NewsWhistle is pleased to feature Gary Jenneke’s “This Day In History” column.
You can read the original at Gary’s THIS DAY IN HISTORY blog — or scroll down to enjoy Gary’s unique look at life’s comings and goings.
THIS DAY IN HISTORY… JUNE 5
1956 – Air Force fighter jet crashes into car.
The jet, carrying live rockets, failed in its takeoff from a military base in Minneapolis, slammed into a car carrying a family out for a pleasure ride. The mother and daughter in the car were killed while the father, son, and another person in the car were injured but survived. The two crew members aboard the fighter also managed to survive. The military base was home to reserve units and was adjacent to Wold-Chamberlain Field, which is what the airport for the Twin Cities was called then. It sat close to the new baseball stadium, Metropolitan Stadium, where the minor league team the Minneapolis Millers played. The family had been on an outing to take a look at the new stadium when the tragedy occurred.
This was only the first of a series of accidents involving fighter jets in Minnesota over a twelve day span. Just four days later a Navy jet experienced problems, left its formation and crashed just north of the airport, into a row of houses. The pilot was killed as were six people on the ground. A number of houses were destroyed or set on fire. Children, twenty or more, were outside playing when the plane crashed. Hit with flying debris and flaming aviation fuel, children were injured and burned, and one child, inside a house, died.
Then on June 16th, 1956, a third military jet fighter crashed. This one took place at 4:10pm on a Saturday afternoon just a quarter mile east of the small village of Lester Prairie, Minnesota. A North Dakota Air National Guard pilot, 2nd Lt. Richard Froeschle, was flying his jet fighter plane from Fargo to Minneapolis when the plane developed engine problems and crashed. The aircraft did not explode but the pilot died upon impact.
I was twelve years old at the time and have vague memories of the first two crashes and a very vivid recollection of the third. I was a paper boy for the Minneapolis Star, an afternoon paper, and was on my route. The afternoon was drizzly with low hanging gray clouds. I had a wire basket attached to the handlebars of my bike where I carried a canvas bag with the newspapers. Saturdays usually had a different feel with more people about and not at work. More shoppers in the small downtown area. That Saturday was different because of the rain and the town was quiet. I had just finished my route when the town’s siren went off. For a small town kid this was a moment of high excitement. Soon pickups and cars would be flying through town as men of the volunteer fire department raced to the fire station. I did also, pedaling as hard as I could. I had finished my route on the west side of town, the fire station was on the east side. By the time I got there the fire engine had already left the station but I saw it heading east out of town.
County road nine ran north and south, a quarter mile east of Lester. I saw the engine turn right on county road nine. I rode out to the highway and turned right. Less than a quarter mile away the fire truck had stopped. Heart pounding, a little fearful even, I coasted to a stop. I saw the sleek, silver fuselage of a plane in a field. A long, muddy furrow had been plowed into the ground indicating the plane’s path. The field had been planted with oats and, early in the season, the green shoots were six inches high, where they hadn’t been destroyed. Mud sticking to their boots, several firemen, in their everyday work clothes, were trudging out to the plane. Some people later, watching from the road, said they could see the pilot, that his helmet had flown off and he had red hair. I don’t remember seeing any of that. I couldn’t even say whether the cockpit was open or not.
This was long before cell phones and instant communication. So things moved slowly, in fact it seemed nothing at all was happening. I guess it was determined the pilot was dead so there was no need for more sirens. Weird as it sounds, I got bored. Also the drizzle had turned into rain and I was wet. So I went home. Then the stories began to circulate. One was the plane had circled the town of Silver Lake, five miles west of Lester, looking for a place to land. I think that was more rumor than fact. Others hailed the pilot as a hero for steering his plane into an open field rather than coming down in Lester. Perhaps. But with the low cloud cover there was also speculation it was sheer luck he missed the town. I figured the plane must have passed almost directly over me. I never heard the roar of an engine so it must have lost power and was gliding at that point.
By the next day the plane, and pilot, were gone. I missed all that and don’t know when or how that happened. My vantage point immediately after the crash was no longer available, the whole area had been cordoned off. Starting with the next day and continuing for several days after that, even when there was nothing left to see, I became aware of the phenomenon of gawking. Strangers kept driving through our small town, wanting to see the site of the crash. A couple of times, riding about on my bike, I was asked for directions. About the third time I discovered a new found talent for being a smart-ass.
“Hey, kid, how do we get to where that plane crashed?”
Instead of directing them through town out to #9, I’d give them elaborate directions. “Ok, go back that way to highway 261, take a left and go out of town until where the road curves. A gravel road goes straight ahead. Take the gravel road for a couple of miles. There’ll be a small church and cemetery on the right. Take a left a mile before you get to that. Take that gravel road until you get to county road nine. Take another left, go a mile or so and you’ll cross a small bridge. It’s right after that.”
Hey, there was nothing left to see anyway and at least I was providing a service by giving them a small adventure.
ABOUT GARY JENNEKE
At various junctures of his life, Gary has been an indifferent grade school student, poor high school student, good Navy radioman, one-time hippie, passable college student, inveterate traveler, dedicated writer, miscast accountant (except for one interesting stint at a Communist café), part-time screenwriting teacher, semi-proud veteran, unsuccessful retiree and new blogger.
You can reach him at email@example.com.
The above information was sourced from the following sites and newspapers.
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* Outro (Man-In-Museum Cartoon) – SkyPics Studio / Shutterstock.com