It was well north of midnight on April 4, 1977 when a giddy and triumphant Annette Snell laid down the final vocal track of the recording session. The guys at Muscle Shoals Sound Studio in Alabama had assured her that the new song was going to power up the charts and reach the top ten–and she knew they could make it happen. After all, this was the group who had helped Aretha Franklin become the “Queen of Soul” a decade earlier, recharging her stalled career with monster hits like “Respect” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.”
Snell hugged all the guys, waved goodbye, and left the studio with just enough time to grab her things before heading out for the Muscle Shoals airport. The newly recorded song was still ringing in her head when she boarded Southern Airways Flight 242, reluctant to leave but happy to be heading home. Continue reading
Werner von Braun and JFK at Redstone Arsenal in 1963
On April 4, 1977, William V. Gudaitis boarded the ill-fated Southern Airways Flight 242 in Huntsville, AL heading for a meeting at Raytheon Co. in Lexington, MA. He was a leading scientist for Redstone Arsenal, and his briefcase bulged with top-secret blueprints detailing a revolutionary new missile design–one that was meant to completely change the existing paradigm. They called it the “Patriot Air Defense Missile System,” and the plans he cradled that day would become the prototype for the next generation of guided missile defense. He did not survive the crash of 242, but the plans he carried did–and Redstone would once again ride triumphant.
Redstone Arsenal has always served as ground zero for the U.S. Army’s missile and rocket programs. Originally built in 1941 as an assembly plant for the manufacturing of conventional and chemical munitions, the Army ultimately chose it to be the dedicated site for developing and then Continue reading
Fighter Pilot on tactical maneuvers
I recently sent a copy of my posting entitled “The Daughter of Flight 242′s Copilot Finally Speaks Out” to the Alumni Relations and Development Offices of the University of Nevada, Reno. The idea was simply to let them know about the heroic life of Lyman W. Keele, Jr., a graduate of UNR Class of 1966. The posting included his daughter Tiffany’s “letter of healing” to the New Hope Community in Paulding County, GA–the area where in 1977 her father force landed a disabled DC-9 that crashed–killing him, the captain, and 70 others. It is a very powerful document, including numerous heartfelt comments from friends and supporters, and it has touched countless people here in Georgia and beyond. I received a very quick response from Juliane DiMeo, the Alumni Program Manager at UNR. She asked if I wanted to nominate Lyman Keele for an award, and I said, “Yes, I do.” Continue reading
There has never been a shortage of bounders, rounders, or hooligans willing to try their luck in New Hope, GA. Ever since the bloody Battle of New Hope Church in 1864, every manner of charlatan and grifter has stumbled into town seeking the riches allegedly hidden in the old Civil War tunnel beneath that famous church. The local Sons of the Confederacy have watched them come and go over the years–and all of them have left empty handed, try as they might. The Sons brag that nary-a-one has ever snuck past the ghost sentry that guards its sacred entrance. But over a century ago there was one devious and cunning desperado, a man of wealth and taste, who came very close indeed.
He called himself an “Alienist,” and he arrived from Boston, MA in 1901. He plainly claimed that he was a college professor of parapsychology, and that he had come to measure and document the multitude of Civil War ghosts that were said to Continue reading
Lyman W. Keele, Jr. and his wife Cathleen (Photo ca. 1970)
To say that Lyman W. Keele, Jr. was a competent pilot would be a major understatement. After graduating from the University of Nevada, Reno in 1966 he joined the Navy and received his flight training at the Naval Air Station Pensacola in Florida. He was then stationed aboard the USS Hancock, where he flew over 100 combat missions against enemy targets in North Vietnam while also providing air support for ground forces and rescue operations. He received numerous bronze and gold Air Medals for outstanding aerial prowess, as well as a Navy Commendation for “heroic achievement as a pilot of jet aircraft while attached to Attack Squadron 212 on the USS Hancock.” The man could flat-out fly a plane.
Keele left the Navy and joined Southern Airways sometime in 1973. Although he was the First Officer on Flight 242, he was the one at the controls on the leg from Huntsville, Alabama to Atlanta, Georgia when it went down in New Hope, GA on April 4, 1977, killing 72 people. He Continue reading
New Hope Church in 2013
Some time ago I found myself visiting Dallas, Georgia, providing assistance to the the Sons of the Confederacy while they refreshed the flags on their ancestors’ graves. They were quite a group of guys, and our journey took us into the most remote corners of Paulding County. At the close of the day we ended up in the parking lot of the New Hope Church, site of the famous Civil War battle of the same name. We had finished our task and called it a job well done, so we decided to celebrate with a cold coke and handshakes all around. As we stood there, they pointed out the old stone memorial and flag across the street–a worn testament to the ruins of the original church.
For no reason, I took out my old Polaroid and snapped two quick shots of the defensive entrenchments behind the memorial. They were among the last of the remaining earthworks from the bloody Battle of New Hope Church, fought hard and won by the South on May 25-26, 1864. I downed the coke and then glanced at both instant pictures, noticing that a stiff breeze had lifted up their venerated Continue reading
(L-R) Fire Chief John Clayton, Captain Doal Camp, Assistant Chief Johnny Wigley
When the Paulding County Fire Chief’s Association met at John R. Clayton’s house for the first time on January 23, 1977, they knew something had to be done quickly. The county had no formal fire protection program in place, and many of the volunteers who worked at the fire stations needed more extensive training. Funding was hard to come by, and many of the stations were supported in part through local community barbecues, church raffles, and donations. Personal phone calls would often serve as the notice to gear up for a fire. Not surprisingly, the volunteer jakes would sometimes have to reach deep into their own pockets to pay for badly needed gear and equipment.
Danny Echols, the first Chief of the Association, told me that the central communication system at the time was located at the Sheriff’s Department, with two-way radios in most of the firefighting vehicles. In the event of a catastrophic occurrence which required additional manpower from the surrounding communities, the call would go out through the Georgia State Fire Mutual Aid Frequency. They made it work because they had to. But on April 4, Continue reading