Kosciusko: The Town That Saved the Blimp

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(The blimp pictured above is similar to the one which made an emergency landing in Kosciusko during World War II)

It was early on a late fall day in Kosciusko.  Bing Crosby may have been playing on the radio.  Dec. 6, 1943.  Exactly 79 years ago today.

Ellis Boswell was 10 years old, asleep in his bed, unaware of what was about to happen.  “What woke me up was my mother’s chickens in the backyard,” Boswell said.  “They were cuttin’ up.  We didn’t know what in the world had happened unless it was a hawk out there or something.”

But what was flying low over his house was no bird.  It was a 250-foot blimp– the kind the Navy used at the height of World War Two.

NEWSREEL NARRATOR:  “Designed for offshore patrol duty, these non-rigid ships can cruise at great heights over coastal areas maintaining constant watch for hostile vessels above or below the surface.”

And that’s what Lt. Commander Clayton Janecky and his ten-member crew had been doing.   “We were flying anti-submarine patrol in the Gulf,” Janecky said.

But they were blown way off course in a storm and were running low on fuel.  “The engineer said ‘It’s on empty. You’re just flying on the fumes in the tank’,” Janecky said.  “So we knew we had to do something really fast.”

By a stroke of luck, the blimp wound up over a small town.  And not just any small town.

“We happened to be just fairly close to Kosciusko.”

Janecky flew low enough for one of the sailors to jump to the ground and start rounding up people to help bring the blimp in for a safe landing.  “We roused the townspeople and the town responded.”

Ellis Boswell, who’s now 89, said it’s something he’ll never forget.  “Everybody just ran from the schoolroom, started running out to it.  The whole school emptied out.”  Boswell rode his bike toward the cow pasture known as Strayhorn Field where a crowd of men had already gathered to grab hold of the heavy ropes that were dropped to the ground.  And even though he was only a fifth-grader, Boswell was allowed to join in.

“It was right over there, between here and that tree,” Boswell said during a visit to the field,  pointing out the spot where the blimp landed almost eight decades ago.   “Most of the people that were there were holding down the blimp.  I know there were about 300 there holding down the blimp.  There were a lot of other people walking around there too.  I guess it was a total of 500 people out there.  It would have been a good day to pull a bank robbery in Kosciusko ’cause all the cops were out here too, I think.”

Once the blimp was safely secured and more fuel was on the way, Boswell said a trailer was brought in as a makeshift stage complete with a PA system.  “And we got all of the pilots and the crew members off that ship (to speak).  I think there was four or five of ’em.  They thanked everybody for everything.”  They told the crowd they couldn’t have stayed in the air much longer– maybe five minutes.

The blimp was in Kosciusko for about two hours.  And then the crew gave instructions on when to let go of the ropes and the engines were started, the blimp lifting off, heading back to its base in Houma, Louisiana.

This special chapter in Kosciusko’s history is largely forgotten.  Except for those who lived it.  Like Ellis Boswell.

“That was an exciting day.”

When a group of men and schoolboys literally pulled together to save a dozen sailors who were in desperate need of some helping hands.

 

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