Lettsworth, LA Troop Train Crashes Into Swamp, Aug 1951




Lettsworth, La. (AP) - (UP) -- A New Orleans-bound streamliner and a troop train carrying 288 marines toward the Pacific collided head-on in a Louisiana swamp Friday and the Kansas City Southern railway reported at least eight dead and one missing.
About 65 were injured. DERMA LINDERS, a marine from De Pere, Wis., was listed among them.
Oil spewing from the Diesel locomotive set the wreckage afire and hampered rescuers seeking to cut through the hot steel in search of other victims who might have been trapped.
Railroad officials said the troop train crew for an unknown reason ignored an order to put the train on a side track to allow the streamlined "Southern Belle" to pass on the main track.
The railroad identified the civilian dead as:
L. L. RAINEY, Shreveport, engineer.
WALTER LUCINE, Shreveport, fireman.
J. K. CUNNINGHAM, Paris, Tex.
B. T. MOORE, Minden, La., trainmaster.
A. W. MARCOTTE, New Orleans, conductor.
C. A. YATES, New Orleans, engineer.
JAMES REED, New Orleans, fireman.
Marine corps headquarters at Washington, D.C. identified the dead marine as Corp. CHESTER LOUIS LIPA, 21, Detroit, Mich.
The marine corps identified also the marines seriously injured. None was listed as from the Midwest.
Kansas City Southern officials first put the death toll at 14 but said later they had learned that reports that two marines, a brakeman, and four civilian passengers had been killed were incorrect.
The crash happened about 7 a.m. (CST) on a double bend some 60 miles northeast of Baton Rouge.
R. R. Sutter, superintendent of transportation at Shreveport, said:
"Just why the crew of the troop train failed to switch it to the siding is something we may never know since most of those who might be able to give a reason are already dead."
He said that authorized speed of the two trains was 55 miles per hour, adding, "I have no reason to believe that either train was traveling much slower than that at the time."
AUBREY STEARS, JR., 9, of Lettsworth, became an indirect victim of the wreck. A car hit him and his pony while they were galloping to see the wreck. Both the boy and the pony were killed.
Marines piled out of the wreckage and gave first aid to injured passengers of the New Orleans bound Southern Belle, as well as to their own. Rescue workers had to hack a road through the swamp to the wreck.
A marine lieutenant from Rhode Island, who would not identify himself, said he was trapped in a car and the and the burning oil was about to engulf him.
"About 50 of my men picked up a section of rail that had been broken loose and enlarged a little hole in the side of the car until it was big enough for me to crawl through," he said.
"They first handed me up a fire extinguisher, but I didn't need to use it."
He said the marine who was killed was sitting directly across from him. He said most of the marines escaped because they were eating breakfast at the back of the train.
The west-bound marines had scrawled "Korea of bust" on the side of a car but at Camp Lejeune, N.C., where they entrained, officers clamped a security blackout of their mission.
"Any information about the whole move is restricted," said Lieut. Ed Kemp, public information officer. The troops were moved out from the training base at night to further secrecy and not even their nearest of kin knew where they were bound.
Wives and mothers deluged the marine base with calls to find out if their husbands and sons were aboard the wrecked train.
A marine in the third car from the engine said he felt a jar as the engineer applied the brakes, then a blinding crash as the trains met. His brother, who was injured, said he was standing in the vestibule and saw a trainman jump just before the collision.
Thismarine said the troop train slowed down at a siding just before the wreck. But he said the engineer picked up speed and went on, as if he had assured himself the track was clear.
There was only a single track where the trains collided.
The clinic at Morganza, La., reported that it had treated 35 or 40 injured persons, sever or eight of whom were seriously hurt. About 20 more were treated in a clinic at New Roads, La., and 10 in Baton Rouge hospitals.
As news of the wreck spread, farmers gathered along the railroad tracks with their arms full of mattresses, quilts, and blankets.
Work trains picked them up, and the marines put the injured on them until ambulances could get through the swamp.
The marines also threw a guard around the wreck "for security reasons."
A lieutenant, clutching his stomach and talking in evident pain, said he had orders to let no one get near the wreck. The guard was later removed.
Kenneth Munger, who runs a country store a mile from the wreck, said he saw both trains on the same track, speeding toward each other. He said the Southern Belle usually passes his store at 7:03 a.m.
"This morning," he said, "she appeared late and when I saw this troop train going by headed in the opposite direction, I turned to my wife and said, 'what's that train doing on the track when the Belle is due?"
"I was worried, but I didn't know for certain how late the Belle was. A few minutes later, I heard a terrible crash."

Wisconsin State Journal Madison 1951-08-11