Ft. Bragg, NC Lightning Strike Hits Encampment, June 1957


Ft. Bragg, N. C. (UP) -- Lightning bolts, flashing from an electrical storm, struck in the center of bivouacing National Guardsmen Wednesday, killing two men and injuring some 47 others.
The victims, identified as Pfc. ARTHUR BELTON NORRIS, JR., 19, and Pfc. WALTER LEE MILAN, 26, both of Kannapolis, were among 8,000 members of the famed 30th Infantry (Old Hickory) Division of the Carolina National Guard in summer training at this military post.
The storm struck as the men prepared for supper, many standing in chow lines.
"The ground shook something terrible and my feet felt as if the ground were sizzling
just burning up," Capt. Joseph E. Orlan of Kannapolis said.
The most severe area of the storm seemed to center in the bivouac area of headquarters company from Kannapolis and Company "G" of the 120th Regiment from Newton.
In addition to the two men killed, 19 of the injured were from the Kannapolis outfit and eleven from the Newton unit.
Orlan, a company commander, was standing in a kitchen area when the lightning bolts struck, making a noise like "a big explosion."
One of the cooks was knocked out by the first of several bolts, Orlan said. Other cooks, rushing to his aid with artificial respiration, revived him in a matter of minutes.
"The men in front of men in the chow line fell like bowling pins," said PFC Gary D. Truesdale, 18, of Hickory.
"My mess gear was wrenched from my hand and bent all out of shape. I heard people calling for the medics but they had been knocked out too," he said.
A second lightning bolt struck about 10 minutes after the first bolt.
Orlan said, "I just put my bare foot on the wet ground when it came just like the first one. It stung my legs and hip and knocked me down I don't remember what happened after that."
None of the injured are in serious condition, Army officials reported. Only four were actually admitted to hospitals where they are being treated. The others were kept overnight for observation.
Miles away from the scene Lt. Col. Alvin Hillebrand of Durham suffered an eye injury when the shock hurled a telephone he was using into his face.
A jolt of electricity traveling more than three miles along telephone lines threw Capt. David L. Britt of Raleigh across a large tent.
The injured men arrived at the hospital, some ten miles from the bivouac area, while most of the staff members were away for their evening meals.
Nurses leaving for the night reversed their step, donned their white robes over street clothes and volunteered to stay and help care for the injured. Hasty calls around the base brought additional hospital workers.
As late as 9:30 p.m., about four and a half hours after the storm victims were still being brought in from field hospitals and clearing stations where they had been given first aid.
A unit chaplain credited emergency work by the guardsmen themselves with keeping many of the injured men from being seriously affected.
"Within seconds after the first shock," he said, "men who had themselves been knocked down and those who felt no effects of the jolts were on their feet helping their buddies. The way these men kept their heads is a real credit to them."

Panama City Herald Florida 1957-06-20