Fourteen people in Anchorage received Carnegie medals for their heroism – here are their stories

Part of a pursuit weekly series on local history by local historian David Reamer. Have a question about Anchorage’s history or an idea for a future article? Go to the form at the bottom of this story.

On January 25, 1904, a massive explosion rocked the Allegheny Coal Company’s Harwick mine north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. A planned detonation to expose a coal seam ignited methane gas and coal dust in the air. The explosion was so massive that it demolished a building above the mine shaft. A mule in the mine was thrown 300 feet from the mine. Of the 180 miners and mine workers at the time, only one survived, a badly burned 16-year-old boy. During the rescue attempt, the poisonous gas killed two other people, Daniel Lyle and Selwyn Taylor.

Lyle and Taylor’s sacrifice inspired industrialist and philanthropist Andrew Carnegie, and that same year he established the Carnegie Hero Fund to honor these civilian heroes. In their own words, “The Carnegie Hero Fund awards the Carnegie Medal to individuals in the United States and Canada who risk their lives to an extraordinary degree in saving or attempting to save the lives of others. Fourteen people received Carnegie Medals for heroic deeds in Anchorage, and here are their stories.

Nine of the 14 winners were honored for their actions in response to a single accident. On August 3, 1951, Air Force Lt. Donald Seiler was attempting an emergency landing at the New International Airport when he crashed his F-94 Starfire in swampy water approximately 1,000 feet east of the runway. is West. A witness told the Anchorage Daily Times: “He took off trying to steer the plane into the wind before landing. It was the last time we saw him. The next thing we saw was a huge ball of fire, like a napalm bomb going off.

The aircraft struck a clump of trees and crossed a small lake before crashing into a clearing. The badly injured and unconscious Seiler was trapped inside the still intact cockpit. Rescuers converged on the site from multiple directions and dug through the tall flames surrounding the wreckage. They freed Seiler from his bonds and took him to the nearby lake. Within two minutes, the remains of the plane exploded, igniting his ordinance. Bullets howled around them as Seiler was loaded onto a seaplane and flown to Lake Hood, where he received initial treatment before another flight back to Elmendorf Air Force Base.

The pilot suffered a concussion, burns and a broken back, but recovered after six months. Air Force medics noted that the care provided by rescuers had prevented further injury. Seiler’s wife said: “My husband does not remember the details of the accident, but when I told him he owed his life to the brave men who fought their way through the fire and the explosive bullets to bring him to safety, he said he wished he could shake their hands and thank them personally for what they did.

Nine months later, the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission awarded medals to the nine rescuers: Herbert Enberg, Ward Gay, Kenneth Gerondale, Lloyd Miller, Walter Nagel, Joseph Parker, Daniel Parmenter, Charles Stowell and Fred Whitmire.

On October 19, 1964, two tankers, the MV Sirrah and the SS Santa Maria, collided off Point Woronzof. As the two ships crashed into each other, sparks ignited a massive fireball. The resulting tower of smoke was visible throughout Anchorage. Jack Price, a steward on the Sirrah, described the scene to the Daily News: “We were about to serve dinner when suddenly the bow of this ship hit us on the starboard side. Almost instantly, flames erupted – they were everywhere. We ran forward to try to fight the fire. The fire hoses were broken, we had them running but it was of no use. The flames came too quickly.

Near the tankers were two tugs waiting to guide the ships to port. Husband and wife Jack and Lois Anderson were aboard one, the West Wind, and their son, Andy, was captain of the other, the Arctic Wind. Jack and Lois pulled the West Wind alongside the burning Sirrah and saved 31 sailors. Meanwhile, Andy has answered the call of the less threatened Santa Maria.

Price recalled, “We ran to that boat next door. It was some sort of harbor boat, commanded by a man, I believe, by the name of Anderson. We owe this guy a lot. It took courage, and that’s the only way to put it, for him to hold that boat alongside. Her bow fender was burning and we could have left at any time. Believe me, personally, I would say we owe him our lives.

Only one man died, a sailor from Sirrah whose body was never found after he presumably tried to swim to shore. The others survived largely due to the heroic efforts of the three Andersons. In 1966, each of the Andersons received a Carnegie Medal. For more details on the wreckage and salvage, see the 2021 article I wrote about the incident.

On September 8, 1984, David Stokes, his four children and Denise Ratcliff set out canoeing on Jewel Lake. The overloaded canoe lay low in the water and the party struggled to steer in high winds. Then, about 100 meters from shore, the dinghy capsized. They tried to hold on to the boat, but in the freezing water they struggled to maintain their grip on the rolling canoe.

Eighteen-year-old Kurt Gain and a friend were walking along the lake when they heard a loud noise. Says Gain, “I just heard that woman scream. I looked and saw this boat upside down in the water, and three children floating around. He jumped into the water, swam to the canoe and brought two of the children to shore. It took everything he had to reach solid ground, his bare feet going numb and dragging in the mud.

A resident on the other side of the lake used his canoe to rescue the father. Firefighters who arrived quickly saved the other two children. Ratcliff, the only one of the group not wearing a life jacket, was picked up by divers 30 minutes later. She died later that evening at Providence Hospital. Two years later, Gain received a Carnegie Medal and $2,500.

Finally, there was schoolteacher Jeff Harriman, acclaimed for his heroism in an incident more ingrained in recent memory. On May 7, 2001, Jason Pritchard entered Mountain View Elementary School with a filet knife and cut three children in a line for breakfast. Then he walked to a classroom.

Harriman, a former bull rider, saw Pritchard in the halls and followed him. Harriman told the Daily News: “I just reacted – something was wrong with our children. Someone had to take care of them and take charge of the situation. Pritchard grabbed another child and cut his throat. Harriman rushed over and pushed him away from the boy. The teacher grabbed a plastic bin for a science kit and held it up like a shield to defend the boy on the ground.

“It was a really fun feeling,” Harriman said. “After I walk into the room and commit – like your hand is caught in the cookie jar. You know you are in a situation that you have to go through. During a tense period, he pushed Pritchard away and tried to reason with him before the police arrived and disarmed the attacker.

All four children survived. A year later, Harriman received his Carnegie Medal and $3,500. Pritchard died in prison in 2019.

As serious as these tragedies were – plane crash, ship collision, drowning and school attack – they were also moments that brought out the best in people. All of these Carnegie Prize winners could have acted differently. The nine people who rescued Seiler from a burning plane could have rationally chosen not to risk their lives in flames and bullets. The three Andersons could have pulled their tugs away from a ship that could have exploded. Gain could have turned away from the freezing water, just like another would-be rescuer. And Harriman could have reacted differently than to charge headfirst at a man with a knife. Yet they all acted selflessly to save others. Rejoice that this trait survives.

• • •

Key Sources:

“2 local men receive hero medals.” Anchorage Daily Times, January 28, 1966, p. 12.

“9 men win hero awards.” Anchorage Daily Times, May 2, 1953, 1.

Broadt, Zach. “Harwick Mine Explosion.” University of Pittsburgh, Archives and Special Collections, 2007.

“Jet pilot rescuers can get citations.” Anchorage Daily Times, August 7, 1951, p. 1.

Mandak, Joe. “Anchorage teacher who saved boy honored by Carnegie Hero Commission.” Anchorage Daily News, December 19, 2002, A-1, A-5.

“Mission of the Carnegie Hero Fund Commission.” Carnegie Hero Fund.

Rossignol, Susan. “Commission rewards saving heroism of young Alaskan.” Anchorage Daily News, May 7, 1986, C1.

O’Harra, Doug. “The bean bag gun stuns the attacker.” Anchorage Daily News, May 9, 2001, B-1, B-5.

Perala, André. “An evening of laughter turns to tragedy.” Anchorage Daily News, September 10, 1984, A-1, A–12.

“Rescuers face fire, bullets to save pilot.” Anchorage Daily Times, August 4, 1951, p. 1.

Totten, Mary O. “Men of the ‘Santa Maria’ Tell Their Collision Stories.” Anchorage Daily News, October 20, 1964, 2.

Totten, Mary O. “The tug played a major part in the rescue.” Anchorage Daily News, October 20, 1964, 1, 2.

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