I was sixteen, ending my Junior Year at St. Michael's High
School in Flint. My classmates Dick Wagner and Jack Murphy and
I went downtown to shop at Penney's. Then we decided to go to
the North Flint Drive-In on N. Saginaw Street to see "Invasion
USA". We didn't call our parents and let them know we were
going there. Dick was driving his parents' brand new Buick sedan.
It was a hot, humid and still night. The car was facing east looking at the screen.
Just as the movie screen flickered to life cars started driving out of the theater.
We looked behind us to the West and saw a black funnel cloud stretching from
the horizon to the sky. It was still a ways away, probably near the present I-75.
We recognized it as a tornado. There had been a tornado in Massachusetts a few
days before that in the news.
We immediately drove out of the theater and turned South on N. Saginaw St. towards
Coldwater Road. In their panic, people were ignoring the traffic light at Saginaw
and Coldwater smashing into each other like a demolition derby. It wasn't possible
to get through the intersection. We stopped the car in front of Beecher High
School and watched the tornado move towards us. I was sitting in the middle of
the front seat between Dick and Jack.
When the tornado hit, the windshield disintegrated as if a thousand stones had
been thrown at it. Somehow I twisted and crawled into the back seat fast enough
to avoid any cuts from the glass. Dick and Jack both had many glass cuts on their
face and arms. The Flint Journal took a picture of Mr. Wagner's new Buick sitting
on a pile of lumber in the Beecher Lumber yard that was located across the intersection
and down the street past a gas station. It had probably traveled 100 yards.
I remember walking around the area afterwards and seeing people rescued. I was
eventually put in a car with several other injured people. The car drove down
Saginaw St. with the driver flashing its lights and blinking its horn. I have
often wondered how much blood got on the car seats of that Good Samaritan.
We were taken to Hurley Hospital. I was put on the floor with many other patients
in one of the large rotundas that the hospital wings branched out from. Father
Sheridan, the pastor of St. Michael's, came across me there, and eventually my
parents were notified that I was there. Unfortunately it was after my Father
had searched for me at the temporary morgue that had been set at the Flint Armory.
By morning many non- tornado patients were discharged from Hurley and I was given
a room. My left leg was put in a cast. Several days later my leg swelled out
of the cast and the cast was cut off revealing gas gangrene. I was taken to surgery
and the infected tissue was removed. Many tornado victims were infected with
gas gangrene. Many of the homes in the Beecher area were on septic tanks. The
tornado blew the contaminated dirt from the ground into every exposed pore of
our skin. We all looked like we had beard stubble for many days. It wouldn't
wash out. Gas gangrene is very contagious and all who had it were separated and
quarantined on separate floors of the hospital. Many tornado victims had amputations
because of it. To the best of my knowledge Dr. Hira Branch was the only orthopedic
surgeon in Flint at the time. He must have been very busy.
I was put on the isolation floor in a room with a man named Paul Ginter who lost
an arm and a leg and a sixteen old son. It must have been hard for him having
a sixteen-year-old boy in the room. He eventually went to college and became
a principal in the Flint School system.
My classmates also survived. Dick Wagner was released fairly soon. Jack Murphy
was in a coma for a while but he was released before I was. I was released on
July 3rd in time for my seventeenth family birthday party on the Fourth of July.
My final report card for my Junior Year reflected better marks than I deserved.
I sensed the sisters thought I had passed a far harder exam than the ones they
had given in my absence.