Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Tornado of '64: Monitor Leader reporter tackles difficult assignment

Maury Vincent at work in the newsroom.
I’ve reported on weather-related disasters including a prairie fire that threatened a town before destroying a man's livelihood but no lives were taken.
That was not the case for one of my Macomb Daily predecessors.
On May 8, 1964, right around the time Maury Vincent would have been dotting his I’s and crossing his T’s on weekend stories, a tornado touched down in Pontiac.
It killed one woman. Then it headed east for Chesterfield Township where it took 13 more lives and left hundreds homeless, before escaping into the clouds over Lake St. Clair.
It was also the end of Vincent’s weekend.
I'm only guessing because I never had the chance to meet the award-winning journalist. Vincent died on Oct. 5, 2011. Still, having heard the stories shared by journalists who had the pleasure of working with him -- he worked late into the night, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Doing the job of reporting the news but also provide accurate information for those who need it most.
Residents hurt by the storm.
The biggest question being where their missing loved ones might be found.
I am a storyteller but I can only aspire to reach the level of a Maury Vincent, who was assigned the difficult task of reporting the deaths in Chesterfield.
Here we are 50 years later.
Looking at a story about the people who died handled with great accuracy and respect from Maury Vincent’s Sunday report, "Morgue was the last stop for the missing," on May 10, 1964:

Maury’s opening lines…
“Outside the door, a cardboard box filled with torn and bloddy clothing stood as mute testimony to the scene inside the room.
There, on stretchers placed neatly in a row, lay the crumpled bodies of the tornado victims.
This was the morgue of Martha T. Berry Hospital Friday.
Knots of people stood in the hallways.
Many of them had come to inquire about missing relatives.
A husky man walked in looking for his wife and daughter. He said his name was Joseph Soloc, age 28 and a machine shop operator. He lived (on) Forbes, Chesterfield Township.
A few moments later he came out of the morgue room.
His face was blank, jaw set.
He had found his wife Donna Mae, 24, and daughter Wnedy Lou, 6 months.
Soloc said he was driving home when the twister hit.

Maury shares the words of a grieving father…
“I saw the cloud,” he said. “I jumped out of the car and ran toward my house.
“I got to the house and there was nothing there. It’s all gone… flattened out. I went running through the fields looking for my family.
“Everybody was looking.”
Nearby, he found his two sons, Joseph, 6, and Alan, 5.
After getting medical help for the boys and sending them off to hospitals, Soloc resumed the search for his wife and daughter.
The morgue was his last stop.
A man and his wife walked in, looking for a missing daughter.
They walked out of the morgue room, wearing the same blank expressions.
“…she just had her hair cut,” the woman said softly.
Then she broke into sobs.
Her husband put his arm around her and pulled her into the elevator.
The closing doors framed them in their silent moment of grief… two people touched by the screeching death of a vicious tornado that screamed out of blackened skies on a quiet Friday afternoon…
Occasionally someone ventured a smile, but the atmosphere dispelled any attempt at cordiality.

So you never forget…
A box of corrugated paper, labeled “mortuary paper,” stood open beside the morgue door.
Among a cluster of people nearby, Dr. Raymond G. Markle, a Macomb County coroner noted the names of the dead as survivors went through the brief, but painful process of identification.
“They’re all women and children,” said Dr. Markle, inclining his head toward the covered bodies.

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