Answer Man

July 16, 2014

Glider crash in 1943 was one of St. Louis' worst air disasters

St. Louis Mayor William Dee Becker sounded as fearless as ever the day before he boarded his flight into eternity.

Answer Man

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I have been wondering about something for 70 years and have finally decided to ask you: In the 1940s, I was there when the mayor of St. Louis was killed in a glider crash at Lambert Airport. Why did the glider not drag the tow plane down with it? -- Charles N., of Dupo

St. Louis Mayor William Dee Becker sounded as fearless as ever the day before he boarded his flight into eternity.

"Gentlemen, you can die only once, and we all must die sometime," Becker, a pilot himself, said at his weekly City Hall press conference on Saturday, July 31, 1943. "If anything should happen to me, I'm leaving an able man to step into my shoes."

Sadly, Board of Aldermen President A.P. Kaufmann had to do just that the next day as the glider carrying Becker and nine others crashed before 10,000 horrified spectators, killing all aboard. Here is what happened:

"The craft, flying directly over the field, had just been released from its tow plane (a Douglas C-47)," according to an article in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.

A moment after the release at about 2,000 feet, the left wing of the glider buckled and collapsed, according to a United Press International story. The plane "seemed to halt temporarily in the sky" before the other wing folded and both fell off the fuselage.

The glider then "plummeted to the earth like a dart." There was a dull crash when it hit the ground and exploded, sending fragments hundreds of feet into the air.

"Scores of women fainted and many wept as the crash siren at the field sounded," the UPI story reported.

Designed to carry 15 soldiers and a jeep, the glider had been test-flown successfully before the crash. Ironically, William Robertson, president of Robertson Aircraft, which made the tow plane and co-sponsored the demonstration, also was among the fatalities. Robertson was a founder of Lambert Airport and an early backer of Charles Lindbergh's historic nonstop solo flight to Paris.

Others killed were Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Dysant; Henry Mueller, St. Louis County's chief executive; and the pilot, Army Air Force Capt. Milton C. Klugh. It was reported as St. Louis' worst air disaster up to that time.

Now the tragedy is memorialized on a plaque by the City Hall staircase that reads, in part, "Dulce et decorum est pro patria mori," a line from the Roman poet Horace's "Odes" that roughly means, "It is sweet and fitting to die for your country."

Less than a year later, glider missions would play a vital role in the D-Day invasion as anyone who has seen "The Longest Day" will remember.

Please explain why some new homes have the ground on electrical receptacles on top and some on bottom. When we built our home in 2000, we were told the electric code required the ground be on top, which takes some getting used to because you have to twist electric plugs upside down. While recently visiting new model homes in St. Clair County, some were grounded on top and some on bottom. Just what is required? -- E.M., of Shiloh

While there's no code requirement either way, you could be in for a jolt if the ground is on the bottom, says Jerry Northway, of Northway Electric in O'Fallon.

In fact, Northway says he used to install the ground on the bottom until he decided there is a good reason not to: If the ground is on the bottom, a falling metal object (paper clip, screw, etc.) could hit an electrical plug's exposed "hot" prongs first and cause a blown fuse or breaker. However, if the ground is on top, that object would likely bounce off harmlessly.

While that may sound like a stretch, it apparently isn't. According to an Internet report by Mike Holt Enterprises, the chief electrical engineer at McDonald's told how one of his company's workers had burned her hand when a metal tray hit a plug's hot prongs and caused an arcing flash. Had it hit the ground, she probably would have been spared the injury.

Some also say having the ground up once was required in medical facilities for fear that something like a falling scalpel might cause a fire or explosion in an operating room, where oxygen and other flammables may be present. So a little inconvenience now might save you grief later.

Today's question

Who was the last St. Louis Cardinal to win an All-Star Game? Lose (before Pat Neshek)? Do both?

Answer to Wednesday's question: They don't call it the "Grand" Canyon for nothing. More than a mile deep in parts and up to 18 miles wide, the canyon stretches 277 miles through northwestern Arizona. However, it is not the longest or deepest canyon in the world. The Yarlung Tsangpo Grand Canyon in Tibet, for example, is 314 miles long and nearly 20,000 feet deep as it passes between mountains.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427 or or call 618-239-2465.

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