 13th fatality attributed to accidents involving B-58s deployed at Bunker Hill.
On Dec. 12, 1966 all three crewmen of a B-58 were killed as their aircraft crashed into a rocky hillside near Hustonville, Ky. Killed were the aircraft commander, Maj. Richard Blakeslee; navigator, Capt. Floyd Acker; and DSO, Capt. Clarence Lundt.
Capt. Manuel Cervantes Jr. was killed Dec. 9, 1964, when he ejected from a B-58 shortly before it crashed on a runway at Bunker Hill AFB. Two other members of the crew escaped the burning wreckage.
Two crewmen, Capt. William M. Bergsdail and Maj. William L. Berry, died of burns received when their aircraft caught fire while taxing along a Bunker Hill AFB runway. The incident, which occurred on Aug, 27, 1963, was the only B-58 on record involving an aircraft equipped with a nuclear device. Although some radiation reportedly contaminated the immediate area of the plane, base officials said there was no chance of a nuclear blast.
On July 16, 1962, 1st Lt. James P. Estrada, a defensive systems operator died when an engine broke loose from the plane and a portion of metal pierced the B-58’s fuselage.
On Sept, a B-58 disintegrated over Southern Indiana near Butlerville killing Lt. Col. John J. Trevisani, Capt. Arthur I. Freed and Capt. Reinardo P. Moure.
Capt. Duane D. Dickey, a navigator, crashed with his plane as it yawed and went down south of a Bunker Hill AFB runway April 13, 1966.
Airman Second Class William R. Gwilliam, died of head injuries after he was accidentally ejected from the cockpit of a B-58 being prepared for a training mission in a “Hustler Hut” on the Bunker Hill base. He was blown through the roof of the metal building.
Other B-58 mishaps, not involving the loss of life, included a B-58 which burned on the runway on July 22, 1965 after its three man crew escaped.
Gwilliam lost his life in the same cockpit seat from which Capt. Charles Nash had ejected on Nov. 15, 1955, after he lost radio contact with the other two crew members when the aircraft began to yaw. The pilot landed the aircraft safely at Bunker Hill and Nash was later found in a cornfield near Logansport, suffering only from a stiff neck.
To date, Nash, Briesendine and Ceccett are the only three Bunker Hill crewmen to eject uninjured using the B-58 ejection capsule, which completely encloses the pilot and his seat before it parachutes to the ground.
Two other incidents were recorded in 1953, when on April 23 and Aug. 14, B-58s veered off runways causing only slight damage to the aircraft.
Excerpt from “TALL MAN 55” – John T. Burch’s Account of the Accident…
The pictures shown below are of my crew being congratulated for accomplishing the “Best Score” during an Operations Readiness Inspection not too long before the incident that I’m about to describe.
PILOT – Len Sullivan
Navigator – John T. Burch
My pilot, Len Sullivan, Defensive Systems Operator Jim Estrada and myself had drawn the duty this day of a “test-hop” of an aircraft that had experienced heavy maintenance, including a routine change of all four engines. This was normally required to ensure that the aircraft was fully back together and functional, ready to perform it’s wartime mission. It was to be a short flight of only about two hours, during which we would put the aircraft through its paces, exercising all electrical and mechanical systems and documenting that it was airworthy. Because of the short duration of the flight, we carried no external fuel pod and made a very spectacular climb as we left the runway.
After takeoff, we had climbed to an intermediate altitude of about 10-15,000 feet and cycled the gear up and down several times while gently turning back and forth to check all of the flight controls. The pilot had flipped open the refueling slipway door and closed it successfully. We then climbed to about 28,000 feet and readied the aircraft for a supersonic flight that would take us to 50,000 feet and Mach 2 speed (about 1,350 mph).
When all checklists were complete, the pilot advanced the throttles to maximum afterburner. As the airspeed increased to 600 nautical miles an hour (described as “knots”) , the pilot pulled the nose up and began a steep climb, aiming toward our scheduled maximum altitude of 50,000 feet. All went normally until our speed reached 1.7 Mach as we passed through 47,000 feet. At that point, we couldn’t tell exactly what happened, but there was a loud explosion and the air in the cockpit suddenly “fogged”, indicating an explosive decompression. At the same time, there was a terribly loud whistling air noise that was coming over the intercom into our helmets.
This made it difficult to converse, but we each checked with the other over intercom to see if all were OK. Jim Estrada didn’t answer the call and we could hear a low, long groan, just once over the noise on the intercom .
The pilot had no other indications of trouble with either engines or airframe, but turned immediately toward home base as we decelerated to subsonic speed and dove toward the field. I told the pilot that I was going to slip out of my seat and crawl aft to Jim’s cockpit, about six feet behind me, but he told me that he needed me to help guide us to the runway. Fortunately, we were only about 100 miles from the base when the incident occurred and within ten minutes we were on the ground.
Fire and rescue crews were alerted within moments of our inflight explosion and had already positioned themselves by the runway to assist. As we rolled to a stop, still on the runway, firefighters immediately foamed the aircraft. We hadn’t known in the air, but the forward main fuel tank was streaming fuel like Niagara Falls.
The moment that we had stopped on the runway, I slipped out of my seat belt and crawled aft to see about Jim. What I found was that he had been killed almost instantly by a wedge of starter turbine blade that left the number three engine, came through the forward main fuel tank, penetrated the right side of Jim’s cockpit, pierced Jim’s heart and lodged in the left sidewall of the cockpit. Just as in the 43rd Bomb Wing’s incident, our starter turbine had engaged, oversped and disintegrated. This time, it resulted in a tragic fatality. The Air Force had lost a fine officer and each of us a good friend.
Since I had left my cockpit hatch closed as I went aft to see about Jim and I exited through his hatch, anyone looking at the damaged aircraft could see the navigator hatch closed and the first and third hatch open. The word got out initially that I had been the one killed. It was a sobering thought.
As we stood there, stunned at Jim’s death, it occurred to me that word might soon reach my wife, Betty, about the accident and I wanted to talk to her first. Since I normally called her immediately upon getting back from a flight, I used the Operations Officer’s car phone to give her a quick call, saying as I usually did, “Hi, Honey, I’m on the ground and will be home in a little while. ”
I expected to have the usual maintenance debriefing for about an hour and then get home to explain in person exactly all that had happened. Jim Estrada and his wife, Jane, were good friends and I didn’t want Betty to hear that news from others. What I didn’t know is that there is much more involved following an aircraft accident. Besides a much longer and more complex maintenance debriefing, the pilot and myself had to undergo a standard and complete flight physical. It was to be hours later that I finally got home.
In the meantime, friends who knew what had happened and also knew that Betty did not know, “dropped by” for a visit at home. It was Lee & Sarah Thomas and Gene & Melvene Wallace from church. Lee was in charge of the Flight Control maintenance shop and Gene was a crew chief on the B-58. Because of their Air Force duties, they knew all the details about the accident, but they didn’t say anything about it to Betty. They just engaged in “chit-chat”, while waiting for me to get home. All four of them knew that she would be quite upset if she got the word before I reached there and they wanted to protect her from that.
If Jim Estrada’s wife had been in town at the time, Betty would probably have known about the accident within a few minutes. As it was, Jane Estrada had been visiting her mother in Mississippi that week. The Air Force normally notifies the families of missing, injured or deceased members by personal visit… usually by a commanding officer, a chaplain and/or a casualty affairs officer. Because Jane was far from home and away from a military community, someone in the chain of command chose to notify her by phone. She got that shocking news that her husband had been killed, but very little information about what happened. She then had her brother call Betty for more news and to see if Sully (the pilot) and I were OK.
When the phone rang and Betty answered, it became clear immediately to Lee Thomas that this was Jane Estrada’s family asking if Sully and I were OK. Betty didn’t understand anything he was saying and was very flustered for a moment. Lee stepped in at once and took the phone from her, giving Jane’s brother the information that they wanted and letting them know that Betty did not yet know what had happened. It was a marvelous example of friends looking out for friends, but I was in the doghouse hours later when I finally dragged in from all of the official questions. It was also a good example of the choices we face daily. We try to shield those whom we love, but it doesn’t always work out like we plan.
There was a side story to this series of events. Jane Estrada had stayed in Mississippi and Jim’s body was flown there for burial. We knew that she would return to Bunker Hill AFB soon to take care of gathering her personal things before returning permanently to Mississippi, but we didn’t know when.
Betty and Sara Thomas had a pleasant shopping trip planned to nearby Indianapolis, some 60 miles south of the base. I had insisted that Betty go, because this would be good therapy for her. It was an event they enjoyed together several times a year and we often laughed about it becoming such a ritual that we could predict at any moment exactly which shop where they would be and the restaurant afterward .
Lee Thomas and I had been left to keep the children that day and there was a big outing planned to the park for a picnic and playtime. Then I got an unexpected phone call that Jane Estrada was planning to fly in to Indianapolis that afternoon. She asked if I might be able to pick her up at the airport.
Wanting to do everything that I could to help Jane, I immediately conferred with Lee Thomas and he volunteered to handle the park outing alone and to take care of our children, Sharon and John, who were about six and four years old. I then drove to Indianapolis to find Betty and get to the airport in time for Jane’s arrival.
Like clockwork, I walked into the usual restaurant where the wives ate and wound down before driving home, just in time to catch Betty and inform her of our change of plans. We made it to the airport just in time to meet Jane.
When we got home, I dropped Betty and Jane off at our house, then took Sara home. A few minutes later, when I stood at their door, Lee held our four-year old John in his arms and began to apologize profusely for letting him break his arm on the “jungle gym” at the park. Lee felt much worse than John did, I’m sure. John was sporting a brand-new cast that he was quite proud of at the time. I worked far harder at calming Lee Thomas than I did at soothing son, John.
Lee told us that it was heart-warming to see all of the commotion he had caused when he called the hospital late that day to get treatment for John’s arm .When the base doctors learned that it was the son of “Capt . John Burch who was a survivor of the B-58 accident,” they fell all over themselves to take care of them. Several of the doctors even left a formal dinner and still wore their formal mess dress uniforms while applying John’s cast. The Air Force truly does take care of it’s own! John couldn’t have gotten better care anywhere in the world !
Not wanting to worry Jane and certainly not wanting her to feel any responsibility that John’s injury was in any way her fault, we whisked John off to bed where he wouldn’t arouse any questions, at least for the night. As we tucked John into bed that night, he held up his little casted arm with the proud words, “the doctor told me that if it turned blue, the cast was too tight. ” Fortunately, the arm appeared normal for the trauma it had experienced. And John had the pride of a new badge of honor for his age group. In the days ahead, it was well-autographed and I’m sure he was glad when he at last was able to remove it, but for now, it was a prize. Now that I think about it, perhaps this was the first influence that led John to become the orthopedic surgeon that he is today. (A side story to the side story… We recently cleaned out a closet and found in a long-forgotten box… the very cast that John had worn then!)
I had no idea that the news of our accident would get outside of our little community, but I was surprised to find that it had made the national news. Something which meant a great deal to me at the time was a call from my college roommate, Myron Rogers from Tennessee, to see if I was OK. Myron and I had been through grade school, High School and College together. It was really good to hear from him. Though I thanked him at the time for his call, I don’t think he ever knew just how touched I was that he was concerned.
Copyright © 2001 by John T. Burch. All rights reserved.
And lastly, my commentary…
Lately, there has been much talk of nuclear missiles coming from the White House (“Fire and Fury”) and it just dredges up the past and places our future in question… I can’t bear to think of more fighting and war, more children and families losing loved ones. People in power must consider the costs to all of us as human beings. Most importantly to me personally is the cost of military actions on the children of our nation, and our planet, and the futures they may face. The reality for me is my father flew in a plane with a nuclear weapon, almost as large as the aircraft itself, attached to the fuselage of that plane.
Having had two fathers in my life, I grew up without either one. I was born to Capt. and Mrs. Frank Hunt Bosworth. My mother was Janie Morris. They divorced soon after I was born, and as the story was told to me, my mother met and married Jim Estrada. They were married when I was about two years old. I was raised as Jim Estrada’s child and he is the one I have the most cherished childhood memories any child could ever dream of. I have hung onto those memories-they are as clear as if they happened yesterday. My mother named our dog, a Boxer, “Mach Von Hustler” for my daddy’s plane.
At the age of six years old, my mother and my Daddy Jim had two little sisters for me and momma was pregnant with my little brother when the following tragedy occurred to our little family. We had been living in base housing at Bunker Hill Air Force Base in Indiana. This base is now called Grissom Air Force Base. At the time of Daddy Jim’s death, my mother, two sisters and I were staying with my grandmother, Rosie Smith Morris in Gulfport, Mississippi while daddy went on maneuvers. I was old enough to know that this was a regular part of my daddy’s job. I was a daddy’s girl. We were buddies and I missed him so much when he would go away. He always brought me a present, like strawberries from Tennessee, so it was fun when he came home.
So many happy times with my family in Indiana are crystalized in my soul. I went to kindergarten there and my mother taught school there. My Daddy Jim planted tulips in the flower bed in front of the little duplex we lived in. I spent so much time with my daddy while momma tended to my sisters at home. He took me everywhere with him–even onto one of the B-52s he flew before the B-58s. We watched drills together of the air force base airport emergency crew practicing for possible tragedies like the one my daddy had. To this day I am obsessed with those planes. I have vivid memories of life on the base, our family and the friends we’d made during our time there. About a year or so ago, I had the opportunity to reconnect with Mrs. Burch, one of our neighbors whose husband flew with my Daddy Jim. She sent me some newspaper clippings she had kept all these years of the tragic event that shocked and horrified all of us involved. I’ll share them with you, along with the ones I had saved over the years of research I’ve done about the event.
At the age of 60 years old, the day my family learned of Daddy Jim’s death is one forever fresh in my mind and heart. There has never been what folks call “closure” and there has never been healing. The wound is fresh. I share this episode in my life as a reminder to those who might not know the pain of the loss of a father to a six year old child when their father serves in the military. The wreckage left behind of a widow giving birth after her husband’s death, raising four children on her own having to fight the United States government to keep the benefits her husband paid for with his life just never gave any chance for healing of our family. As a Gold Star widow, my mother was brave, we all were brave. It seems hard to watch through the years as more and more children lose their daddies in the military. We never, ever, heal. We just go on.
I would ask that every time a daddy is lost in the military, special attention is given to those children left behind. There were no considerations for the kids in my family. We were supposed to be proud of our father’s service. We grew up without our fathers like it was expected of us. Sure, folks told us our daddies were heroes. I would have rather had a daddy than a dead hero. I always thought if someone ever asked me, I would have rather have my daddy back than to have lost him to our country. Nobody ever asked me. I needed my father. I used to cry standing in front of the oil painting we had of him in our living room. I would pretend his eyes followed me. That he was watching over me. If I was happy, I’d share that with the painting of Daddy Jim. If I was scared or sad, I talked to him. Always alone, when nobody else could see my private conversations. He has always been my own private angel. People didn’t used to consider the mental health of the widows and children left in the wake of military tragedies. I hope things have changed. Back then, the kids were lost in the shuffle of funeral preparations and coping mechanisms of their surviving parent. Much of it was not healthy or good.
Children can be proud of their parents’ service and loss of life to the country we live in. I was. The down side to that thinking is I tend to expect more of our country than it sometimes delivers. I could never express ungratefulness. I do admit to holding a higher standard when it comes to politicians and our government. After all, my frame of reference was always, in my mind, my father had paid for our country’s everything with his life, right?
Remember, the grown ups in life make the decisions we children have to live with our whole lives. Children have no choice. I think of this every time I hear of military kids losing parents in service. I wish everyone would. I think of this when more troops are deployed. I think of this when our President mentions use of weapons of mass destruction or dismisses national security issues as real and present dangers. My Daddy Jim’s plane was strapped to a nuclear bomb. This is real.
Daddy Jim was made a USAF Captain posthumously… In the Wild Blue Yonder…
I still miss my Daddy Jim…
Rosie Smith Morris, R. N. – July 15, 1973 Biloxi Daily Herald Full Page Article-“Life’s a challenge and mothering is greatest of all”
Biloxi Daily Herald
July 15, 1973
Life’s challenge and mothering is the greatest of all
By Pam O’Boyle -Daily Herald Women’s Editor
Tadpoles in the backyard sparked an appreciation for frogs that, through the years has produced a collection of 500 amphibians in the life of Mrs. Rosie Morris, Gulfport.
Yet Mrs. Morris’s whole life is quite a collection of anecdotes, courage and creativity. She is somewhere in her 70’s and going strong.
The frogs that line shelves in her dining room never were tadpoles but have been deliberate additions to a collection that began unintentionally.
However the tadpoles that started the whole thing were first brought home to 1711 Wisteria St., Gulfport, when Chancery Judge John S. Morris, Mrs. Morris’s oldest son and one of five children, was a little boy.
Mrs. Morris says, “John was the first of my children to start collecting tadpoles. After he grew out of it, others brought them home. I remember one afternoon he came home and put a whole bunch of the little things in a pool of water in our back yard.
“I objected and told him he wasn’t going to be able to keep them there, that the water would dry up. He insisted he would add water and they’d be okay. Well, the next morning, I woke up and there he was, out digging his little toes in the mud around that pool. The first thing he said to me was, ‘What’d you do with my frogs?’ They were all gone and he thought I’d done something because I had objected the day before. I told him I hadn’t done anything with his frogs, that probably some neighborhood cat had gotten them.
“As it turned out, “Mrs. Morris continues, “Two-three days later some neighbors said to me, ‘A funny thing happed the other morning. We saw whole droves of little frogs hopping toward the (drainage) canal!
“They were John’s tadpoles! He evidently had caught them at just the point where they were ready to become frogs and during the night they had just hopped out of the pond.
As other youngsters in her family brought home their tadpoles, Mrs. Morris got an old bathtub that she placed in the back yard in which to keep they. She became fascinated, herself, with the development of tadpoles into baby frogs.
One day in Woolworth’s she bought 10 glass frogs, each in a different position, just because she like frogs. “I remember they were 15 cents apiece because I paid $1.50 for all of them.
Years passed and all but one of those 10 was lost, either by breakage or disappearance. So when her youngest daughter, Jane Morris Estrada, discovered a duplicate of one of the lost frogs while Mrs. Estrada was on her honeymoon in New Orleans, she naturally brought it home to her mother.
That began the collection that grew haphazardly until it became such an established interest that friends, family and Mrs. Morris herself began seeking unusual frog shapes and pictures to add to it.
Although Mrs. Morris has no idea how many frogs have been lost from the collection, she now estimates the survivors at around 500.
Don’t for a moment think Rosie Morris sits around all day counting her frogs. She enjoys them and enjoys receiving of locating unusual ones, but…
She is the only remaining registered nurse in private duty service at Gulfport Memorial Hospital. She returned to her nursing career 35 years ago when her youngest child was three-years-old. Her husband was in ill health and she needed more money to support her family. Her husband, John Morris, died about six years ago, she says, after being ill for many years.
She describes herself as a good mother, a good nurse and a bad housekeeper. The most interesting of these, she says, is being a mother.
Often she has been asked how she reared five children, three of whom received a college education, took care of an ill husband and paid for all of it on a nurse’s salary.
Her answer: “It just takes all kinds of nerve when you raise a bunch of children like I did.”
Nerve never has been in short supply with Mrs. Morris, anyway. Back when she was a young girl, not far out of nurses training, she decided to have her shoulder length hair cut short. “Nobody in the South had short hair then,” she says with a laugh. A friend accompanied her to a barber shop in Gulfport to get the cut. The barber, the later Mr. McCarty, greeted them with a surprised, “Could I do something for you ladies?”, Mrs. Morris recalled, adding at that time ladies did not even enter barber shops. “Yes, I want to get my hair cut,” she replied. “Why?” the barber queried her. “To tell you the truth,” the young woman answered, “When I was little my daddy took my sister to get her hair cut and I always though [sic] it looked so cute. I begged him for mine to be cut but he told me I was a grown girl and too old.” (“I was all of 12, I think, she explained during the interview Thursday morning.) The barber told Mrs. Morris (who was not yet Mrs. Morris when this occurred), “I hate to cut this pretty, curly hair.”
“Well, if you don’t someone else will,” was her final retort. He did.
Not long after her haircut the young nurse moved to Greenville, S. C. to assume a new nursing position. “Everybody thought I’d had typhoid fever,” she says. Other young nurses like her short hair-cut so well (remember, short hair was unheard of on young women at this time) that three fellow-nurses went out and got theirs cut short.
“They were fired immediately,” Mrs. Morris reflects. Adding, “About that same time 11 nurses in New Orleans were also fired for having their hair cut short – it was all over the newspapers.”
“But they couldn’t touch me because I came with my hair short. My sister had told me before my haircut that if I did it, everyone was going to think I was a freak. I told her I didn’t care if they did, I wanted short hair.”
Mrs. Morris originally is from Collins, Miss. Where she was one of 12 children. She received her nurse’s training at Charity Hospital in Jackson, Miss. Which since has been torn down. Her early career took her to positions in Laurel, Miss., Rockefeller Hospital in New York, Greenville, S. C. and the Kings Daughters Hospital in Gulfport, all before her marriage at age 29.
She says, “No matter where I went, whether up north or in the south, I found that no nurses I worked with were better trained than those who had received their training at Kings’ Daughters Hospital.
She nursed at the Kings’ Daughters Hospital in Gulfport located in what is now the Gulf Breeze Apartments on 32nd ave. However that facility was under construction when she first came to the hospital, then located in a green frame building behind where the brick structure was built. The new hospital, now the apartment building, was completed in 1922. She says, “My nephew, Easton [sic] Robertson Jr., was the first baby born in the new hospital, July 4, 1922.”
Her varied nursing experience has taught her, Mrs. Morris says, that she prefers private duty nursing to general duty because, “with private duty you have strict contact with your patients and you can do everything for them. But on general duty, a nurse has too much of too many things to do to be able to give any one patient the personal attention the patients needs.”
However, Mrs. Morris will not do home nursing. She says, “If the patient is that sick, he needs to be in the hospital.”
She has lived in her present home for approximately 40 years and notes that when she and her husband decided what they wanted to build, it took only three weeks to construct the home. “But that can’t be done anymore.”
She describes herself: “I’m very optimistic and happy, not a worrier. If I can do something about a situation, I do it; if not I let it go!”
Quiet hours of night private duty nursing have given Mrs. Morris the time to crochet almost 1,000 afghans, most all of which have been given away as gifts. Now she is teaching some of her granddaughters to crochet them. Her grandchildren total up to 14, she says.
“I once thought, after I went back to nursing, that I should work only in the daytime so I could be home with my children at night. However, I found out it was in the daytime that I needed to be home with my children when they were up and needed me. So I began working only at night.
When she resumed her nursing career 35 years ago, she says she worked 12-hour shifts for $6 a shift. When work hours were cut back to 8-hour shifts and pay to $5 for that schedule, her finances were so close to the bone that she made special arrangements to continue working 12-hour shifts in order to make the additional $1.
Yet she reared her five children and encouraged each of them in his/her own special talents. How? “With the help of the Lord—and I just kept on going,” she reflects.
“Tommye Nell (a daughter, now Mrs. David Kelly of Columbia, S. C. who won national recognition in twirling competition) won a four year scholarship to college for her twirling and John had his G. I. Bill when he went through college.
Tommye wanted to twirl when she got into high school but regulations were that she had to play an instrument in the band before she could twirl. I didn’t have the money to buy another instrument so I was going to borrow one from a neighbor who had dropped out of band. But the band director told me he already had all of that instrument he needed, that I should get Tommy a trombone. Well, I just couldn’t buy it. Then John joined the Navy and that left his trombone for Tommye. Things just worked out.
Tommye who had taught herself to twirl, was selected drum major of the band after that. She did eventually take some professional training at St. Paul, Minn. where she was named to the Five American National Twirlers.
Mrs. Morris sums up her financial problems while her children were young with, “I borrowed from every loan company in Gulfport. But I had good credit because I always paid it back.
“Now, people are asking me when I’m going to retire from nursing. My answer is ‘whdn I can’t do just to my patients.’”
She has not neared that point yet.
Here are the photos that came with the article. The copies are in very poor conditions, but, I thought I’d include them for historical reference.
Finally setting the record straight!
As I sit here in my living room composing this blog post, I can look over into my dining room to the framed copy of this newspaper article I have cherished for may years… hanging on the wall. It goes wherever my home is. When the article was published, I made sure I had a copy of my own and I had placed my copy in my scrapbook. I was the family historian even back then. That is the way my grandmother raised me. She bought the mucilage and the scrapbooks for me to keep my treasures organized. I kept favorite greeting cards, unused restaurant napkins I’d squirreled away from special meals as souvenirs (I was big on souvenirs), notes from classmates, newspaper articles I’d collected of family members and my own activities from the Daily Herald, programs, invitations, you name it. My grandmother taught me how to place photos in albums and she had me organize all her photos and scrapbooks. I don’t know where those albums and scrapbooks are now, but, I do have one of the scrapbooks she had me put together of her favorite “Maidenform Bra” advertisements from magazines. I also have scanned in my scrapbook from high school. That’s where I kept my copy of this article about my beloved Mamaw. When my kids were little, I removed my article about Mamaw, and had it framed in a pink metal frame (pink for rose). Recently, I decided I needed to get it into my blog.
I was present when my grandmother was interviewed by the newspaper reporter who wrote this story. We were gathered in my grandmother’s living room at 1711 Wisteria Street in Gulfport, Mississippi. I was 17 years old. Having grown up very close to my grandmother, whom I called “Mamaw”, so I was very familiar with her stories. I realized as the interview continued, bits and pieces of the story were not quit as I had been told by Mamaw as I grew up. It was during that interview, I became aware my grandmother’s memory was fading a bit. So, through the years some things about this article bothered me. I’m now 60 years old, but, I have this opportunity to tweak this story-add or correct what I recall from family history.
First, the article title always bothered me… “Life’s challenge and mothering is the greatest of all”. I think it should read “Life’s a challenge and mothering is the greatest of all.”
My grandmother called her afghans “Granny Squares”, not “Granny Patches”. Mamaw actually misspoke. The reporter recorded this correctly, but, I remember at the time being a little bit embarrassed that Mamaw was calling them Granny Patches. That is just not what she normally called them.
She grew up in Seminary, Covington County, Mississippi, near Collins, and she spoke frequently of her affection for Collins, a town also located in Covington County.
When Mamaw told her story about the barber shop trip, she always referred to getting her hair “bobbed”. She never said “cut”. I remember this because it was an odd term for a hair cut in the 60’s when I grew up. She was very proud of that story. So was I!
I would correct the statement, “She says, ‘No matter where I went, whether up north or in the south, I found that no nurses I worked with were better trained than those who had received their training at Kings’ Daughters Hospital.'” I know she meant to say Rockefeller Hospital instead of Kings’ Daughters Hospital. I know this because I know all these stories. They are inscribed in my heart.
My grandmother’s nephew was Gaston Robertson, Jr., not Easton Robertson, Jr.
When I was growing up, the old bathtub in her back yard was an old-fashioned “claw-foot” bathtub that was the original tub installed when her home was built. I loved that bathtub! Many, many great times were had in that tub. It was deep, and for a little girl, it was like have a swimming pool in your house. When Hurricane Camille came along, the bathroom had to be redone due to storm damage and the bathtub went out in the back yard for tadpoles we continuously stocked every spring when I was growing up… many years after Uncle Johnny started the tradition. So, she must have had a different old bathtub before we installed the new one in the yard. I was 13 years old when Hurricane Camille came along, so I definitely remember losing my favorite bathtub to a new modern bathtub I did not appreciate nearly as much as the old one.
I was one of the grandkids to learn how to crochet at her knee. Lucky me! I may not make 1,000 afghans, but, I do crochet like a fiend. In fact, as soon as I finish here, I’m off to crochet.
Everything else in this newspaper article about Mamaw is spot on. As I said… I was there and I remember every second of the interview.
Rosa Anna Elizabeth (Smith) Morris, R. N. — my grandmother!
Daughter of John George and Mary Jane (Rice) Smith of Neshoba County, Mississippi.
Rosa was also known as Mrs. Rosie S. Morris, R.N., married to John Harkness Morris. She was a popular icon at Memorial Hospital in Gulfport, Harrison County, Mississippi. She spent many years as a private duty nurse at Memorial Hospital. She also made little crocheted turtles and afghans sold in the hospital gift shop.
“Little Sissy” was my aunt, my mother’s sister. I visited her grave many, many times in the family plot located in Evergreen Cemetery in Gulfport, Mississippi, when I was growing up. I held my grandmother’s hand as we sat next to her grave and listened to her talk about her. She was the first child she gave birth to. I was told she “fell off the porch” and died. She stays in my heart even today. My mother told me that as a little girl, I reminded my grandmother of “Little Sissy”.
The Daily Herald, Biloxi and Gulfport, Mississippi Coast
December 23, 1920
CENTRAL P.T.A. MEETING
The Central Parent Teachers Association met Tuesday, the 24th, at the Central School with a most encouraging attendance of both parents and teachers. The usual routine of business was followed by a discussion of playground equipment. The final decision was that quite a good sum of money would be expended for the equipment, which will be good news to the pupils as it means fun and exercise. Some of the money is on hand but, much of it will have to be raised before the order is placed.
Another move made by the association of benefit to the teachers will be divulged at another time.
The pleasing program rendered was a piano solo by Claudia Baylor, song by Irene Morris. The serving of delicious refreshments brought this interesting meeting to a close.
Edna Irene HARKNESS (1880 – 1952) also known as “Irene Morris” —
My great-grandmother – went by “Irene”, married David Edmund Morris, is mentioned in this article. Her son (my grandfather) attended Central Elementary School in Gulfport, as did I. When I attended Central Elementary in downtown Gulfport, there was no playground equipment. My mother, Irene’s grandaughter, was a member and an officer in the Central P. T. A. when I was a student there.
John Harkness MORRIS (1901 – 1965)
son of Edna Irene HARKNESS (Irene Morris)
Janie Lucille MORRIS (1935 – 2013)
daughter of John Harkness MORRIS
Me, the daughter of Janie Lucille MORRIS
Biloxi Daily Herald November 14, 1923
PLEASANT SURPRISE PARTY
A pleasant surprise party and miscellaneous shower was held at the handsome new bungalow of Misses Stella and Mae Harkness, on West Howard avenue, Monday night in which a number of their relatives and members of the Biloxi post office force participated. The event was given in honor of the birthday of Miss Stella Harkness, who has charge of the general delivery window of the local postoffice. The guests gathered at a designated point and marched to the Harkness bungalow where they were delightfully entertained. The guests with a huge birthday cake all lighted with candles entered the home, and were received by Miss Harkness with considerable surprise. During the several pleasant hours delicious hot chocolate and cake were served. Pleasing recitations were given by the Misses Irene and Martha Morris of Gulfport, who also presided at the piano. Many handsome and useful gifts were showered upon the honoree. Among the guests present included Mr. and Mrs. W. T. Harkness, Giles Harkness Peresich, Mrs. Walter G. Wilkes and daughter. Miss Laurie, Mrs. J. W. Swetman, Dr. and Mrs. B. Z. Welch, Mr. and Mrs. O. E. Thompson, Mrs. D. E. Morris and daughters, Misses Irene and Martha Morris, and son John Harkness Morris, of Gulfport, Misses Sadie, Harriet, Stella and Mae Harkness, Mamie Hannon and Messrs. J. R. Munier, J. C. Brent and Addison Jackson.
Happy Birthday to me!
Momma told me that if you sent a baby birth announcement, The White House would respond with a message from the first lady. So, she did it. And that’s how we got this memento of 1956.