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Video of interview with Frank Ward

I had been on the grounds crew the previous year, five times.

And all those five times when it came over, it varied very little in its approach

coming over the New Jersey Pines

and then onto the field and making a big turn

and then decending and going down

hooking onto the mooring mast with the help of the grounds crew.

This time we waited

through rain and rain again and then clearing and so

when they finally got the go ahead sign,

the ship came in, and when somebody hollered, "Here's the ship, here it comes,"

it came out of the New Jersey Pines

and you could see it suddenly appear.

It was going faster, at a greater speed

than at any other time I had seen it.

It was higher in the altitude

than at any other time, and it seemed to be speeding towards the field.

And then it slowed down,

made a big U-turn,

and then started to decend toward the landing crews.

And, uh, I was staring right up captain Pruss who had his gondola window open and

had his elbows on the window sill, looking out surveying this situation.

And I, my thoughts at that time as I looked up,

we were pulling on the rope

and one chief petty officer from the tower of the

204 foot mooring mast would be yelling orders.

Bow ... Pull ... Starboard

What's you other side? -Port. -Port. Thank you.

Port, port, starboard, ... and guiding us and pulling.

And I looked up at Captain Pruss and I thought you know my thoughts went back

this is not a bad job because the future is

still ahead and perhaps someday

the sky will be filled with blimps

and big 700, 800 foot airliners

that'll be going from country to country and that wouldn't be a bad job, I might

look into that someday,

in few years, not thinking of a war or anything else like that.

Well as every group is pulling all along the line and I'm,

my thoughts I've told her, and then suddenly

somebody in our group said, "Hey, look down at the end there at the tail.

A bunch of fellas are moving, look at, they're running."

And so we looked and we're 800 feet away.

I didn't pay any attention.

I said, oh yeah, I don't know, may be possible maybe some oil or gas fell out

and they're running to get away from it.

And, 20-30 seconds went by, and then closer to the middle

of the ship another group or two started running

and I said, "Boy they must be, must be something wrong."

Oil or gas or something.

It was actually, it was not hydrogen

but if it were a form of a chemical

that's what it would have been.

So, I, ignorant about the whole thing, I start pulling with other men,

and others started running, and then suddenly,

the ship made a very precipitous drop right above us,

about 150 feet, or something like that, not much higher.

And somebody said, "Hey, oh look the fire!"

"She's caught on fire! Look at the back, it's burning, it's burning!"

"Look at everybody running!" So, I woke up with others,

and being young, it didn't take me long to lead the pack running.

And so I said, "Holy cow let's get outta here!"

So we ran, everybody scattered quickly.

I don't think we went 20 yards,

and then we heard this eerie

sound when the metal of the ship

hit the ground, the mud, and it started

crackling, and the fires burning along,

and very heavy black smoke, and the coverage,

the fabric is burning very quickly.

And so, when I heard all this, the eerie sound from when it hit and so on,

that brought me to a quick stop

and I turned to see what had taken place.

And these people, especially the civilians

who had paid the price of the ticket,

were in, ...frantic.

You can't really use the right word, but they were grabbing the metal,

and then falling because the metal was just red-hot.

It had turned red from the,

naturally the fire and so on, canvas fabric had burned quickly.

and they were falling, man in civilian suits who had paid.

One gentleman, middle-aged man, had held onto his briefcase.

He wouldn't let go of it, and he stumbled over the metal trying to get out.

A lady did the same thing,

grabbed a hold of the metal and

just, her hands I guess started to burn, fell.

Others were coming out.

What do you do in a situation like that?

And the the Chief Boatswain's Mate who was

the announcer giving order from the tower was yelling out,

"All crewmen", not crewman but the grounds crew,

"standby, Navy get in there and help Navy men, Marines, help!"

And there was not a large number Marines or sailors at that base.

So, they moved forward as best they could with the heat and all.

The civilians, myself and others, did not pay much attention to his orders and we moved forward as well.

But you couldn't get too close.

People were coming out burning, their clothing, and then falling in the mud

because it had rained heavily that day.

Puddles of mud and water, and it was a horrible sight to see.

Frank, I have a little surprise for you.

I went to the National Archives in College Park, Maryland

to investigate the Hindenburg Investigation Papers.

And, in addition to the testimony of everyone who was before the board,

they had a lot of documents that they had prepared in advance including documents from ground crewmen.

So here's one of those forms. Can you tell me the name at the top on the form?

Yeah, Francis E. Ward, Beechwood, New Jersey,

May 17th, 1937.

That's right, and so the first question says,

state your position in relation to the ship, including the distance from the ship.

And how did you answer that?

Starboard, bow line, approximate, 200 feet from the ship.

And in addition to these questions they asked you,

they gave you a form to fill out with a diagram of the Hindenburg.

And they asked you to mark where you were standing under the ship.

And you can see, you put an "X" right here on the Starboard bow side.

Everybody used to say,

"Gee I guess when you returned the next day you were a big hero," this, that, and the other.

I don't think three people mentioned it,

and the ones that I do remember very much

mentioning it, when I went out on field

the next day for track and baseball, that followed,

both coaches chewed me out,

"Where were you yesterday?"

And I said, well, "I went to pull the Hindenburg down."

"Why didn't you say something? We didn't know about it. Did you know about it?"

"No I didn't know about it. You could at least tell somebody,"

and, this, that, and the other, and blah blah blah.

So, I said, "I wasn't a great hero to coaches,"

ha, ha, 'cause they chewed me out for missing practice.

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Herb Morrison, WLS Chicago radio reporter, and engineer Charlie Nehlsen captured the Hindenburg disaster on lacquer disc.

It’s starting to rain again; it’s… the rain had slacked up a little bit. The back

motors of the ship are just holding it just enough to keep it from…

It’s burst into flames! … Get this, Charlie; get this, Charlie! It’s fire… and it’s

crashing! It’s crashing terrible! Oh, my! Get out of the way, please! It’s burning

and bursting into flames and the… and it’s falling on the mooring mast. And all the folks

agree that this is terrible; this is the one of the worst catastrophes in the world. … Crashing,

oh! Four or five hundred feet into the sky and it… it’s a terrific crash, ladies

and gentlemen. It’s smoke, and it’s in flames now; and the frame is crashing to the

ground, not quite to the mooring mast. Oh, the humanity! And all the passengers screaming

around here. I told you; it — I can’t even talk to people, their friends are out

there! Ah! It’s… it… it’s a… ah! I… I can’t talk, ladies and gentlemen.

Honest, it’s just laying there, a mass of smoking wreckage, and everybody can hardly

breathe and talk… I’m sorry. Honest, I can hardly breathe. I’m going to step inside

where I cannot see it. Charlie, that’s terrible. I… Listen folks, I’m going to have to

stop for a minute, because I’ve lost my voice… This is the worst thing I’ve ever


The Lost Map of the Hindenburg

Hindenburg on fire
Seventy-five years after the tragedy, a curator at the National Postal Museum made a discovery that shed new light on what happened to the doomed dirigible.

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This video features the heroic story of the ship's mail clerks and ends with remarkable underwater footage of the ship.

Titanic, completed in 1912 she was called a floating palace, the queen of the ocean,
the largest most luxurious vessel of any kind ever constructed.
Designers and engineers spent three years
and millions of dollars to ensure that the liner would offer passengers
the very latest in speed, comfort, and safety.
The press raved about Titanic's design, declaring the liner
superior to anything afloat and practically unsinkable.
Yet as most school children know, the great ship Titanic did sink,
on her maiden voyage, after striking an iceberg in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean.
What is less well remembered today
is that Titanic's full name was RMS Titanic.
"RMS" stood for Royal Mail Steamship, a prestigious title
indicating the ship was legally commissioned by the British Monarchy
and the US Government to carry mail.
In the case of Titanic that mail also carries with it continuing mystery.
Wednesday, April 10th, 1912,
the Titanic set sail from Southampton, England.
On board, passengers enjoy the comforts of the world's most magnificent liner.
Meanwhile several decks below, five Sea Post clerks,
three American and two British, are busy stowing
sorting and processing hundreds of packages and more than 1,700 bags of mail.
Later that same day, April 10th,
Titanic makes intermediate stops in Cherbourg, France
and then Queenstown, Ireland where more passengers and mail are loaded.
Titanic finally departs for New York
on the afternoon of April 11th, carrying 2,200 passengers and crew
and, among its tons of cargo, more than 6,000,000 letters and packages.
Three nights later, Titanic strikes an iceberg and sinks
killing 1,500 people including all five postal clerks on board.
The wreck of the Titanic was first discovered at the bottom of the icy Atlantic in September of 1985.
The pictures taken since then
are a reminder of the human dimensions of this great tragedy.
But it's only in recent years that researchers from
RMS Titanic Incorporated have been able to explore the more narrow
interiors of the sunken ship, including for the first time
the mailroom and post office.
The search team must first dive 2 and 1/4 miles,
nearly four kilometers, in a submersible called Nautile.
Once they reach the Titanic site
divers launch this smaller remote-controlled vehicle nicknamed Robin.
Robin first descends into one of Titanic's passenger decks
and finds these light fixtures.
Next, Robin searches for a passageway down into Titanic's hull.
This bunker hatch, located near the bow of the ship, leads to a cargo shaft
immediately adjacent to the mail room.
The hatch is found,
and Robin goes inside.
As she passes through "D" Deck, Robin locates these bars
which separated the cargo shaft from a third-class recreation area.
Further down the shaft,
Robin arrives at "G" Deck - location of Titanic's post office.
On the left, and overturned table.
In back, these folding gates
once separated Registered Mail from other mail.
Finally, Robin descends to the orlop deck,
site of the mail storage and sorting room.
This mossy pink material, some unknown sea life growing on the canvas mailbags.
So, with the help of some extraordinary technology,
human beings have seen Titanic's mail rooms
for the first time in nearly ninety years.
Yet, 6,000,000 mysteries remain here.
What letters to loved ones, cherished photographs,
or family heirlooms might still be resting here?
What lives were forever changed
because this mail was never delivered?
Some questions, technology can never answer.