The recent capping of the Pine Bluff Chemical Agent Disposal Facility’s 15-year mission closed yet another chapter in the 71-year operational history of the Army’s Pine Bluff Arsenal.
PBCDF met its objective of eliminating the arsenal’s aging chemical munitions stockpile with rousing success, the sort of achievement for which the installation has developed a stout reputation over the decades. The disposal team earned international acclaim for its safety accomplishments during its five-year plus munitions incineration campaign.
Unfortunately, however, the safety of any entity is a culture enhanced through time and application.
In 1943 and ‘44 — its first full years of munition production after a Dec. 2, 1941, groundbreaking — PBA experienced 15 deaths within its workforce, which was toiling at a hastened pace in order to provide necessary support of America’s and its allies’ World War II efforts against Nazi Germany’s insane Adolph Hitler and a crusading Japan.
Those fallen PBA employees deserve to be honored in memory as do the servicemen who lost their lives in combat.
Thirteen PBA deaths occurred in 1943 alone.
Charles C. Lamphere was the first to perish, falling victim to a February scalding incident. Shortly after, Geraldine Kinser was killed in another mishap.
Three fatalities were marked in October.
Four days after a fiery blast within an incendiary bomb production area, Ora Ella King succumbed to severe burns. Harvie Atwood then died in yet another fire. Less than a week later, a third incident resulted in the death of Raymond Launius.
Two November explosions were especially harsh, as each claimed four lives.
Frieda Lyons, Doyne Howard Moore, Seigel Ramick Sutterfield and Susie Whiteside were fatally injured in the first, which occurred only eight days before a second detonation claimed Winfield N. Anderson, Lloyd V. Ellison, Fred Lewis and Claudia B. Yancey.
In late 1944, Neil Lewis died in a parking lot automobile accident and William L. Wilson was killed when an industrial fan fell on him in separate mishaps.
But from all the misfortune, a living, breathing heroine of national proportions emerged.
Annie Young, then a young wife and mother who like many other women went to work at PBA to support the war effort, became the first woman to receive the federal Exceptional Civilian Service Award — the highest citation for War Department-employed civilians. The honor was said to be the “civilian equivalent of the military Distinguished Service Award.”
Young displayed her valor not once, but twice.
In the explosion that caused King’s death, Young responded by snatching a security blanket and attempting to smother flames from King’s clothing. That effort failed, so Young then grabbed King with her bare hands to rip away King’s burning garments.
Young sustained second-degree burns on her hands and wrists, but was back at work the next day after receiving treatment in the base hospital.
Just over a month later, Lyons — a former neighbor and childhood friend of Young — was running away in shock from the blast that would claim Lyons’ life. Young chased and caught Lyons and tried but failed to douse her in a water-filled ditch. So, once again, Young employed her bare hands and suffered burns herself while yanking off a victim’s searing clothes.
Young made a return trip to the hospital, but was back to work the same day.
In March 1944, production was temporarily halted so that the entire arsenal family could attend a ceremony in which Young received her award from Army officials and Gov. Homer Adkins.
Sixty-one years later — in 2005 — Arsenal Commander Col. Tom Wolosyn dedicated the Quality Evaluation Facility building in the spirit of the civilian heroism exhibited by Young.
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Do you have a question on a local historical event or figure, or a story or photo from Jefferson County’s past to share? Email Rick Joslin at firstname.lastname@example.org.