Woman visits helicopter crash site where her father died
by Associated Press Wire
September 23, 2012 12:20 AM | 705 views | 0 0 comments | 4 4 recommendations | email to a friend | print
ATHENS — Without ever having met him, Tandie Taylor Fox recently sought out some long overdue closure when she visited the Winterville site of her father’s death in a helicopter crash nearly 60 years ago.

Fox also met the people she called heroes; the men and woman who tried in 1953 to save her dad, Private First Class W.T. Taylor, as well as the pilot from the flames generated by the crash.

On Feb. 10, 1953, those then-young men and woman, mostly freshmen at Winterville High School, witnessed the horrific crash that took the lives of two Army men, including Fox’s father.

Now in their 70s, one of the men who saw the crash remembers two helicopters flying by, but then saw a third drop from the sky in a plume of smoke.

“We were kids back then,” said Billy Williams. “It was an unusual thing to see a helicopter.”

“I saw the shadow of the helicopter,” said Billy Bowman. “And then I told a teacher that a helicopter had crashed and he told me to ‘go to class.’ I didn’t go to class.”

The boys and one girl, Sherry Elder Wages, rushed to the scene of the accident minutes after the crash.

They took their hats, one of them a coonskin cap since “Davey Crocket” was a big television hit at the time, and ran to a nearby creek. They filled their caps with water and put out the fire, but it was too late.

Taylor and the pilot, Lt. Alfred Felker, had perished.

Wages recalled vividly that Felker’s wedding band had melted to his ring finger.

“That fire must have been really hot,” she said. “I’ll never forget it.”

Both Fox’s mother, Helen, and her father were 23 at the time of the crash. Fox, still in her mother’s womb when her father died, was born five months later. She is now 59.

Fox said her mother never talked about her father.

“It was never discussed,” Fox said. “My father was one of eight children and when I was little ... my mother would take me to see my grandparents, and every time I went they would cry.

“I remember being little and crawling up into my mother’s lap and saying, ‘I’m not going there anymore,’ and she said ‘Why are you not going? Those are your grandparents,” and I said, ‘They don’t like me.’”

A box of letters that Fox found sparked her interest in finding out what had happened to her dad.

“My mother had never shown me the letters. ... I didn’t even know they existed until she passed away,” Fox said, “And in her things she had this little bundle of letters tied with a ribbon and that’s where I found ... the military papers.

“I remember being little and taking my bath in the smoke house and seeing a box that had my daddy’s name on it and the words ‘personal effects’ on it,” she said. “I didn’t understand what personal effects meant, but I remember reading his name, William T. Taylor, and thinking that he was in that box.”

Fox’s mother never opened the box until a major move in 1972. There were military items in it, such as a change of clothes, a razor kit and other necessities, but inside of it was a smaller box that contained her father’s wedding band.

“My mother never remarried even though she was a young, good-looking woman,” Fox said. “She turned dates down left and right when I was little.”

When she got older, Fox asked her why she had decided not to ever marry again.

“And mom told me that she would never love anyone ever again as much as she had loved my daddy,” she said.

They had been married about three years when he died.

Taylor was stationed in Texas and had just arrived at Fort Benning, Ga., about a month before the accident.

Finding out more about the crash was just something Fox has always wanted to do, but that wasn’t an easy task.

She currently lives in Sante Fe, Tenn., and had never visited Winterville before.

When she was trying to find out more information, she emailed several different places like the airport.

“But I would always get the same response, which was that no one had any records, so they couldn’t help me,” she said.

Fox then contacted Wendy Bond, municipal city clerk in Winterville, who took on the project of helping her.

“It became an obsession for me,” said Bond, “to help this stranger, now friend, to find closure in this life quest.”

Bond was able to contact people in school at the time of the crash and one person led to another, and by the time Fox came out to Georgia for her visit, at least six men and one woman who witnessed the ordeal had been contacted.

Overcome with emotions, Fox met with those heroes who had tried to rescue her dad.
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