By Dana Stubbs – Special to the Navarro County Gazette

Braniff Flight 352, May 3, 1968 – Dawson, Navarro County, Texas

Four years ago, a bunch of folks met in Dawson to remember and reflect on the events fifty years past.

That day, May 3, 1968, it was storming with downpours of rain, scattered hail with lightening flashing and thunder roaring. It had been fifty years since lives were lost in the skies over Dawson and the towns people organized to help search for the plane parts or help feed the first responders. I was honored to be a part of the program. Next year, it will be 55 years and the Texas State Historical Marker which was finally erected should be dedicated. This year, I want to share with you my part of the program.  

May 3, 2018, Dawson Texas Gym

As a researcher of Navarro County history, I have always been interested in this event. It is one of those historical occasions that mark time; you remember what you were doing when it happened.

I wanted to learn about the cause of the crash and what the people did to help. I wanted to learn about the people on board… what they were doing, where they were going, where they came from.

It touched the lives of Dawson and all Navarro County along with Freestone, Limestone and Hill Counties. The people came together to perform one act of great compassion.

The people on board all have their story

The two stewardess were both teachers who changed their career choices for the more exciting adventures of flying. One was from North Dakota, the other New Jersey. One of the girls had traded with another hostess as she wanted off on her regular timed flight so should not have been on the flight. They both had great reputations of keeping their passengers comfortable and at ease.

Two sisters were traveling together to go visit their ill cousin in the Texas panhandle. One gentleman was running so late he had his chauffeur brother speed across town so he could make it on time to fly home with his brother-in-law. There was also a housewife whose husband had been promoted at his work, leaving her children with relatives in Galveston to go “check out” the home he had selected for them in Oklahoma.

The businessman for Southland Corporation always chose to fly over driving for his business trips. On this day, however, he had a premonition. He told his wife that morning he had a very uneasy feeling and did not want to make this trip… but he did.

The greater part of the passengers were business men. A few of the well-known companies represented on the flight were A&P, Armco, Dow, DuPont, IBM, ITT, Southland, and Swift. There were 5 insurance men. Some of these men finished their business prematurely therefore decided to take an earlier flight than first anticipated and there were some that had to take the later flight because something simply came up. These are all stories that hold an interest to everyone.

Take into consideration one person could serve in several categories for these statistics. There were those that as Americans we should always in all ways be thankful for their service to our country. There were 10 active soldiers on leave, 23 old soldiers of World War II and 15 Korea veterans. They had fought the fight for our freedom and I for one will forever be grateful for all our service men.

The young Assembly of God preacher just getting back from evangelistic services in Venezuela had spent some time in Houston with his parents. He was on his way to a three day weekend meeting in Amarillo to tell stories of his adventures. The Texas state representative 1966 “Rookie of the Year” making a name for himself in Texas politics and the Country Music singer climbing his way to the top of the record charts were forever missed in their vocations. The singer was very well known locally for his music at Panther Hall and the Big D Jamboree.

Two events had multiple people traveling on this flight. The Texas State Medical Association Convention in Houston was coming to a close that weekend. Five persons in the medical field were traveling home from the week’s assembly with their associates. Also, the coming weekend had 3 or 4 travelers going into Dallas for the Naval Air Reserve Squadron training drills.

Others were simply on their way to or from a visit with family or friends. There were two college students on board. The oldest person was aged 70 and the youngest was 18.

When the flight vanished from radar view on that May 3, 1968

It flashed into the view of the people near Dawson

The crash site of Braniff International Flight 352. – Courtesy photo

At first there was shock, then fear, then reality, then compassion, then work. As soon as the first responders were on scene they knew they had a dreadful job in front of them. Because of the current blinding rain, lighting and hail storm the Texas prairie had been turned into a mud bath. As they walked and worked they had to stop very often to clear their feet from mud so they could continue the search for the nuts and bolts of the plane. The roads were hard to travel so special equipment was brought in for transportation from the pasture land to town.

Telephone workers on strike put their picket signs aside and helped by installing emergency lines and equipment.

The local ladies organized to help. They ran home for sheets, quilts, and blankets. For days at the volunteer fire station they had coffee pots full and hot, and sandwiches stacked for all the recovery workers and for families of the deceased. The Red Cross and Salvation Army made a lasting impression on the men of the National Guard when they asked for each of the 100’s of men’s special breakfast order, i.e. three eggs over easy. The commanders told them to fix something and the men would eat it. There would be no special orders, but that offer was greatly appreciated.

There were between 150 and 200 people that lost a parent that day. It has been fifty years and the lives that were so touched, whether a worker on site, or a family member left behind, recall it very clearly. We come together in remembrance of the day the sky exploded over Dawson and lives were changed forever.

The historical marker of Braniff International Flight 352. Courtesy photo

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