Bethlehem Pays the Price for Freedom 1961

See also the “Veterans Day, Bethlehem, 2018” (Nov. 11) and “Developers, leave this park alone” (Nov.16) posts. Gadfly stumbled on to this story while researching Triangle Park. Thanks to Dana Grubb.

On November 8, 1961, 14 Bethlehem “boys” died near Richmond, Virginia, in what was described as the “Lehigh Valley’s worst toll” in a plane crash, as “the greatest single air tragedy ever to affect the Lehigh Valley,” and as “the second worst for a single non-military aircraft in U.S. history.” The 14 boys —  young men, really, ages 17-22 — were part of 29 from the Lehigh Valley and 77 overall who died — new Army inductees and crew members headed to basic training at Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

Albert W. Andreas, Robert S. Bedics, Barry A. Brandt, Donald F. Doyle, Thomas D. Gasda, Richard W. Jones, Joseph J. Kobli, Stephen M. Kobli, Leroy Kranch, Jr., Thomas A. Motko, Michael Placotaris. Albert J. Rice, John D. Schuler, Charles D. Yeakel

The “happy-go-lucky” Bethlehem residents gathered early morning at the Salvation Army, bused to Wilkes-Barre where they were inducted in the afternoon, then boarded a plane, which after a stop in Baltimore to pick up more recruits, crashed near Richmond shortly after 9pm. All died in the fire subsequent to the crash except only two crew members. News reports described “the fuselage [of Imperial Airlines’ Lockheed Constellation], looking like a crushed cigar, gaping gash in its top, mired in the muck” on the outskirts of the airport.

The tragedy hit our town hard. There were stories of joking at departure about heading to “warmer southern temperatures,” of promises to be home for Christmas, of last words to mothers like “I love you, Mom.” It was the first plane ride for some. Two brothers and their next-door neighbor – life-long buddies — were among the victims. One victim lived “a few doors away” from Mayor Earl Schaffer. Some had joined the service because “unable to find steady work.” One had two jobs, supporting a struggling family. One was engaged. One had a girl whom he liked a lot and didn’t want to leave. One had a girl who loved him like a sister. One had enormous hands and was nicknamed “Duke” like John Wayne. One had a pet dog, his “pride and joy,” who “cried pitifully all morning” after the news.

The father of the brothers regretted turning down a last drink with his sons: “I would give anything to be able to have one last drink with them.” A grieving mother ran from her house — a doctor had to be called. She was never the same. There were reports of premonitions of disaster among the parents.

Communication about the tragedy was chaotic. Many families were awakened from sleep in the early hours of November 9 by phone calls from reporters. Because of the fire, identification of the incinerated bodies was difficult. One was identified only by a class ring. Telegrams from the Army were slow in coming. After agonizing waits, some families weren’t notified officially till 8am. 6 listed as dead turned out not to be so. They had not made the trip.

These Bethlehem men were victims of our Cold War with the Communists. The Berlin Wall was erected in August 1961. President Kennedy increased the draft in response. The Bethlehem Globe-Times editorial provided the larger political frame around this tragedy:

The lives which these young men gave before they ever donned a uniform is one of the ironic tragedies of the Cold War. While they were headed for duty as part of a tactical military build up which is destined to save us from a hot war, their death is a grim reminder that there is no such thing as a “bloodless war.”

To the families, no words can be written that will ease their pain and suffering. To the rest of us, no incident could illustrate with more impact the price which we as a nation must pay in the protracted struggle between the free world and the Communist world.

In a bitter punctuation to this local tragedy, however, the death of these young un-uniformed soldiers has been described as a “useless sacrifice.” The horror of the crash triggered a national investigation of the way U.S. military were transported on substandard, unregulated private airlines called “supplemental carriers.” The Civil Aeronautics Board soon issued a report that was as devastating as the crash. Time magazine reported, “it seemed a wonder that Imperial’s Constellation had got off the ground in the first place.”

The Time article cited the following problems: the pilot had failed some of his flight tests, and Imperial Airlines planes regularly had so many problems they routinely took up half the time of a Federal Aviation Inspector who reported hydraulic leakages, faulty fuel indicators, improper rigging of fuel mixture controls, bald tires, and fuel seeping out of the plane and onto the ground.  In addition, Time noted the doomed plane’s fuel was contaminated with rust, that the crews couldn’t determine the condition of the plane because the logbooks were not up to date, and the confusion in the cockpit that lead to the loss of the fuel-starved engines.  Perhaps the revelation most indicative of the miserable quality of airplane maintenance was that of the Chief Flight Engineer, who recounted not having a part for a motor on an Imperial Airlines plane and substituted a piece taken from a 1954 Mercury automobile.

It’s small but at least some solace that the “useless” deaths of these Bethlehem residents and others led to useful reforms in military transport operation that would protect the lives of similar young “boys” into our day.

004Our town marked the tragedy with a monument dedicated June 8, 1962, that for a long time resided at Triangle Park, 3rd and Wyandotte, was rededicated June 8, 1986 (State Senator Fred B. Rooney and Mayor Gordon Payrow presided), and now resides on the edge of the Rose Garden near the corner of 8th Avenue and Union Boulevard, and can be readily seen there and, more importantly, reflected on as you drive by.

The monument was meant to serve as a reminder. Sometimes we have to be reminded about the reminder.

This event will be the subject of the next Bethlehem Moment at City Council.

“29 Area Army Recruits Killed in Fiery Virginia Plane Crash.” Bethlehem Globe-Times, November 9, 1961: 1.

“A Few Discrepancies.” Time, December 15, 1961.

Monument Honors 14 Plane Victims.” Bethlehem Globe-Times, June 9, 1962: 13.

Jennifer Rittenour, “25 Years Later, Pain Of Air Crash Lingers.” Morning Call, November 9, 1986.

Frank Whelan, “1961 crash brought regulatory changes.” Morning Call, December 2, 2001.

Daniel Patrick Sheehan, “When the Lehigh Valley lost its youth in a Virginia marsh.” Morning Call, November 7, 2011. 

Kauffman, Louis R. “50 years later, airplane crash stirs memories of best friend.” Morning Call, December 12, 2011.

Seldon Richardson, “Richmond’s Worst Airplane Disaster: Flight 201/8 – November 8, 1961.” The Shockoe Examiner, November 14, 2013. 

David H. Stringer, “Non-Skeds: The Story of America’s Supplemental Airlines Part III.” Airways, May 26, 2016.

Bethlehem Moment 1: “Fraternal Cooperation” Spurs the Greater Bethlehem Movement, 1916

Bethlehem Moment 1
City Council
Nov 7, 2018


I’m Riley Gallagher, 1605 Chelsea

Good Evening Council President Waldron, Council Members, Mayor Donchez

A Bethlehem Moment: October 2 to October 8, 1916

Within a whirlwind one-week period in October 1916, citizens of the two Bethlehems worked intensely together to raise the final financial piece in funding the Hill-to-Hill Bridge. Large clocks were mounted on the Bethlehem Trust Company north of the river and the E.P. Wilbur Trust Company on the south, where crowds of people gathered at lunch each day singing songs and making speeches while watching the new funding total posted. In the end, in an awesome display of ground-roots civic power, individuals raised over $200,000 towards providing a long-awaited secure and stable link between the two Bethlehems. The Hill-to-Hill Bridge — with its eight approaches plus crossing a river, a canal, and four railroads — was an engineering marvel of its day, and the “fraternal cooperation” of the final campaign to build it spurred the Greater Bethlehem movement. One year later the two Bethlehems would be one.

See R. R. Keim, The Hill-to-Hill Bridge, 1924

For the full story, see “The Hill-to-Hill Bridge: A Story of ‘Fraternal Cooperation’” under Bethlehem Moments on The Bethlehem Gadfly, September 16, 2018 (

Bethlehem Moments: A Proposal (7)

(7th in a series of posts on Bethlehem Moments)

So the inaugural “Bethlehem Moment” should come to pass tonight!

Remember that the Momentor will be Gadfly granddaughter Riley Gallagher. Riley will read the Moment during public comment so that Gadfly can buzz on about other things.

Please make Riley feel welcome.

Remember too that this is the beginning of a try-out before a proposal to Council to formally add a Bethlehem Moment to the prayer and the pledge as part of the ritual opening of Council meetings.

For good or for bad, let’s remember who we are as Bethlehem residents.

We’ll see how it goes for a while and see if it’s worth a formal proposal to Council.

Anyone interested in participating in this trial run should contact Gadfly.

Over the past several posts, Gadfly has filled in details about and his thinking about these “Moments.”

Some additions.

Gadfly’s thinking the Moments should be approx. 1 minute in length. To give you an idea what that looks like, for Gadfly’s speaking pace that’s about 10 lines of type in a normal 12pt. font size.

Gadfly thinks all Momentors should bring a clean copy (with your name and date ) to give to city clerk Louise Kelchner for the minutes and perhaps for collection purposes or other uses in the future.

Gadfly was thinking a bit more about the subjects of the minutes.

Gadfly doesn’t think they should be about recent history. He would say topics anywhere from the colonial period through the 1950s or so.

And Gadfly’d also say that the topics don’t have to be the big, obvious events and obvious people. The Bethlehem Moments should for sure focus as well on the “little guy” and the “little noticed” that also go a long way to displaying the character and the quality of our town. As a matter of fact, we should try to discover and uncover previously unknown or little regarded aspects of our history.

History isn’t always made in the headlines.

At some point, too, we should build a small bibliography of resources of use to potential Momentors.

Ok, Onward into the Past tonight!


Bethlehem Moments: A Proposal (6)

(6th in a series of posts about Bethlehem Moments)

Ok, Ok, Gadfly has to explain himself. He promised the “inaugural Bethlehem Moment” would be last Tuesday’s Council meeting.

Some of you were watching, waiting.

Have mercy.

You saw Gadfly sweating out those 7 “Exhibits” supporting his rather negative view of the Bethlehem Parking Authority.  I mean, it’s obvious (right?) that Gadfly just doesn’t toss off (right?) those tightly argued (right?) and finely crafted (right?) mini-essays .

And he had the runs all Tuesday anticipating the parking issue at the Council meeting.

So Gadfly didn’t have time to pull together a “Moment.”

But we’ll do it next time: Wednesday, Nov. 7. A Wednesday because of elections on the regularly scheduled Tuesday.

And granddaughter Riley, apprentice Gadfly, will do the reading (wave hello to the good Gadfly followers, Riley!) so Gadfly can use his public comment time for something to scorch in his usual fashion.

But I said last time that there was “One more thing to chew on.”

In bits and pieces over the last several posts on this theme, I have actually been writing a proposal to Council for incorporation of a “Bethlehem Moment” into the opening meeting ritual. There is one piece left: the content and purpose.

What should the moments be about and why?

Let’s just talk about that.

Look at Peter’s tough comment on my #2 post. And look at Barbara’s #4 post. Not everybody agrees that even opening with a prayer and the pledge is a good thing.

And I do believe that I have used the active verb “celebrate” to describe the “Moments” — that we would celebrate Bethlehem history.

I may need to put an asterisk wherever I may have used that verb.

If I know anything about history from my professional life, I know it is controversial, in fact, should be controversial. Once again, note that my last major project was called History on Trial.” If I have done anything of value in my professional life, I have encouraged, demanded critiquing history.

Open up any one of those projects, and take a look. For instance, go to the “episodes” page of the Jefferson-Hemings Controversy.  A profoundly meaningful issue in our history brilliantly represented recently in this painting by Titus Kaphar entitled “Behind the Myth of Benevolence.” Browse down the chapter headings. Note the wonderful images done by one of my students — click in and get them in larger size.

We must celebrate the good, the great things in our history.

But I do not believe in mindless, thoughtless allegiance and patriotism. I do not believe in history as a collection of pious genuflections.

We must also “celebrate” the darker moments in our history.

They are formative too.

If history doesn’t make you think, it is not doing its job.

So I see the “Moments” as varied in content (as varied as the nature of the possible Momentors” I outlined last time) but unified in purpose: to help us know where we came from, where we are, and where we might be heading.

That’s the way I see this project.

So let me try out a few so you can see what you think. And what suggestions you have.

One thing: Ha! I’m finding 30-seconds is tough!

Bethlehem Moments: A Proposal (5)

(5th in a series of posts on Bethlehem Moments)

So how might the addition of a 1-minute “Bethlehem Moment” (is there a better name for this?) to the prayer and pledge at the beginning of City Council meetings work?

Who would deliver the moments? Who will be the “Momentors”?

Brainstorm with Gadfly a bit

  • In that fit of spontaneous passion at the April 17 meeting in which this idea was conceived, Gadfly suggested school kids. Is Bethlehem history taught in the district? Gadfly doesn’t know, and all he remembers from his own kids was that they visited City Hall and so forth. If there is a curricular element, there might be an easy transition to have kids prepare and deliver Moments. If there is no curricular element, maybe we (whatch you mean “we,” Kemosabe?) could approach the school district and find a teacher or a rotating team of teachers who might see this as a great educational project. Having kids involved might have the side benefit of planting the seeds for civic participation later on. School Board president Mike Faccinetto follows us on Gadfly, but maybe the Superintendent would be the more appropriate first contact.
  • One resident – a volunteer – could be informally assigned either to do the Moments or to recruit a team of Momentors. Good resident involvement.
  • We have a cluster of Historical groups and organizations; they could collaborate on a schedule and take their turns.
  • Council members each could take a turn.
  • The Mayor and/or Dept heads could each take a turn.
  • Members of the Historical Boards and Commissions could each take a turn.
  • Candidates for office – ha! – could each take a turn. (A rite of passage)
  • Developers and prospective developers could each take a turn (O, Gadfly, you sweet devil, you!).
  • What’s your idea?
  • What’s your idea?
  • This space reserved for your idea.

The Moment texts should be collected and preserved, and one could imagine a nice volume at some point comprising, in effect, a citizen history of Bethlehem.

The delivered Moments are short, but a fuller written version (but still short) from which the Moment is drawn could be published on Gadfly, like the one on the Hill-to-Hill bridge and “fraternal cooperation” now on Gadfly that will be the source of the inaugural try-out Moment next Tuesday.

One more thing to chew on. Hang in there.

Bethlehem Moments: A Proposal (4)

(4th in a series of posts on Bethlehem Moments)

C’mon, Gadfly, get to it.

Ok, ok — Gadfly suggests that we add a historical moment, a “Bethlehem Moment,” to our opening meeting protocol following the prayer and the pledge.

The Moment should be short, meaningful, and often kinda fun.

We don’t want to interfere with business, no, no.

Let’s say one minute.

Discipline needed.

Now Council won’t take a pig-in-a-poke (what in hell does that mean anyway?). So Gadfly proposes to do a try out for Council, using public comment for a period of time to show how it works — well, to see if it works. (Others are welcome to share the try out stage with me!) After all, it could knit President Waldron’s eyebrows so tightly together the twins won’t recognize him.

Gadfly has said that he likes Bethlehem unique.

It’s unique that we have so many elected officials, so many heads from headquarters, paying attention along with the public to a blog in which ideas, issues, dreams, proposals, irritations, problems, and the rest of the kitchen sink (where did that phrase come from?) can be shared in a collegial way.

The “Bethlehem Moment” would be unique too. Allentown and Easton do the prayer and the pledge, Nazareth only the pledge.

I like Bethlehem unique.

Now after experimenting, gaining feedback, listening to suggestions and criticisms, if the try out is deemed successful, well, then, Council might formally take up the idea of incorporating a “Bethlehem Moment” into our meeting practice.

Gadfly not done yet. He’d like to brainstorm some interesting ideas about structure. As well as consider some contrary or verging on contrary ideas suggested by Peter and Barbara in reference to Gadfly’s previous posts on this topic.

So chew on this. And come back later.

I am not a native Bethlehemite, but . . . (4)

(4th in a series of posts about Bethlehem Moments)

Barbara Diamond enjoys retirement as Lehigh University Director of Foundation Relations by engaging in various activities and organizations hopefully for the betterment of the community. Her particular interests at the moment are preventing gun violence, local government ethics reform, and Bethlehem Democratic Committee work.

Dear Gadfly, I think taking a moment to celebrate our city’s history especially some event of great civic engagement like funding the Hill to Hill Bridge is a splendid idea. As we know, some issues before Council can be quite contentious. Recounting a Bethlehem moment can remind all of us that when we work together on a common goal we can achieve great things. I was recently involved with some of my neighbors in two projects that exposed me to Bethlehem’s history, digitizing Historic Bethlehem Museum & Site’s photo collections and capturing oral histories of long-standing residents of my neighborhood. I am not a native Bethlehemite, but I appreciate this city’s rich history and cultural heritage. I believe a brief Bethlehem moment would be a fitting way to start a City Council meeting by setting a tone of unity of purpose. Despite the great partisan divide out there, we can accomplish great things when we work together on a common goal. BTW one of the captivating stories I learned from doing the oral histories was the citizen brigade that moved the books hand to hand from the old to the new library. Like Peter, I am not a fan of the prayer and pledge but recognize that others do.