It was Saturday November 18, 1972 and I was working for my father at The Richmond Daily Register about 6:30 a.m. I remember hearing the phone ring upstairs early Saturday morning before I left for work at my parent’s house in Deacon Hills. I was just going about my daily routine and reporting to the newspaper office on the corner of Second and Water.
When I arrived at the newspaper office, Randall Fields, the Editor of The Richmond Daily Register, was very somber and gave me one number to pull off the Associated Press wire service. Usually, Mr. Fields would give me a list of 30 to 40 numbers to process for the daily newspaper. It was my early morning assignment for the last two years at the newspaper which was to turn on the lights, open up the building, and process news stories for the staff to layout the newspaper later each morning.
Not aware of the events that were unfolding and after running the ticker tape through the Compugraphic machine, it hit me square in the face. The chartered aircraft carrying ten Richmond young men had crashed on a farm in Todd County around midnight after taking off from the Hopkinsville Memorial Airfield. I kept reading and rereading the story. These ten men and the pilot had not survived the crash.
The ten Richmond men were James A. (Jimmy) House, Roy R. Watson Jr., Ben Robinson Jr., Charles Clay Shackleford, David Gooslin, Joe Hunter, Hugh F. Robbins, J.D. Frankenberger, Maurice Monday, and George Vernon. The pilot was Lawrence McDermott from Elizabethtown.
These ten men had chartered a plane to travel down to Trigg County to watch the Madison High Royal Purples play football in the state semifinals. The team was 12-0 and was coached by Monty Joe Lovell. Trigg County upset Madison Hight 19-10 and went onto win their second consecutive Class 1A title. However, the city of Richmond and the families of the ten men and the pilot were the biggest losers.
Initially, I remember thinking the Register had lost two members of our newspaper family. Jimmy House was the News Editor, and Roy Watson was the Assistant Advertising Manager. Both were former Eastern Progress staffers during their college days. Then, it really hit me. Families had lost sons, fathers, brothers, uncles, cousins, and loved ones. Jimmy and Roy were like big brothers to me. Jimmy helped me write stories and headlines, and Roy taught me to identify a future advertising customer. They were my newspaper big brothers. Jimmy’s father, Doug, was the Superintendent of the Madison County school system, and I graduated from Model with Roy’s sister, Mary Fred.
The scars are hard to relive. It was my worst day working for my father at the newspaper.
Yes, I cried and cried some more as the staff arrived for work that gloomy morning 50 years ago. No one knew what to say to one another. The office was eerie quiet. The phone kept ringing, and the telephone operator whispered “Yes the plane crashed” only to hang up. Then, the phone rang again and again that fatal morning, and the message was the same.
“The Day Richmond Stood Still” documentary aired on the 50th anniversary of the crash last night at the Madison County Library on Main Street. There were several tears shed, and Mayor Blythe summed it up well saying “It was the day Richmond went silent.”
I witnessed that day 50 years ago. The newspaper went silent. Richmond went silent and still cannot measure the loss.
Yes, it still hurts. And the memories of these ten Richmond men will remain etched in the hearts of many family members, coworkers, and friends forever.