When his time came to speak, Clyde Stevens looked at the crowd and his emotions began to take over.
“I praise God for allowing my wife and I to be here for the first time,” Stevens said Thursday as about 50 people came together for the 49th anniversary of the Piatt Street plane crash.
The crash happened at 9:31 a.m. on Jan. 16, 1965. A KC-135 tanker, loaded with 31,000 pounds of jet fuel, crashed into the street, sending waves of jet fuel rolling through the neighborhood at 20th and Piatt.
The crash killed seven crew members and 23 residents, among them Clyde Stevens’ father, Dewey.
“I was sent away by my father because he was crippled from the hip down and wasn’t able to care for me properly,” Stevens said Thursday. “He had his brother who lived in California come and pick me up and take me out there.
“When the plane crash happened I was living in Pasadena, California, and my uncle said, ‘Your dad died but you can’t go because there is no body.’
“I grew up without a father. I grew up wondering what I would have been like if I had my father.”
Stevens looked out at the crowd and began to sob.
“These people here knew my dad. … I didn’t know him,” Stevens said as his body shook and tears fell near the black granite monument with the names of the victims, including his father, etched into the stone.
After the memorial, Stevens said he learned from talking with people that his father was a good man.
“I figured that the Lord had him send me away before this tragedy,” Stevens said.
The 45-minute service on Thursday encouraged survivors and victims’ family members to speak up and recall their stories.
Victor Daniels said he was 10 years old when the crash happened.
“Fire. Smoke. Streets on fire,” Daniels recalled before the ceremony. “This was the worst aviation disaster in Kansas history as far as fatalities on the ground.”
Darrell Woodard wore a small piece of the wreckage on a necklace around his neck and touched it as he spoke about that morning.
“You couldn’t do nothing but run,” he said.