Friday, 28 March 2008 - 11:38 AM CDT
"Clayton E. Hill"
Tornados are particularly interesting to me every spring. The recent Atlanta tornado and a storm chasers’ TV show about the last year’s Greensburg, Kansas tornado caused me to research the internet recently about the 1957 Ruskin Heights tornado.
Your web-site is fascinating. I never knew the Ruskin tornado was estimated at F-5, nor did I know that actual photos existed. The vivid descriptions told on your site really added to what I was told by my dad, as my dad survived his close encounter that May night.
He was going to help his friend, “Fire Chief” Bunch, paint his house and had stopped at Homer’s bar on Highway 71 on the way. When he left the bar, he was 1 -1/2 miles to the right and slightly ahead of the tornado’s path. He drove north on 71 then turned right onto Blue Ridge Boulevard.
The tornado caught-up with him from the left, more-or-less in parallel to his route. When he realized his predicament, the tornado was very, very close. Dad was just across the street from a shopping center that was completely destroyed, and less than a minute from turning left into its direct path prior to destroying the high school. Its winds were so strong that he couldn’t open the car door to get in the ditch, so he just “took to the floorboard.” He said it felt like 1000’s of B-Bs were hitting him in the back, but he came out of it with just small cuts and abrasions. The rear window was shattered, but laid intact on the back shelf under the ladder that he had suspended on the dash, front seat and back-seat shelf. His pockets were full of grit, and a small sliver of wood, about twice the size of a tooth pick, was driven into the left-rear tire.
After regaining his composure, he stayed to offer medical first-aid and help to survivors into the early morning hours the next day (He was Navy medical corpsman stationed at Olathe, Kansas).
Our family, one older sister, one younger brother, a baby sister, and I lived about a mile from Richards-Gebaur AFB in the Belvedere Heights Sub-division in Grandview, Missouri. My dad trained mom and me in the tornado drill at the time: Leave the doors open/unlocked, so our basement-less neighbors across the street could join us (We never locked them in those days anyway, and the garage door was always open for the Boots, the dog); open the windows; take the transistor radio down stairs; move the ping-pong table under the steps in the northwest corner of the basement; and take cover. That is exactly what we did! Except that particular storm we also prayed. We had the radio and TV on after we knew the event had passed, and we waited anxiously by the phone knowing exactly where my dad was going that evening. Luckily, it was for a call that never came! However, early the next morning, we were all very-much relieved when dad finally did come home. The next day, mom drove us to High Grove Elementary in our beat-up ‘52 Dodge – windows blown out and all.
The news and photos in the Kansas City Star/Times were extremely interesting - even to a second-grader – especially knowing my dad was there. My mom and dad never took us by the destroyed sights except in our normal routes to KC on Highway 71, on Noland Road through Knobtown to Liberty, and through Martin City on the way to the base. That is - except once - to that spot at the side of the road, then to the high school, and the turn-around, and then back to Grandview. He did not want to be reminded of his terrible experience (much the same as any of the bad about WWII), nor did he want my mom to rubber-neck at the expense of others’ ill fate (even though that was her nature).
Later, before we moved to Jefferson City after my dad’s retirement, I had a baseball practice at an elementary school or park in Ruskin Heights that was in the direct path. My coach made mention that it was good that we were not here that May 20, 1957 night. In the eighth grade, I “sat the bench” as a “third-stringer” in the Grandview - Baptiste Junior High football game at the Ruskin field with the tornado memories more prevalent than any football plays. In my adult life with the National Guard, I occasionally had duty at the Military Park in Raytown and learned that some of the buildings there were also destroyed that night. Last year, the 50th anniversary year, I made the trip along Blue Ridge Boulevard, north one day, and south the next. On the return trip, I stopped a few minutes to read the memorial and remembered my dad’s ordeal and others’ calamity that day.
Had he finished his (last) beer a minute or so earlier and been a victim, our families’ whole lives would have changed – he would not have retired from the Navy, and who knows where or what would have been different in a single-parent home. Hospital Medical Corpsman Chief Clayton E. Hill, Jr. (USNR) died in November 1991, but his selfless service to the injured that night and early morning must have been appreciated. So, I have taken this opportunity to record his help to unknown others that fateful night historically at your web-site. Maybe someone there that evening told others or remembered a short, mustached, nearly-bald man helping after the tornado.
Clayton E. “Bud” Hill, III
Jefferson City, MO
P.S. I was 8 years old that day. I attended St. Catherine’s in Hickman Mills in kindergarten and first grade, and Grandview schools through the 8th grade prior to moving to Jefferson City. I had to leave many friends, family and memories in the KC area, but none are forgotten.