The ‘Katy-Did’ crashPublished 12:18pm Wednesday, February 19, 2014
Dr. Herman Stringer of Hartselle is on a mission to have a state historic marker placed at Parker’s Gap in southwest Morgan County in memory of eight airmen who perished nearby in the crash of a B-26C bomber in 1944.
During the past nine months, the Vietnam War veteran has collected and filled two notebook binders with pertinent information and photographs related to the tragic crash. His research has produced a copy of the official accident report, information about the victims and their families and eye witness accounts of several people who heard and watched the aircraft as it disappeared in a dark cloud and crashed.
He also visited the crash site several times, shooting photos and collecting buried fragments of the plane with the aide of a metal detector.
“I found lots of pennies and a few silver coins scattered over a wide area,” Stringer said. “I expect they fell from the pockets of the crew and passengers when the plane hit the ground and exploded.”
Stringer said he has approached several public officials as well as newspapers and television stations with the information he has gathered.
“I’ve asked them for help in getting the state to authorize the placement of a historic marker on Highway 157 near the crash site,” he pointed out. “Unfortunately, I’ve not been able to generate much interest.
“Every time I’ve been on the crash site, I’ve had the feeling that I was standing in a graveyard that has been forgotten. It saddens me that these World War II heroes have been forgotten when markers have been placed at other historic locations in Morgan County recently.”
Stringer is proposing that such a marker be placed adjacent to a pull-off on Highway 157 at the foot of Battleground Mountain. The crash site is located about one half of a mile east near the Cullman and Morgan County line.
The bomber was nicknamed “The “Katy-Did” and was based at Hunter Field in Savannah, Ga. It departed from hunter field with four crewmembers and four passengers around noon on April 9 and was last reported at 10,000 feet over Macon, Ga. a little over an hour later. There was no further report until it was observed flying at about 1,500 feet near Hartselle at approximately 2:15 p.m.
Witnesses observed the plane as it flew into a dark cloudbank and reappeared shortly thereafter on its back, headed toward the ground at full throttle. The time of the accident was fixed at 2:20 p.m. The plane exploded and was demolished. All eight crew members and passengers died instantly.
At the time of the crash, a severe thunderstorm with frequent lightning, heavy rain and turbulent wind was in progress, covering large portions of Morgan and Cullman counties.
Gordon Wilhite of Falkville Route 2 observed the plane in trouble and heard it crash while standing in a field on his farm.
“Visibility was bad; there was considerable lightning and thunder,” he reported. “I saw black smoke coming from the rear of the plane. As it approached a ridge about two miles from where I stood. It appeared to turn on its back or side and go straight down.”
Leldon F. Kilpatrick was in his house on Falkville Route Two when he heard the plane crash about 500 yards away. The impact raddled the windows in the house. As the first person to reach the crash site, he reported no sign of life, only lots of smoke and flames coming from the wreckage.
William E. Tomlin, 11, watched the plane as it cleared a ridge about three-quarters of a mile from his house. He reported seeing something fall from the plane before it crashed and thinking it could’ve been someone in a parachute. This may have been accounted for by the finding of one victim’s body about 100 feet from the crash scene with an extended parachute attached.
In the official accident report, weather, pilot error and poor judgment are listed as contributing factors leading to the crash.
Victims of the crash were crewmen Capt. Howard L. Hardy, pilot, La Harpe. Kan.; Capt. Arthur J. Gratis, co-pilot, Seattle, Wash; S/Sgt. John W. Haney, engineer, Buffalo, N.Y.; Pvt. Matthew J. Georghegan, mechanic; and Pvt. John J. Bailey, radioman, Trenton, N.J.; passengers, Col. Lucius B. Manning, base commander, Savannah, Ga.; Sgt. James R. Smith, St. Maire, Idaho; and 1st Lt. Hugh Williams, McGehee, Ark.