when I was still working full time for The Gonzales Inquirer newspaper,
I would often spend my weekends going through the archives and researching some
of the old papers.
Sometimes I would just decide to pick a year, and then
go through every issue from that time period. The last one I researched was 1961.
I really don't know why I picked that year — maybe because that was when I graduated
from high school — and most of the memories from that time are good ones.
an old Inquirer from September 14, 1961, reminded me of one of the bad
memories — one I had all but forgotten.
The story was from the Associated
Press (AP) wire service and it was titled: "15-Year-Old Boy Describes Loss
Of Family In Storm." And what triggered the bad memory for me was; I knew that
boy. As I recall, he and my sister were classmates and friends. The young boy's
name was Robert Dunn and his life was indeed a tragic story.
Hurricane Carla crashed ashore on the Texas
coast on September 10,1961, I was in the Texas Army National Guard and was
going to the Army's armor training school at Ft. Knox, Kentucky. My family lived
in Angleton, Texas. Robert
Dunn and his family lived south of Angleton,
along the banks of Bastrop Bayou.
According to old weather records, Carla
had grown so large by September 9, that it enveloped the entire Gulf of Mexico
— winds near the center were estimated at 150 mph. On that day a mass evacuation
was ordered. It was reported that over half a million coastal residents fled the
storm. This early evacuation greatly reduced the number of lives that were lost;
records show that 46 died in the storm. Eleven of those who perished were from
Robert Dunn's family. This number included members of his uncle John Drvar's family.
Robert's father, R.W. (Shorty) Dunn, felt as if he had been through several storms
before and he really wasn't too concerned about this one. Local authorities begged
him to leave because his home on Bastrop Bayou was in grave danger. He refused
to be evacuated. He was asked to let his children come out and again he refused.
When I returned to my National Guard unit in Angleton,
several months after the storm, I talked with several of my buddies who were sent
out to try to rescue the Dunns.
The guardsmen said they made three attempts
to get the Dunn family out. On the third try, they lost a two and a half ton truck
in Bastrop Bayou. The driver told me that when they reached a bridge, only one
guardrail was sticking out of the water. He had to pick one side or the other,
hoping to pick the one with the bridge underneath. His selection was wrong and
several soldiers nearly drowned. That was the last attempt to rescue the Dunns.
In the AP
story, Robert Dunn said that his father felt that he had been through storms
before and Hurricane Carla would be no worse than the others.
quoted Robert's description of the event: "He said if it got too bad we would
leave," Robert said. "My aunt and uncle lived close to us and when it got pretty
bad they came to our house."
"What must have been a tidal wave suddenly
covered everything, including the car, and we couldn't leave. Somehow we made
it to the attic. All the food we had was a loaf of bread. My share was two slices,
but two of the younger children were crying because they were so hungry and I
divided my share among them. I didn't feel hungry anyway.
"I think it
was early Sunday morning that we got into the attic. We stayed there until the
worst part of the storm hit. There was a big wave that came then and we all started
to get on the roof. I managed to get up there.
"The wind was blowing really
hard then and I tried to reach down and help two of the children up. But something
seemed to pull them away from me.
"The last time I saw my parents, mother
and dad were holding hands and she was crying."
Robert Dunn was on the
roof of his floating home for three days. When the house finally came to rest
on land, he walked out. Robert told me that he thought he was miles out in the
Gulf of Mexico because he was surrounded by water. He said he even saw a buoy
with a red light on top. What he actually saw was the radio antenna above the
County Courthouse. The courthouse is five-stories tall.