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Training Accident - September 2, 1953

 

Most recent update to this page: April 27, 2015

On September 2, 1953, 40 trainees with the 406th Engineer Training Brigade at Fort Bragg, North Carolina were given a demonstration ride aboard an engineer pontoon raft on nearby Smith Lake. The raft was actually two pontoons tied together.  The raft overturned when the men moved to one side of the raft as it took on water after hitting a large wave.  Twenty trainees, many of whom could not swim, drowned. Lt. Vale G. Bruner was in charge of the training.

Although the 20 victims of this tragedy did not serve in Korea, they were serving their country in the Army when the accident happened.  Sadly, one family member told me that her brother's name was not allowed on a local veterans monument because his death was not caused by combat in a war zone.  On that fateful day in 1953, 20 veterans died.  It is not right that their lives were snuffed out and there is little trace of their existence now.

To add information to this page contact Lynnita; phone 217-253-4620 in Illinois; or write Lynnita Brown, 111 E. Houghton St., Tuscola, IL 61953.

Table of Contents:


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Fatalities:

List of Fatalities:

  1. Alton, George E.
  2. Beach, Pvt. Frank Colvin
  3. Byron, Thomas J.
  4. Carpenter, John R.
  5. Carpenter, Lowell E.
  6. Carson, Ted
  7. Daw, Pvt. Edward C.
  8. DeCormier, Arnold F.
  9. Fasano, Pvt. Bramie R. Jr.
  10. Hedley, Pvt. James T.
  11. Jones, William T.
  12. Loughnane, Thomas Robert "Bobby"
  13. Michaud, Cyr P.
  14. Peets, Pvt. Frank Bennett
  15. Pond, Pvt. Charlie R.
  16. Reed, Pvt. John Foster
  17. Spicer, Pvt. Donald F.
  18. Stone, John Clifton
  19. Troiano, Pvt. Peter Jr.
  20. Turney, Pvt. Dan Arthur

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Fatalities - Personal Profiles

Alton, George E.

This 20 year old victim was the son of Frank R. Alton, Route 1, Harmony, Maryland. [FAMILY CONTACTS NOT YET FOUND.]

Beach, Pvt. Frank Colvin

Private Beach was born in 1933, and was survived by his mother, Mrs. Laura W. Beach of Williamson, New York.  He is buried in Rose Cemetery, Rose, New York. [FAMILY CONTACTS NOT YET FOUND.]

The Fair Haven Register
September 10, 1953

Drowning Victim Had Furlough Due

Pfc. Frank Colvin Beach. 19, only son of Mrs. Laura W. Beach of Williamson, was one of the 20 Army Engineer trainees who drowned Wednesday of last week at Fort Bragg, N.C.

Pfc. Beach was known in Wolcott by his middle name. He was born October 3, 1934, in North Rose, a graduate of Williamson Central school class of 1952. He worked as a meat cutter for the Liddle Market, Williamson, before entering service on May 25. He was sent to Fort Devens, Massachusetts, for a week and then to Fort Bragg.

Pfc. Beach was expected home this weekend for his first furlough. He was the only living close relative his mother had. Pfc. Beach was a member of Williamson Baptist church.

Byron, Thomas J.

Age 19, he was the husband of Dorothy Byron, 169 Borden St., Fall River, Massachusetts.  [FAMILY CONTACTS NOT YET FOUND.]

Carpenter, John Reeves Sr.


John Reeves Carpenter Sr.
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Newspaper Clipping of John Carpenter's Funeral
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John Reeves Carpenter (service number US-53124890) was born October 1, 1929, in Lincolnton County, North Carolina, a son of David Andrew and Ella Annie Caldwell Carpenter.  The husband of Bonnie Lee Cody Carpenter (now Mrs. Claude Poovey), Lincolnton, North Carolina, he was 23 years old.  In addition to his wife and father, he was survived by an as-yet unborn son, John Reeves Carpenter Jr., three sisters, Mrs. Cole (Esther Mae Carpenter) Clark, Mrs. John (Edith Carpenter) Dellinger, and Mrs. Wallace (Martha Elizabeth Carpenter) Bell, all of Lincolnton, and a brother, Fred Carpenter of Route 1, Lincolnton.  He was preceded in death by another brother, Robert Julius Carpenter.  John Reeves Carpenter, Sr. is buried in Mt. Ruhama Baptist Church Cemetery, Catwaba County, North Carolina.

He enlisted in the Army on August 7, 1953 and was a member of Company A, 981st Engineer Construction Battalion.  According to John's sister Edith, the military people from Ft. Bragg said that John lost his life trying to save the life of another man who pulled him under the water.

Carpenter, Lowell E.

Age 20, Lowell was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Russell Carpenter, 22 Reservoir St., ____, Massachusetts. [FAMILY CONTACTS NOT YET FOUND.]

Carson, Ted

Son of Mr. and Mrs. Johnson Gill Carson, Rt. 15, West Tulsa, Oklahoma. Ted was 21 years old. [FAMILY CONTACTS NOT YET FOUND.]

Daw, Pvt. Edward C.

Age 19, his mother was Mrs. Ruth Mead of Croton on Hudson, New York.  He was born in 1934, son of Vern and Ruth Daw. [FAMILY CONTACTS NOT YET FOUND.]

DeCormier, Arnold F.

Age 20, Arnold "Sonny" DeCormier was born July 14, 1933, the son of Nedd A. and Frances K. Holland DeCormier of Lisbon Falls, Maine.  He also had a sister Barbara Louise, who was married to Richard C. Porter of Washburn, Maine on June 23, 1951.  Arnold was preceded in death by a baby sibling who was born and died November 3, 1940.  He is buried in Hillside Cemetery, Lisbon Falls.

Fasano, Pvt. Bramie R. Jr.

Age 19 at the time of the accident, he was from New York.  He was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Bramie Fasano Sr., and the brother of Gloria Fasano (Farnholz) and Marjorie Fasano.  Mrs. Farnholz is now deceased.  Bramie's only nephew is James R. Farnholz, a history teacher in New York.

Services Held for Private Fasano, Drowning Victim
[Source: The Avon Herald-News, Avon, New York, September 10, 1953, page 1]

"Last rites were held Tuesday morning, September 8, for Pvt. Bramie R. Fasano, 19, of Retsof, who lost his life by drowning in a training accident at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  Services were held from the Rector and Sons Funeral Chapel in Geneseo and from St. Lucy's Church in Retsof, with the Rev. Charles Reynolds officiating.  The Noble-Samara Post No. 955, American Legion of Retsof conducted military rites, and burial was in St. Mary's Cemetery, Geneseo.  Classmates and friends from York Central School, where Pvt. Fasano was graduated in 1951, served as bearers.  They were Roger Clouser, Paul Batzing, Roy Stewart, Frank Elliott, Robert Carney, and Jack Rigney.

The young soldier's body arrived at the Mt. Morris depot, early Sunday morning, accompanied by Pvt. Orlando.  An honor guard from the Noble-Samara Post, with Arthur McCaughey, commander, and a large number of friends met the train.

Private Fasano is survived by his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Bramie Fasano, Sr., of Retsof; two sisters, Marjorie and Gloria, at home; his grandfather, Michael Fasano, 103, of Retsof; and his fiancee, Martha McCoy of Georgia.  His mother operates the Carousel Restaurant in Geneseo, and his father is an employee of the Town of York.  Miss Marjorie Fasano is secretary of the Livingston County Public Health Service with offices in Geneseo, and Miss Gloria Fasano is to graduate this week from the school of nursing at Wyoming County Community Hospital in Warsaw.

The family, on hearing Wednesday night of a drowning accident at Fort Bragg, which involved boys in the 408th Engineer Brigade, called the camp and were informed that Pvt. Fasano could not be located at that time but that everything was all right and not to be concerned.  Thursday morning an Associated Press reporter called at the Fasano home in Retsof to obtain information concerning Bramie, and moments later a wire arrived in Geneseo with the tragic news.

The accident in which the young Retsof man lost his life has been called the worst non-aerial disaster since World War II.  Staff officers said the accident occurred when an outboard-powered raft, consisting of joined pontoons, capsized. The raft, designed for 25 persons, carried 40 soldiers.  The 22 victims, members of Company A, 981st Engineer Construction Battalion, a unit of the 406th Engineer Brigade, were engaged in river crossing training.  The craft had proceeded up the 10-foot deep Smith Lake, located on the base, and turned back, hitting the wave caused by its passage up the lake.  Some of the men moved back, apparently in panic, when water was shipped over the bow, and the boat capsized, within 100 yards from shore.

The men were dumped into the water, a screaming, struggling mass, an officer said.  They were wearing loose fitting fatigues, combat boots, and ammunition belts, but were not equipped with life savers.  Several of them were unable to swim.

According to report, Pvt. Fasano could have got to shore.  His body and that of a buddy were the first to be recovered, just a few feet from shore.  Fasano and the buddy whom he was assisting were recovered in less than five minutes after the accident.  Army medical companies worked over the young Retsof man's body for three hours, a friend said, getting a faint response once.  When the bodies were taken from the water, the arms of the friend he was trying to save were locked about his neck, according to a third man who was swimming close to the two, and who survived to tell the story.  One witness said that Bramie and his buddy were as close as three feet from the shore when they went down.

Pvt. Fasano entered the service this summer and was undergoing his eight weeks basic training at Fort Bragg.  He was well known throughout Livingston County as a star athlete, having played full-back on the York Central School football team, of which he was co-captain, and having been catcher on the baseball team.  Before entering the service he was employed for a time at the Market Basket Store in Geneseo and the Mt. Morris Dam project."

Hedley, Pvt. James T.

Private Hedley was 20 years old and the son of Mrs. Tillie Hedley, Buffalo, New York. [FAMILY CONTACTS NOT YET FOUND.]

Jones, William T.

Age 24, William left a widow, Shirley F. Jones, in Charlotte, North Carolina.  He was born February 4, 1929 and is buried in Evergreen Burial Park, Mint Hill, North Carolina. [FAMILY CONTACTS NOT YET FOUND.]

Loughnane, Thomas Robert "Bobby"


Private Thomas Robert Loughnane
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Age 19 at the time of his death, "Bobby" Loughnane did not know how to swim.  He was survived by his mother, Mrs. Mary E. Loughnane, 2 Lincoln St., Worcester, Massachusetts; brothers John J. (Jack) (died 1998) of Leicester, Bernard F. of Worcester (died 1980), and Master Sergeant James E. Loughnane (died 1977), stationed in Labrador; and sisters Mrs. Nelson (Rita) Occhialini of Winchendon (died 1987), Mrs. Edward O. (Grayce) Asselin of Worcester (died 2011), and Dorothy Lawrence (died 2002), and several nieces and nephews.

Bobby Loughnane was born in Worcester, the son of Joseph B. (died 1938) and Mary E. Brosnihan Loughnane (died 1961).  He graduated from Worcester Boy's Trade High School in 1952.  Before entering service on May 23, 1953, he was employed at Patten Company, Inc., 142 Green Street, Worcester.  Callahan Brothers Funeral Home handled his funeral arrangement at the Church of Our Lady of Fatima.  Burial was in St. John's Cemetery.

Michaud, Cyr P.

Age 20, he was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Edward Michaud of Eagle Lake, Maine.

Peets, Pvt. Frank Bennett

Frank was born in Mayfield, New York on December 22, 1933, a son of James Garfield Peets and Olive Fredenburg Peets.  He was a member of the 981st Engineer Training Company at Ft. Bragg.  According to his brother Frederick Peets, Frank tried to enlist in the Army but was rejected due to a heart murmur.  The next year, he was drafted and sent to Ft. Bragg for basic training.  Frank was survived by his parents, brother Frederick Peets, and sisters Florence Peets, Evelyn Peets, and Elizabeth Peets.  He also had a half-sister, Virginia Jones.  Frank is buried in Ferndale Cemetery, Johnstown, New York.

Pond, Pvt. Charles R.

Charles, the son of Karl W. and Hazel A. (Underwood) Pond, was born in 1932 in Burke, New York.  His father was the mayor of the Village of Burke.  Charlie was a 1945 graduate of Chateaugay High School, NY, and attended Clarkson College for one year. He entered the US Army and eventually was assigned to Company A, 981st Engineer Construction Battalion, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. On September 2, 1953, while on training maneuvers, a boat with trainees aboard, capsized and 20 drowned, including Charlie. In May, 1954, Charles was posthumously awarded the Soldier's Medal for saving two lives. It was learned that when he was returning to the boat to save others, he became exhausted, and drowned. The incident had wide reaching ramifications regarding military training.  Private Pond is buried in Burke Center Cemetery, Burke, New York.  He was survived by his parents and a sister Shirley.  Shirley Pond Whitehead still lives in New York.

Reed, Pvt. John Foster

Private Reed, age 20, was the son of Mr. and Mrs. John C. Reed, 31 York Ave., Saratoga Springs, New York.  He was born August 3, 1933.

Spicer, Pvt. Donald F.

Private Spicer was 19 years old, and the son of Mrs. Alice Spicer, 249 E. 8th St., Oswego, New York.  He was born in October 1934, one of 23 children of Willard M. and Alice Wager Spicer of Oswego. Willard died in October of 1951.  Private Spicer was survived by a son, Don Spicer.  His siblings included: brothers James A., Ken R., Milton, Gerald, and Kevin; and sisters Betty J. Baker, Janet L. Meskers, Beverly Morgia, Mildred Connolly, Karen Murtha, Mary A. Peolo, Marlene Raponi, and Geraldine (Gerri) Jones. Contact with the family was made 2/27/2013 and more information about Donald will be added soon.

Stone, John Clifton

Age 18, he was the son of Mr. and Mrs. Horace J. Stone, Saugus, Massachusetts. [FAMILY CONTACTS NOT YET FOUND.]

Troiano, Pvt. Peter Jr.

Peter was 20 years old and the son of Mrs. Marge Troiano, 298 Hudson St., Buffalo, New York. [FAMILY CONTACTS NOT YET FOUND.]

Turney, Pvt. Dan Arthur

Dan was the son of Donald D. and Martha A. Robbins Turney of New York.  Age 20 years and 15 days at the time of the accident, Private Turney was a member of Company A, 406th Engineer Training Brigade, 981st Engineer Construction Battalion at Ft. Bragg.  Private Dan Turney is buried in Maple Grove Cemetery, Frewsburg, New York.

According to information in "Drowned GI's Body to Be Sent Home for Burial" in the Jamestown [New York] Post-Journal newspaper dated September 4, 1953, Private Turney attended Frewsburg schools and was employed at the American Manufacturing Company in Falconer prior to his induction into the Army on May 26 [1953].  He was married on May 1, 1953 to Theresa Bink at Adrian, Michigan.  She was residing in Corydon, Pennsylvania at the time of Dan's death, and she was pregnant with his son, also Dan Turney, now of Jamestown, New York. Survivors in addition to his wife included his parents, Mr. and Mrs. Donald B. Turney, 12 Washington Street, Frewsburg; one sister, Mrs. Ralph J. (Grace D. Turney) Long, 65 Frew Run Frewsburg; a nephew, Ralph Long Jr., and several aunts and uncles.


Newspaper clipping
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Newspaper clipping
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Newspaper clipping
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Letter from Fort Bragg Headquarters
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Letter from 406th Engineer Brigade Headquarters
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Letter from Third Army Headquarters
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Letter from 981st Engineer Construction Battalion Headquarters
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Telegram from Fort Bragg
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Inventory of Effects
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Personal Effects (continued)
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Letter from 406th Engineer Brigade Headquarters
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Letter from 406th Engineer Brigade Headquarters
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Order to Report for Induction
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Letter from 406th Engineer Brigade Headquarters
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Letter from Third Army Headquarters
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Letter from Military Pay Division
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Letter from Military Pay Division
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Clipping from Life Magazine
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Newspaper Clipping
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Newspaper Clipping
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Portrait of Pvt. Dan Turney and Mrs. Theresa Turney
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Army Pamphlet 20-15
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Army Pamphlet 20-15
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Army Pamphlet 20-15
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Army Pamphlet 20-15
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Army Pamphlet 20-15
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Army Pamphlet 20-15
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Army Pamphlet 20-15
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Army Pamphlet 20-15
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Army Pamphlet 20-15
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Army Pamphlet 20-15
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Army Pamphlet 20-15
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Army Pamphlet 20-15
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Army Pamphlet 20-15
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Army Pamphlet 20-15
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Accident Details - Newspaper Articles

The Daily Chronicle Centralia Washington 1953-09-02

18 SOLDIERS ARE DROWNED IN LAKE DURING MANEUVERS

Ft Bragg, N. C. (AP) -- The Ft. Bragg Public Information Office reported that 18 soldiers drowned Wednesday in an accident during a training program.  The PIO said two other soldiers were "not accounted for" and four others were hospitalized.  Details of the accident were lacking, but authorities said it occurred during a "routine training problem" by members of the 406th Engineers Brigade at Smith's Lake on this big Army reservation.  The men were building a pontoon bridge across a lake at the time of the accident, the PIO said.

The accident occurred about 10:15 a.m. and all the bodies had been recovered three hours later. Medical officers were rushed to the scene and gave artificial respiration in a vain effort to revive the men.  The four who were hospitalized were brought to the post hospital in helicopters.

Names of the dead will not be released until next-of-kin have been notified the PIO said. A board was appointed to investigate the cause of the accident. Complete details of the accident were being withheld pending the board's investigation.

The Daily Chronicle Centralia Washington 1953-09-03

PANIC BLAMED FOR DROWNINGS

Ft. Bragg, N. C. (AP) -- The Army indicated Thursday that panic caused the drowning of 20 soldiers in a lake on the Ft. Bragg Reservation Wednesday.  In an informal report, staff officers said the accident occurred when a military craft, carrying 40 soldiers, capsized. They denied that the boat was overloaded.

The victims, members of Co. A. 891st Engineer Construction Battalion, a unit of the 406th Engineer Brigade, were engaged in river crossing training.  "The men were being given an orientation ride by an engineer pontoon boat which consists of two engineer assault boats ...." the report said. "There were 40 men on the trip ... Their only equipment was a cartridge belt and canteen."  "They were not wearing life preservers and it's not normal for this type of training. The boat had proceeded up the lake and turned back, hitting the wave caused by its passage up the lake and (the boat) shipped water over the bow. This caused some of the men to move back, apparently in panic which caused the boat to capsize."

"Several other boats were immediately sent to the scene and succeeded in rescuing several men. The men who had been assisted to the overturned boat failed to use it for support, probably due to panic."  "All men in the boat were seated up to the time of the accident and there was no horseplay ..."

The report said Lt. Vale G. Bruner was in charge of the training "and he was observing and enforcing all normal safety precautions ... "

Avoidable Army Tragedy - Jamestown [NY] Post-Journal, Friday, Sept. 4, 1953 [Editorial]

"Reports of the tragic drowning of 20 soldiers, including one from Frewsburg, Pvt. Dan A. Turney, on a routine training cruise at Fort Bragg, N.C., records what appears to have been a shocking disregard of the value of human life by someone in authority.  it is a case calling for a prompt, searching and complete investigation by higher military authorities with swift and adequate punishment for superiors found to be responsible for the needless loss of life. 

there just is no excuse for the sending of 40 service men out on a training mission in two assault craft bolted together which normally carry a load of only 25 men.  It was a clear case of overloading, a reckless and inexcusable risking of life.  But not only was there an overloading of the training craft.  It also appears that some of the 40 young men could not swim.  That probably explains the heavy death toll.  It does not explain the astonishing failure of the Army to make sure that every engineer is trained to swim before he is sent out on training craft.

The awful tragedy at Fort Bragg is brought close to home by the death list which includes Private Turney, who entered the service as a nearby Frewsburg resident.  We join in a community wide expression of sympathy to the widow and parents of the young engineer.  Fortunately, other Jamestown area residents survived the shocking disaster at Fort Bragg.  For that we can be grateful."

"Eighteen Soldiers Drowned in Smith's Lake, " The Fayetteville Observer, September 2, 1953

Excerpts -

"P.W. Sparrow, city editor of the Fayetteville Observer, and William Shaw, photographer, were escorted from the scene by a lieutenant of the military police.  Fay Ridenhour, free-lance photographer, also was ushered away from Smith's Lake.  They were later permitted to return after the newspaper telephoned Colonel Tipton, chief of staff.  He provided them with an escort.  Before he was ushered from the tragedy, Sparrow reported seeing the bodies of two dead soldiers removed from the lake.  He said both seemed to be Negroes and that they were dressed in fatigue clothing.

As far as could be ascertained from Fort Bragg authorities rescue operations started immediately after the accident.  Fort Bragg and Fayetteville fire departments and rescue boats and resuscitators to the scene.  Medical officers rushed to the scene, administered artificial respiration to the men as fast as they were dragged from the waters of the lake but sparks of life were restored to only four of the victims.  These four were picked up by Army helicopters, similar to the ones used in frontline evacuation of Korean wounded, and flown to the Fort Bragg Hospital.  Indications were that they would recover."

"According to P.W. Sparrow of The Fayetteville Observer, the following details were learned at the scene of the tragedy:  Twenty-two men were in a metal boat, some 25 feet in length, near the middle of the lake when the boat overturned.  In the next few minutes 18 of the men who had been in the boat drowned, while four escaped from the pond.  Two of the men were reported to have reached shallow water in good condition, but the other two who escaped were carried to the Station hospital at Fort Bragg for treatment.  The men who had been in the boat were all apparently clothed in fatigue uniforms and each wearing a fatigue cap, paratrooper boots, a canteen and a cartridge belt."

"Most of the bodies were found in a small area near the center of the pond in about 10 feet of water.  At one time, late this morning when bodies were being recovered in rapid order, a number of corpses were lined up on stretchers on the lake shore, while the search continued for men still missing.  As each body was recovered from the lake and brought ashore, an examination was made by a medical officer before the dead man was placed in an ambulance.

Rescue squads from Fayetteville and Fort Bragg were on the scene soon after the accident was reported.  Some eight to ten boats, each equipped with hooks for dragging the lake bottom, were placed in use.  When a number of the drowned men had been removed from the lake a rope was stretched across the pond.  Crews pulled boats equipped with drags from one side of the lake to the other by means of the heavy rope.  After one sweep across the lake the heavy rope would be moved 10 to 15 feet and another sweep made across the lake.

It was reported at the scene that at least one of the men who had been in the boat which overturned swam to within a few feet of the lake shore before he disappeared beneath the surface of the water.  As the bodies were brought ashore the men were identified by their dog tags and their names were checked off a list of soldiers believed to be missing in the lake.  All types of rescue equipment were at the scene, but the job of finding the bodies was left to the boat crews with their drag lines.  Early this afternoon a number of expert swimmers were on the scene to aid the dragging crews by diving to the lake bottom in search of bodies."

"Probe of Drownings At Fort Bragg Continues," The Fayetteville Observer Sept. 4, 1953

Excerpt -page 1

"By figuring the weights of the 40 men on the pontoon boat and knowing that the boat was rated up to a capacity of six thousand pounds, Army authorities found the boat to be overloaded by 123 pounds.  However, investigating Engineer officers stated that the 6,000-pound capacity of the of the boat was for running water, for use in crossings and construction work on fast moving streams.  In their opinion the pontoon boat was not overloaded for use on a small still body of water like Smith Lake."


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Soldier's Medals Awarded

[A Soldier's Medal is issued for heroism not involving actual conflict with an enemy.  Source of citations: General Orders No. 26, Department of the Army, 2 April 1954]

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Bebeau, Gordon P.

Corporal Gordon P. Bebeau, Quartermaster Corps, United States Army, a member of the 612th Quartermaster Aerial Supply Company, 981st Engineer Construction Battalion, distinguished himself by heroism at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on 2 September 1953.  Corporal Babeau saw a boat loaded with soldiers overturn on Smith Lake.  Immediately upon arriving at the scene, with total disregard for his personal safety and realizing the danger, he unhesitatingly entered the water in an attempt to rescue his fellow soldiers.  He pulled one man out of the water and placed him in a rescue boat.  Then, with great presence of mind, he continued in the rescue work until all bodies were recovered.  Corporal Bebeau's alertness and prompt heroic actions reflect great credit on himself and the military service.

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Derby, Eugene P.

Private Eugene P. Derby, Corps of Engineers, United States Army, a member of Company A, 981st Engineer Construction Battalion, distinguished himself by heroism at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on 2 September 1953.  Private Derby was aboard an assault boat with other members of the company when the boat overturned, causing panic among all the passengers.  With total disregard for his personal safety and realizing the danger, he swam to the aid of one of the passengers and placed him on the overturned boat, where he was picked up later by a rescue boat.  He then aided in the rescue work until all bodies were recovered.  Private Derby's great presence of mind and indomitable courage reflect great credit on himself and the military service.

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Pond, Charles R. (posthumous)

Private Charles R. Pond, Corps of Engineers, United States Army, a member of Company A, 981st Engineer Construction Battalion, distinguished himself by heroism at Ft. Bragg, North Carolina, on 2 September 1953.  Private Pond was a member of an assault boat crew operating a boat which was participating in a class on Light Stream Crossing Equipment (Infantry Support Raft).  In making a turn, the boat started to ship water and the passengers shifted to one side, causing it to overturn.  Approximately one-half of the passengers were unable to swim.  Private Pond, who was a swimmer, remained calm and began to place non-swimmers on the overturned boat.  With complete disregard for his safety, he swam to the nearest bank with a non-swimmer, a feat which he repeated twice.  On a subsequent trip to the scene of the accident, he became exhausted and called for assistance, but the rescue boat could not reach him in time to save him from drowning.  Private Pond's courageous and heroic action in this emergency prevented the loss of life of several of his fellow soldiers and reflects great credit on himself and the military service.

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Randell, Ernest F.

Private Ernest F. Randell, Corps of Engineers, United States Army, a member of Company A, 981st Engineer Construction Battalion, distinguished himself by heroism at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on 2 September 1953.  Private Randell was a member of an assault-boat crew when the boat overturned on Smith Lake.  All the men in the water were in a state of panic.  With total disregard for his personal safety and realizing the danger, he unhesitatingly attempted to rescue his fellow soldiers.  He saw a man floundering in the water.  A 5-gallon gas can was floating nearby and Private Randell pushed it to the man.  The man grasped it and remained afloat until rescued from the water.  While swimming for shore, he came upon another man, whom he assisted to a place of safety.  Private Randell's prompt actions an indomitable courage reflect the highest credit on himself and the military service.

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Rouleau, Andre R.

Private Andre R. Rouleau, Corps of Engineers, United States Army, a member of Company A, 981st Engineer Construction Battalion, distinguished himself by heroism at Fort Bragg, North Carolina, on 2 September 1953.  Private Rouleau was a member of the crew of an assault boat which overturned on Smith Lake.  The men in the water were in a state of panic.  With total disregard for his personal safety and realizing the danger, he attempted to rescue his fellow soldiers.  Private Rouleau placed non-swimmers on the overturned boat and proceeded to swim to shore.  He came upon a man floundering in the water and immediately took the man in tow and aided him to shore, thus saving the life of a comrade.  Private Rouleau's alertness and prompt heroic actions reflect great credit on himself and the military service.


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Eye Witness Accounts

Allen, Joseph (survivor)

[Source: The Fayetteville Observer September 3, 1953]

"I can't swim," Allen declared.  "I was sitting on a solid casing between the two M2s joined together.  Water started coming over the straight front section of the boat when we were about in the middle of the lake.  At first it came slowly, then came fast.  No body shouted as far as I remember,  We were too scared to say anything and too busy saving ourselves.  I remember someone telling me always hang on the boat.  So I went down with it, thinking it would come up.  It didn't at first so I let go.  Then I was drowning.  Men were floundering all around.  The bodies felt like dead weights.  The ones who could swim were trying to help those who couldn't.  I owe my life to Pvt. Eugene Derby, my own age, who pulled me over to the boat.  It finally came up again.  I kept slipping off the boat, trying to sit on on it and trying to grab on it.  The rescue boats came closer and closer.  But it seemed like hours before they saved me.  At least one of the four of five men hanging on it let go and drowned before help arrived."

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Green, Cpl. George (now of Florida)

[Source: E-mail to the Korean War Educator February 2013]

Yes, I was there. Strangely enough, it happened on my 20th birthday, one I'll NEVER forget. A boyhood hometown neighbor (John Reed) of Saratoga Springs, New York was one of those twenty accident victims.

Our company, Company A, 981st Engineer Battalion, 3rd Army, had just finished dismantling a 'Pontoon-type bridge'. It was a very hot day, and all had gone well in the training exercise, so the person in charge suggested that we could take a short trip up the lake in one of the motorized barges used, to cool off .  I, being a non-swimmer, chose not to take part, as the barge quickly filled up with volunteers.  I watched them head up the lake a few hundred yards, then turn around to return for another load, when it dipped into a wave swell created by the turn process, and slipped rapidly under into 20-plus feet of water. It didn't at first appear serious, but then the realization hit home. It was hard to believe all the confusion we observed.

I ran up the shoreline to where some survivors had managed to reach land, and found John where he had been placed on the beach, and began first aid. I performed artificial respiration on John until I was instructed to cease. Having to accompany a friend and neighbor home to his family was one of the most traumatic experiences one could ever experience.

I witnessed both "heroism and cowardice" that day. Fellow trainees were diving into the water to help all they could, while some cadre 'backed off' and watched from a distance. I probably shouldn't label their behavior as cowardice, but at the time it sure appeared as such to me, because recruits were working feverishly, as best they could under the circumstances!

Most of us had never experienced witnessing sudden death up close before.  I saw a few fellow trainees swim out again and again, hauling friends to shore. One, Bramie Fasano, I believe he was from the Buffalo NY area, worked himself to the point of exhaustion swimming in and out, until he failed to return from his final venture looking for survivors. His body was recovered much later. He was a true hero!

Time has erased many names of others involved, but thanks for giving me an opportunity to put a different perspective on a terrible event.

The Fayetteville Observer, September 2, 1953.]

"P.W. Sparrow, city editor of the Fayetteville Observer, and William Shaw, photographer, were escorted from the scene by a lieutenant of the military police.  Fay Ridenhour, free-lance photographer, also was ushered away from Smith's Lake.  They were later permitted to return after the newspaper telephoned Colonel Tipton, chief of staff.  He provided them with an escort.  Before he was ushered from the tragedy, Sparrow reported seeing the bodies of two dead soldiers removed from the lake.  He said both seemed to be Negroes and that they were dressed in fatigue clothing.

As far as could be ascertained from Fort Bragg authorities rescue operations started immediately after the accident.  Fort Bragg and Fayetteville fire departments and rescue boats and resuscitators to the scene.  Medical officers rushed to the scene, administered artificial respiration to the men as fast as they were dragged from the waters of the lake but sparks of life were restored to only four of the victims.  These four were picked up by Army helicopters, similar to the ones used in frontline evacuation of Korean wounded, and flown to the Fort Bragg Hospital.  Indications were that they would recover."

"According to P.W. Sparrow of The Fayetteville Observer, the following details were learned at the scene of the tragedy:  Twenty-two men were in a metal boat, some 25 feet in length, near the middle of the lake when the boat overturned.  In the next few minutes 18 of the men who had been in the boat drowned, while four escaped from the pond.  Two of the men were reported to have reached shallow water in good condition, but the other two who escaped were carried to the Station hospital at Fort Bragg for treatment.  The men who had been in the boat were all apparently clothed in fatigue uniforms and each wearing a fatigue cap, paratrooper boots, a canteen and a cartridge belt."

"Most of the bodies were found in a small area near the center of the pond in about 10 feet of water.  At one time, late this morning when bodies were being recovered in rapid order, a number of corpses were lined up on stretchers on the lake shore, while the search continued for men still missing.  As each body was recovered from the lake and brought ashore, an examination was made by a medical officer before the dead man was placed in an ambulance.

Rescue squads from Fayetteville and Fort Bragg were on the scene soon after the accident was reported.  Some eight to ten boats, each equipped with hooks for dragging the lake bottom, were placed in use.  When a number of the drowned men had been removed from the lake a rope was stretched across the pond.  Crews pulled boats equipped with drags from one side of the lake to the other by means of the heavy rope.  After one sweep across the lake the heavy rope would be moved 10 to 15 feet and another sweep made across the lake.

It was reported at the scene that at least one of the men who had been in the boat which overturned swam to within a few feet of the lake shore before he disappeared beneath the surface of the water.  As the bodies were brought ashore the men were identified by their dog tags and their names were checked off a list of soldiers believed to be missing in the lake.  All types of rescue equipment were at the scene, but the job of finding the bodies was left to the boat crews with their drag lines.  Early this afternoon a number of expert swimmers were on the scene to aid the dragging crews by diving to the lake bottom in search of bodies."

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Sylvester, Frank M.

[The following information arrived at the Korean War Educator's office on March 05, 2014 from eye witness Frank M. Sylvester, Chief of Department, Lime Rock Fire District, Lincoln, Rhode Island.]

"I am the one that contacted you after I read your article on the internet.  I was surprised to see the research and information that you were trying to gather for the tragedy which took place at Fort Bragg, North Carolina on September 2, 1953.

My name is Frank M. Sylvester.  I was a member of the 406 Brigade, 981st Construction Engineers Battalion.  My service number is U.S.51266286.  Being an eye witness to the drowning of the 20 Trainees that day, I feel I had the Good Lord or my deceased father looking down and protecting me from the same fate.

I remember there were questions about the 27 foot platoon boat being overloaded.  In my opinion, knowing then and knowing now that the boat was overloaded.

Immediately following the tragedy, I was ordered to accompany the body of one of the deceased men home.  It was Lowell Carpenter from Seekonk, Massachusetts.  Prior to my returning to Fort Bragg, the first set of orders I received were APO 618 Korea.  When I arrived at Camp Stoneman, California, my orders were changed to Okinawa APO 331 by way of Keelung, Formosa.  I was assigned to the 22nd AAA Battalion.

As an active member of the Korean War Veterans Association, I hear different war stories, but what always comes back to haunt me is the tragedy of what took place almost sixty-one years ago at Fort Bragg, North Carolina.  I wonder every day why I refused to get in that boat considering that in my 23 year military career I never refused an order.  Something told me that day to say no to boarding that boat.

In the past I have tried to obtain information on some of the things that took place but came up with nothing.  I can see by the comments left by others that I am not alone in finding no records on the 981st.  I was there throughout the whole day retrieving the bodies of the men who lost their lives that day."

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Wright, Pvt. Caleb

[Source: The Fayetteville Observer September 3, 1953]

"We were all sitting on the bottom, close together.  The boat was only about six feet wide.  It just filled up and sank.  I don't remember much--all I know is I only made it half way to shore and then couldn't go any further.  I couldn't get those boots off and I'm only a fair swimmer.  I went up and down several times.  Then I blacked out.  The next thing I knew I was lying on shore, breathing.  Other men were being given artificial respiration all around.  I'm surprised I'm not dead."


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