WEST LAFAYETTE -- Residents of West Lafayette will always have a reminder of the cost of freedom each time they pass the granite, obelisk monument located on Railroad and Kirk streets.
The monument is a memorial to the 33 Pennsylvania National Guardsmen that were tragically killed in what local residents know as the troop train accident. The guardsmen were part of Battery B 109 Field Artillery on its way to Camp Atterbury Indiana for training before being assigned to duty as part of the Korean War efforts. The troop train left Carbondale, Pa., with 12 train cars, picking up eight more cars at Wilkes-Barre, Pa. The train was carrying a total of 700 guardsmen.
Just before dawn on a foggy September morning (Sept. 11, 1950) less than one mile east of the West Lafayette village corporation limits, the troop train was struck by passenger train, The Spirit of St. Louis. The troop train had stopped to repair a broken air hose. There were no injuries to the passengers or crew of the St. Louis. The troop train had scores of injured and 33 dead. The majority of the fatalities took place in the last three cars, the last car being driven completely through the next two which were completely demolished. Many of the victims were unable to be identified right away due to the severity of their injuries. At first count, it was reported that 34 had perished, but later confirmation put the official count at 33. The dead, ranging in ages 18-35 years old were all residents of the Carbondale and Wilkes-Barre areas.
On Sunday (Sept. 19), the village of West Lafayette had a memorial service in observance of the 60th anniversary of the tragedy.
First Baptist Church pastor Dave Kraft, Mayor Jack Patterson and Pennsylvania Army Col. Kirk Haschak were some of the key speakers for the service.
Pastor Kraft gave the invocation and benediction, with Mayor Patterson and Col. Haschak addressing the crowd of approximately 75 persons. The Ridgewood High School band played the National Anthem while Don Kennedy and Marty Glazier raised the American flag.
Phil Sherrow and Darin Welker were each presented with plaques for their design and construction of two podiums that were used at the ceremony. The podiums were constructed of wood taken from the former pin oak tree that stood near the monument for 17 years and had been planted in memory of former WTNS employee John Terry. He had been instrumental in setting up communications at the wreck site for survivors to call home to their families in Pennsylvania. Terry also provided continuous radio coverage and information for the rescuers, and the community that fateful day. The tree later died of a disease and was removed, the wood being saved, and sent to a lumber mill where it was dried, and planed down for its lumber.
One of the podiums will be sent to the 109 National Guard headquarters in Pennsylvania, while the other will be on display at the West Lafayette Museum. The monument was originally planned in 1989 by a committee consisting of Jim Shivers, Ed Chapdelaine, Duke Young, Jack Patterson and Jewell Terry. Mayor Patterson said the original idea of remembering the troop train was presented by the late Victor Crouso.
Herb Tidrick from the Veterans Services Office later read the names of the honored dead (victims of the accident). Brian Hawkins, State Highway patrolman, presented the floral tribute which was placed at the monument's base. Hawkins is also with the U.S. Marines and has had two tours in Iraq.
The memorial service ended with a gun salute provided by the Coshocton County Veterans Honor Guard and the TAPS played by a member of the Ridgewood High School band.
Pastor Kraft best described the intention behind the special service by saying, "We pause today to remember these young men, the sons of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania who gave their lives in honor of our country and to protect our freedom. That freedom has a cost, let us always remember as we mark this hallowed spot."