29 October 2009

Tragedy & Irony in the Death of Ben Zumwalt

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about Isaac and Elver Zumwalt. They were laid to rest in Nichols Cemetery, Ingram, Kerr County, Texas. Also located in Nichols Cemetery is a granite marker memorializing the son of Isaac and Elver pictured here. His name was Ruben F. Zumwalt. I had found Ruben and his parents in 1920 and 1930 Kerr County, TX census records, leading me to believe Ruben had been born about 1914-5. According to his stone, however, "Ben" was born 21 June 1919. His death date was listed as 20 May 1943.

The picture of Ben on his memorial, as well as his year of death, led me to search the World War II Honor List of Dead. Sure enough, I found him. TSgt Ben F. Zumwalt from Kerr County, Texas "died, non-battle." I assumed he died of sickness or something like that. I was not prepared for what I found next.

A casual search of Ancestry's Historical Newspaper Collection resulted in an article from the San Antonio Light (Texas) dated 21 May 1943:

2 Texans Die In Chicago Plane Crash
The public relations office of the Fort Worth army air field Friday had disclosed the names of the nine crew members and of one of three passengers aboard a B-24 army bomber which crashed into the world's largest illuminating gas storage tank at Chicago Thursday.

Bodies in the wreckage were consumed in a blaze which destroyed the 500-foot tank surmounted by a 50-foot air beacon.

The bomber, groping its way at only 100 feet altitude through unfavorable weather, smashed into the tank filled with 18,000,000 cubic feet of illuminating gas, causing an explosion that rocked southwest Chicago.

HEAT INTENSE.
Flames shot hundreds of feet. They were followed by a dense pall of smoke which spread over the region as tar used for sealing the tank burned and smoldered.

The tank, except for about 100 feet at the base, was demolished. Huge pieces of steel plate, some of them as big as the front of a two-story house, were hurled 100 yards or more.

The heat was so intense that temperatures rose for nearly a mile away. Windows in some of the homes in the sparsely settled section were too hot to touch.

HEAVIEST TOLL.
...The toll of 12 dead was the greatest in any plane disaster in the Chicago area.

The flight was in charge of Capt. James R. Gilcrease of Fort Worth, commanding officer of the 1014th squadron and a flight instructor.

Others of the crew:
Second Lieut. David S. Alter, an instructor from Pittsburgh, Pa., who was married about six weeks ago. His widow resides in Fort Worth.

First Lieut. Harry B. Messick Jr., of Indianapolis, who was in charge of navigation section of the field's ground school and navigator for the flight. His wife resides in Fort Worth.

TWO TEXANS
Second Lieuts. Frederick L. Dutl of Wadsworth, Ohio, and John C. Wallace, son of Mrs. Henrietta Wallace, of Luling, student officers.

Pfc. Nick Lonebar of Wierton, W.Va.; Sgt. Arthur A. Huber of Queens, N.Y.; Staff Sgt. Norman W. Yutzy, Canton, Ohio, and Technical Sgt. Ben F. Zumwalt of Ingram, Texas, aerial engineers.

The identified passenger was Capt. A. W. Lent of Hamilton field, Calif...

That was certainly a tragedy. Here is the irony from a Dallas Morning News (Texas) article dated 26 February 1942, less than 15 months before Ben's death:

Reads Own Obituary, Enjoys It, Too, Writes Pearl Harbor Survivor
KERRVILLE, Texas, Feb. 25 -- How it feels to read your own obituary in your home-town newspaper is described in a letter received here from Ruben Zumwalt, Kerr county youth attached to the Pearl Harbor naval base in Hawaii. In mid-December official report from Washington to Zumwalt's parents said he had died as a result of the Jap attack on Dec. 7. The young man's obituary was published locally before mail from him definitely established that he was still alive, and that the government report was in error.

Upon reading the obituary published here, young Zumwalt wrote back, telling his feelings. "I could not help grinning a little when I read it, and enjoyed it immensely," he wrote. "Realizing that it is a rare thing for a man to have the opportunity of reading his own obituary, I thought you might like to know I appreciated it." In closing he said he hoped the obituary wouldn't have to be reprinted "for a long, long time to come."

28 October 2009

Sam Zumwalt's Death Certificate

I found Sam Zumwalt's death certificate at FamilySearch.org this morning. The only information I had on him prior to finding this was his name as well as the names of his parents (only his mother's first name). Working backwards pays dividends again!

Samuel A. Zumwalt died at the Providence Memorial Hospital in El Paso, Texas 21 June 1969. Cause of death was bronchopneumonia. El Paso was the city Sam had lived in for 49 years. His usual place of residence was 811 West Sunset Drive.

Sam was married, and he was retired from "Southwestern Cem."

Sam was born 1 October 1884 in Lavaca County, Texas to Robert Dowling Zumwalt and Amanda Floyd.

The informant given for the above information was Eva Zumwalt. This quite possibly was Sam's wife.

Samuel A. Zumwalt was interred at Restlawn Memorial Park in El Paso, Texas 23 June 1969.

25 October 2009

Wildy Zumwalt's Hunting Accident

While searching through FindAGrave, I found a memorial (#28962256) for Wildy Zumwalt. He was a son of Thomas Zumwalt and Pauline Paul. Wildy was listed as being buried in Angus Cemetery in Alto, Lincoln County, New Mexico. His death date was 13 December 1914. I knew Wildy was born about 1896, so what caused his life to be cut short? Included on Wildy's memorial was an image of a newspaper article. Neither the name of the newspaper, nor date of the article was given. I'll have to try and locate that information. Nonetheless, here is a transcription of the article:

"Twenty-third Hunting Accident
Santa Fe, Dec 12 -- The twenty-third serious gunning accident in New Mexico this fall, resulted in the death of Wildy Zumwalt in the Capitan mountains, the fatal bullet being fired accidentally by Harry Little. The two young men while out gunning separated and coming around a little knoll Little saw what he supposed to be game moving among the pinyon brush. He discharged his gun and Zumwalt fell dead."

I've submitted a tombstone photo request.

24 October 2009

Tracy Prine Fletcher, a Grand Aunt She Was

We lost my Grand Aunt Trace a few days ago. She was the daughter of Sam and Cora Watts Prine, and the wife of Raymond Fletcher. Her funeral was scheduled for this afternoon.

Most of my few visits with Aunt Trace were when I was younger. She left an imprint on my heart, however. I remember a strong woman who said what she meant, meant what she said, and didn't mind sharing her opinion. I also remember a loving and hard-working woman who took care of her own, and did it well.

She was a well-liked fixture in her hometown of Ava, Missouri and will be missed by many.

We love you, Aunt Trace! Please give hugs and kisses to Cindy for me.

16 October 2009

Isaac & Elver Zumwalt

My death record focus is already starting to pay off. I have found information and sources for Isaac and Elver Zumwalt. The photo here is from their gravestone found at Nichols Cemetery in Ingram, Kerr County, Texas. Aren't they a cute couple? My thanks to Kelli Smythe who took the photos, posted them to FindAGrave, and gave me permission to post them here.


According to the gravestone, Elver was born 23 April 1891 and died 5 December 1980. Isaac was born 24 October 1886 and died 10 October 1965, a little more than 44 years ago. These death dates are further bolstered by the Social Security Death Index.

I also found Isaac's death certificate at Family-Search.org. From that, I gleaned several items: Isaac's full name was Isaac William Zumwalt. He was born 24 October 1886 in Lavaca County, Texas to William C. Zumwalt and Susan Miller. Before his death, Isaac was a rancher and resided in Ingram, Kerr County, Texas. He died at 8:50AM, 10 October 1965 at the Kerrville State Hospital in Kerr County, Texas. The cause of death was arteriosclerosis heart disease. Isaac was buried 12 October 1965 in Nichols Cemetery; Ingram, Kerr County, Texas. W. A. Plummer of the Plummer-Smith Funeral Home was the funeral director. Finally, the informant listed for all of the above was Kerrville State Hospital Records.

Well, I think that's a good start. All of the above information was found free of charge on the Internet. I think I found an obituary for Elver on NewspaperArchive. I will have to subscribe soon and review it. I've been wanting to give them a try, but was waiting for a search to provide likely fruitful results.

By the way, I am not directly related to Isaac and Elver. They are, however, part of a collateral line intertwined in my family history.

One final thing, I added to Isaac Zumwalt's page at Footnote.
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