SubMerged

Geary County Historical Society is saying farewell to the exhibit SubMerged, which was built as a companion exhibit to the traveling Smithsonian exhibit Water/Ways in 2018.

We will be saying farewell to our flood exhibit SubMerged on May 1! Stop in over the next month if you haven’t had a chance to see this exhibit, which explores the history of floods in Geary County and how all of the floods led to the creation of Milford Dam. Following a 2017 Memories at the Museum discussion about the 1951 and 1993 floods, Roger Brown, a 1954 graduate of Junction City High School, contacted us with his own interesting memory of the flood of ’51 and the adventure he went on.  His story follows:

“I was a member of troop 64 that met in the basement of the first united Methodist church where my family (H.H. and Almeda brown and four siblings) were members and attended regularly.  My father Hiram, was the troop scoutmaster for a time and I was 15 years old having joined the troop as soon as I was able, likely at the age of 12.

The troop went on an over-the-weekend camping trip to a site near a creek where I and others learned the fundamentals of rowing a canoe and boating safety among other things.  While I don’t recall there being other troops present, considering the activities there must have been, due to the resources at our disposal

The usual scout activities for camping obviously took place, learning how to set up a pup tent, gathering firewood, building a camp fire without matches and making a trench around the tent to direct the water runoff away from the tent, etc...

That night it began to rain. We were ready, having done all the necessary steps for such an event.  Well, not quite.  As the storm developed, the wind factor began to be an issue.  As time went on the velocity of the wind began to increase.  It was night time and every one was in his tent huddled down for the night but not asleep.   It soon became clear that we were in for a real Kansas storm!  Even expecting the wind to gust, which it did, it never seemed to peak but rather grew more and more intense with each passing moment! The tents were being whipped violently!  the canvas pup tent materials were being tested to the limits and the boy scout training was now in nature’s own testing-  lab.  The fury of the wind driven rain was horrendously awesome!  It was as if some gigantic hand of wind was slapping the sides of the tents.  The roaring wind seemed to be insensitive in its cruel laughter at the plight in which these young scouts and their leaders were mercilessly trapped!

 My brother Terry had twisted his ankle during the day and was not able to move well at all.  That being so, I had to set up his tent for him not far from mine.

Suddenly, during the height of the storm and above the sound of the raging wind I heard Terry yelling, calling me!  As soon as I exited my tent I could see that his tent was collapsed on the windward side, the anchoring of that end had failed, falling in on him.

 It created a frightening scene made worse by the fact he was unable to help himself due to his injury!   It was a real struggle to get everything back in order while fighting against the wind and rain.  Even to this day I feel bad that he went through that terrifying time made worse by his incapacity to help himself.

The morning, as I recall, was sunny and we were all in pretty good spirits without knowing our true circumstances.  It wasn’t long before we got word from our scout leaders that we were completely cut off from returning home!  The creek had overflowed its banks and completely inundated the road out of the camp!  We were trapped in place with no way to communicate our situation, as far as I knew, with anyone at home.

 I recall someone remarking that we would just wait it out and took stock of our supplies.  It was for me as well as others, I am sure, an anxious time (a time to practice “brave” in real life).

By late morning or early afternoon we heard the distant and faint roar of aircraft engines.  The unmistakable engines of an aircraft increased with every passing moment. It seemed that suddenly the roaring was upon us, smooth and unfaltering.   Just as suddenly, in the same instant, there against the backdrop of a blue sky, just above the treetops, we saw an olive drab twin engine military aircraft.  I wondered at the time if it could be from Fort Riley!   Everything about this sight was just more than exhilarating for a young fifteen year old scout on an overnight camping trip that in itself was anything but routine.  As the aircraft flew by from right to left I could see an airman, standing in the large open space where a door would normally enclose the fuselage.  His arms outstretched, braced against the frame of the opening, uniform violently flapping, and he, fearlessly daring the wind to suck him out to certain death, was indeed brave!   While scouts are expected to be trustworthy, loyal and brave to name a few, this was the real thing for us.

 Our joy and excitement, knowing we were found by the “outside” world and help had come, was short-lived.   No sooner had the aircraft and its airmen flew overhead bringing hope for rescue, they droned off into the distant sky their engines slowly fading into the distance and out of sight.

But then…yes…could it be true?  The faint whirring returned in ever increasing volume!

More distinct by the moment...clearly…ever more clearly the plane was coming back! Lower than ever!  More determined than ever!  We could all see the brave airman in the doorway but recessed more to the interior.  The actions of this fly-by began to unfold so very fast.   To blink would be to miss the beauty of what was about to happen!   

Our eyes were fixed on the aircraft and the airman who by now moved swiftly inside.  In an instant brown boxes, pushed out of the doorway by the airman, were tumbling out of the side opening!  One after the other they came!

Then it happened!  No sooner had the boxes emerged to the joy and unrestrained shouts of us all, orange and white parachutes suddenly popped open!  The free-falling boxes, arrested by the opening parachutes, became a moving ballet in the sky, gently swinging back and forth as they slowly drifted downward.

There was no ballet on the ground, you can be sure.  It was more of an organized chaos, and better when the scout leaders got control of the exuberant scouts.  We were dispatched to retrieve the relief supplies in orderly fashion except for one “problem” or shall I say, “Scout training opportunity”.   You see, some of the boxes ended up in the tree tops whose branches snagged some parachutes.  Normally this would not be a problem, but we determined that those trees were in the flood zone.  

 Climbing trees was a part of growing up but few if any of us had likely ever seen a tree standing in a body of water such as we had that day, much less climb one so situated.

Those of us who completed and passed the water safety and canoe course were assigned an adult leader and several of us in canoe teams paddled our canoes along the rain inundated road and among the tree branches to retrieve the supplies.  This went well. But as we approached the “low hanging fruit” some of the scouts began voicing their “claim” on one parachute color or another!  It was not to be.  It was all government property and unavailable.

As we got closer we were given instructions on how to safely cut the chute’s moorings such that no box tipped a canoe, fell abruptly into the canoe or was lost in the water.  Without any regrettable incidents, we made our way back to the campsite with our precious relief supplies.  

In due time the water receded and we were able to make our way home having had the scout camping experience of a lifetime.”

KATIE GOERL is the Executive Director of the Geary County Historical Society in Junction City.

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