After Heroes Next Door ran in our April issue, the Texas Co-op Power mailbox was flooded with letters from readers who had connections to the Texas City disaster, which killed some 500 people 75 years ago this month.
“Nothing I’ve written about continues to elicit memories like the Texas City disaster,” said author Bill Minutaglio, who also wrote about the tragedy in his 2003 book City on Fire: The Explosion That Devastated a Texas Town and Ignited a Historic Legal Battle. “I probably hear from folks every three or four months about it. And random folks come up to me at events, particularly book readings or signings for things other than Texas City, and just want to talk about the disaster—their memories, their connections.
“It has left an indelible reminder with me. That folks everywhere want to be remembered. They want others to know about some of the searing moments in their lives. For me, it’s a humbling indication to try to remain a tiny bit grateful about things—and to continue to learn to listen to others.”
Below are some of the letters from readers.
I was 12 years old when the Texas City disaster happened on April 16, 1947. I’m 86 years old now. My family lived along Highway 35 between Alvin and Pearland.
We heard the loud explosion. I remember how loud it was and so scary. Mom feared it was the small refinery along the highway a few miles from us. She always worried that it would blow up. It was located by what was the Humble Oil Co.
I believe there is an anchor from the ship that is a memorial of that awful day in Texas City.
Florence Bergen, Central Texas EC | Kerrville
Thank you for the reflective article on the 1947 Texas City disaster. It occurred before I was born, but my father and my grandparents were residents who lived fairly close to the “docks,” as we knew it growing up.
My father was 16 at the time, working as a busboy at a local café on Sixth Street at Texas Avenue. The blast blew him across the restaurant, blowing out all windows and doors. The same with their home, which was about nine blocks from the area.
It was a terrible day for all those living in that small town. I never heard my family speak of that day ever while growing up as it was so devastating. I only learned recently that my grandfather, who was a railroad engineer, was at the port in Galveston at the time of the blast (of course, tremors were felt there). He was summoned back to the mainland to assist with transporting the wounded and dead to John Sealy Hospital.
I learned that he worked tirelessly for a 24-hour period, making trips back and forth so that lives could be saved. He was a quiet man by nature. He, too, never spoke of the event or touted his heroic actions.
As your article stated, people in this small town simply did what was needed to help others during that national disaster. Thank you for remembering.
Sherrie A. Tolbert, Bluebonnet EC | Fayetteville
Reading the article on the Texas City disaster brought back memories of one of those heroes, my amazing brother, Bob.
At the time of the disaster, I was 8 years old, living in Houston with my family. My brother volunteered to go to Texas City to help. He was 17 years old. After he left, we were unable to communicate with him, and my parents worried. I missed him and anxiously watched for his return. One day I saw him walking home.
Later, I learned he had dealt with the remains of those who died, matching and putting body parts together whenever possible.
He had returned exhausted, dazed and emotionally drained. This 17-year-old boy had given all he could give to help others in the wake of the tragedy.
Nancee Rush, Guadalupe Valley EC | Kingsbury
Thank you for the article and the remembrance of the anniversary of the Texas City disaster. I was an eyewitness to the explosion—standing in the alley behind our home watching the smoke from the fire. My sisters were at school.
At the moment the smoke changed colors, there was an explosion and a blinding flash. Shrapnel was screaming through the air and the ground heaved under my feet. The force of the blast blew me across the alley into the neighbor’s picket fence. My mother and aunt were screaming for me and once found, they carried me down the street to the corner of Ninth Avenue and Sixth Street beside the hospital so we could watch for my sisters. This spot would intersect either route they would take.
They were safe other than the pieces of glass embedded in their backs from the windows in the school blowing out. The glass was there for the remainder of their lives.
Few people had telephones, and people were panicked trying to get information about their loved ones. There were few families that would remain untouched. Wounded people overwhelmed the hospital, and there were so many dead that the school gym, the icehouse and an auto dealership became temporary morgues.
My father, grandfather and uncle were at the docks fighting fire. No one living there was the same after “the blast.” I went to school with many orphans. My family was blessed as we had no one killed.
The structure in the photo was located inside the Monsanto Chemical plant. The Grandcamp had been docked just beyond it. It stood until just a few years ago as a memorial. As an adult I worked in heavy equipment and unearthed many pieces of twisted steel and relics of that horrible day.
I’m 80 this year, and that day is as vivid in my mind as if it had happened yesterday.
John McCool, Central Texas EC
When I read the article, it brought back so many memories. April 16, 1947, was one month before my fifth birthday. I was living in Baytown with my parents. Even at almost 80 now, I’ll never forget that day.
My mother, grandmother and I were standing at our kitchen window when we heard this loud explosion that shook the house. Since we lived in Baytown, near the Humble refinery, we always had the thought first that something happened there. Then somehow we heard that it was at the docks in Texas City, which was not that far away.
Being a little girl, I never heard all the details until later in life, but it will always remain a vivid memory. I can still picture my mother, grandmother and I looking out that kitchen window.
Doris Kolackovsky, MidSouth EC | Iola
I grew up in Texas City, and the legacy of the explosion April 16, 1947, is a constant in Texas. It seems that no matter where you are, who you meet or where are you from, folks remember that date and always ask, “Where you there? Do you remember that day?”
I was born after that terrible explosion, but later my dad worked at the refinery in Texas City, not too far from where the Grandcamp had docked. I have met folks who dropped everything and immediately went to TC to help, and the stories are as rich and vivid today as on that fateful day.
The anchor from that ship is still on display, and the refineries as well as the ports have been restored, but the memories are still just as vivid. By the way, the picture of the burned-out building is what was left of the Monsanto plant that was just yards from the ship when it exploded.
Cookee Johnson, Fort Belknap EC | Graham