Imagine my surprise recently when I was reading those banners that appear on the TV screen while other topics are being discussed above. Suddenly I caught the words, "On this date in 1945 ... people were killed when a bomber crashed into ... " I didn’t catch it all the first time around, so I waited until the same banner was repeated, because Chub and I were there!
It was late in July of 1945, and my husband, W.F. "Chub" Gerard, was in the Coast Guard - a first class motor machinist’s mate. I was visiting him in New York for a few days before I had to be back in Columbia teaching swimming at Christian College. I had wandered around in Saks Fifth Avenue the day before, looking at the pretty things but not being able to afford anything. Everything was extremely expensive to this country gal, but I found washcloths - nice heavy ones - for 50 cents and bought one. What an impressive paper bag this washcloth came in!
When I returned to the hotel, Chub said, "Why don’t we go back and get some more; they’ll put each one in one of these nice Saks bags, and we could give them to Mid and Babe and Alberta ... " I helped with the list: "And Ella Mae and ElVera and ... "
The next morning, we got off the subway about the time stores opened. I observed, "It’s so foggy, the top of the Empire State Building is hidden in the clouds."
We crossed the street toward Saks and stepped inside where jewelry and watches were displayed. "Wait," Chub said. "I’ve been wanting to look for a pocket watch ... " The end of the sentence was lost in the sound of a horrible crash that shook the earth. A woman on the sidewalk at the Saks entrance stood motionless with her hands at her mouth as if stunned, looking high in the air at something.
Chub and I dashed out to ask what had happened. No one knew. Strangers talked with each other. Traffic stopped.
People began to pour out of offices and stores, each one asking "What happened?"
Some ventured a guess.
"Hitler’s dropped a bomb!" "An explosion!" "An airplane crash!"
None of us knew.
In a few minutes there were wisps of smoke coming from a window very high up on the Empire State Building, and we heard the wails of several emergency vehicles in the distance. Firetrucks with endless ladders were there, and I visualized the firemen climbing into the clouds on these ladders.
But no. They took equipment through the outside doors, and no ladders were erected outside. Ambulances came, and workers ran into the building. Smoke rolled out of a few windows. We continued to stand like statues, waiting and wondering.
"Extra! Read all about it!" The newsboys did a land-office business as others crowded around the people with the papers.
The only information was that a plane had crashed into the Empire State Building. Stretcher bearers removed the injured. We took the subway back to the hotel. The regular evening paper said that the plane’s motor had continued on in flight for two blocks and landed on the roof of a building that was next to a parking lot, doing little damage.
Last week, I jotted down the story on the TV banner: "July 28: On this date in 1945, 14 people died when a bomber crashed into the Empire State Building." Reading it aloud, I added: "And Chub and I were there."