I have set this post to go live on Sunday, April 28, 2013 at 8:03 a.m., exactly forty years after the horror of the Vietnam war came into my home. On that morning forty years ago, I was a homemaker, wife and mother of Mark, 5 and Andrea, 2.
We had saved to buy our first home, a brand new 1400 square foot, 3 bedroom, 2 bath place. We made the first house payment on the $18,000.00 mortgage on April 1, 1973. I remember vividly standing in the back yard singing Helen Reddy’s “Peaceful.”
‘Cause it’s oh, so peaceful here
There’s no one bending over my shoulder
Nobody breathing in my ear
Oh, so peaceful here
That peace would be shattered on April 28, 1973 at 8:03 a.m. Less than a mile from our home, seven thousand, 250-pound bombs, en route to Vietnam via the railroad, began to explode when the engine brakes caught fire.
The first bomb to detonate blew my former husband Lee and myself out of bed and onto the floor. We did not know what had happened and both ran out the front door. Across the empty field from our home loomed a giant mushroom cloud. The second bomb detonated as we ran back into the house. I grabbed Andrea from her bed and Lee grabbed Mark. Amazingly, they had both slept through the explosions and were still in their beds.
We ran back outside with them as the third bomb went off. The force of this blast blew out all the windows of our home, lifted the walls from the foundation and separated the roof from the house. The scene was surreal, people standing around as bombs exploded and debris reigned down around us. Against my better judgement, I ran back into the house because I wanted to change out of pajamas. I know. Passing in the hallway outside Mark’s room I saw it. A huge shard of glass from his window had pierced completely through the pillow where his little head had been moments before. Forty years later I can still see that glass, the size, the shape, the angle through the pillow.
After what seemed like hours, as bombs continued to detonate, police and the National Guard finally arrived on scene. They yelled orders to us over bullhorns not to re-enter our homes and to prepare for evacuation. Interstate 80 was shut completely down in both directions, the fence torn down, and we were evacuated by car onto the empty freeway. It would be days before we were allowed to go back to gather belongings and survey the damage. The railroad set up a command center to dispense cash for emergency housing, food, etc.
Our street in the Grand Oaks housing tract was the closest to ground zero and suffered the worst damage. The estimate to repair our $18,000.00 home was $17,800.00 and that did not include our furniture and personal effects. Walls were buckled and shifted 18inches to the right off the foundation. The furniture was torn and glass shards littered the drywall. It is a miracle that, although people were injured, no one died. We would be out of our home for over three months as repairs were made and it was deemed habitable again.We lived in a small mobile home off the sales lot where my husband worked. His sister and her family lived with us. The children were unbelievably resilient.
Eventually we moved back into our home, the kids went to school, played in the street again, and life went on. The fact that the major concussions came with the third explosion, after the kids were out of their beds, saved their lives. Today, forty years later, Mark is the father of a son, Mark 13, and Andrea has two daughters Emily, 19 and Amanda, 15. Through all the mayhem of April 28, 1973, there were miracles.