The heroism of Forrest McKeown and Bill Callaway of Holden, Missouri who gave their lives saving others in July 1965 and as recognized in the United States Congressional Record of September 1965
ed: Thanks to Patty McKeown Raker for the picture of her father and other information.
Carnegie Hero Fund Awards were awarded to the families of Forrest McKeown and Bill Callaway of Holden, Missouri for giving their lives in their heroic and successful efforts to save lives. The foundation also provided a lifetime remuneration to the widows.
22860 CONGRESSIONAL RECORD-HOUSE September 2, 1965
HEROISM AT HOLDEN DESERVES RECOGNITION
The SPEAKER pro tempore.John W. McCormack Under a previous order of the House, the gentleman from Missouri [Mr. WILLIAM J. RANDALL] is recognized for 15 minutes.
Mr. RANDALL. Mr. Speaker, on Monday evening, July 19, west-central and northwest Missouri were subjected to sudden flash floods resulting from almost unprecedented rainfall. In one place the fall amounted to 13 inches in a matter of hours, so heavy that it could not be recorded on a 10-inch rain gage. In our congressional district, situated in west-central Missouri, the area hardest hit was in the western portion of Johnson County, Mo., where approximately 8 inches of rain fell suddenly between about 10:30 p.m. and midnight, July 19, 1965, thus providing the setting for the enactment of one of the worst tragedies that have visited Johnson County in several decades.
The events that transpired on that long night produced two heroes who gave their lives for others and displayed repeatedly the bravery and courage of the many volunteers who fearlessly and without thought of their own safety battled the floodwaters in an effort to save five persons in peril.
Today it is my purpose to try to describe the events of that evening in sequence and to provide a summary of these two supreme acts of heroism that may be preserved as a part of the CONGRESSIONAL RECORD.
Because it is necessary to keep so many near-simultaneous events in mind when describing an evening of this kind, strict sequence or chronological order cannot be maintained at all times. My information has been assembled from eight or nine different sources in the form of correspondence forwarded to my office. I have tried faithfully to reconstruct what happened this night, based on such sources. I ask for forgiveness if I am in error for I was not an eyewitness to what happened.
Early on this ill-fated evening, Mrs. James T. Henley who lives northwest of Holden, Mo., had taken a group of young people in her car to a 4-H skating party at Warrensburg, Mo. In this group were included her two sons, Mike, age 10, and Frank, age 8, along with David Dodson, age 11, and Steven Zvacek, age 10. The rain had been very heavy while they were in Warrensburg. On the way home when she saw that the floodwaters had covered Highway 131, Mrs. Henley attempted to take a country road to their home. Although this road was partially covered with water, an effort was made to get across.
This attempt to drive through some water over a country road set into motion a chain of events that unfolded in grim sequence during the long night ahead.
Shortly after entering the water, the Henley car stalled. It was only a matter of minutes until water engulfed the automobile. At first, the children were so panic-stricken they would hardly move, but as the car began to sink into the water, Mrs. Henley managed to get the four youngsters and herself on top of the car. Fortunately, Mrs. Henley maintained the presence of mind to honk the horn of the car in an effort to call for help. She left the car lights on, hoping someone would see the light. Together, in unison, she and the young people called for help. Mrs. Henley, careful not to suggest it to her sons or their friends, soon realized that their screams for help might not be heard because of the roar of the water and the added noise produced by the heavy downpour of rain.
Where the Henly car was swept away, west of 131.
For the next hour and a half, from 10:30 p.m. until midnight, the honking of the horn and the screams for help continued almost without interruption but with precious little encouragement that they would ultimately be heard.
The first persons to find the stranded automobile were the grandparents of young David Dodson, Mr. and Mrs. Billingsley. At about 12:15 a.m. on the morning of July 20, they became so worried because their grandson had not returned from the skating party that they went out to check if the car could have experienced some trouble. Going to the south side of Blackwater Creek they heard the cries of Mrs. Henley and the children. The Billingsley’s lost no time going to the Deweyville store where they called the Holden Fire Department. Just a little later Dewey Lahue, owner of the principal place of business in the village of Deweyville, worked his way close enough to the Henley car to yell that help was on the way.
At almost the same time the Billingsly call was made to Holden, help was coming from another direction.
Over on the north side of Blackwater Creek is the farm home of the William Callaway family. Mrs. Callaway had arisen about midnight to get some medication for her husband, Bill. He had visited a physician that evening suffering from an abdominal infection causing pain. While she was in the kitchen to get a glass, she noticed water coming in the back door from the heavy rain. In opening the inner door to check the storm door, she thought she heard faint cries for help. As she put it, "I called Bill and we listened together for quite some time. Just as we started to close the door we heard the cries again. After that, Bill dressed immediately, and together we got into the car and drove toward Blackwater Creek." South of Deweyville, the Callaways were met by Lester Long who told them a woman and four children were standing on top of a car enveloped by the water of Blackwater Creek and needed a boat to be rescued. Bill Callaway turned his car around forthwith and went back to his home to get his boat. He hurried back to Blackwater Creek and found the Holden Fire Department had arrived at the point of high water. With the help of three or four men who had arrived at the scene, Bill Callaway managed to put his 14-foot aluminum fishing boat into the water. Charles Edwards, one of the firemen present, volunteered to make the trip with Bill to the stranded car. Callaway and Edwards successfully reached the car upstream.
There they found that the rampaging waters had risen to within 3 or 4 inches of the top of the car. Standing on top of the car were Mrs. Henley, her two sons, David Dodson and Steven Zvacek. It was a happy moment. The brave rescuers had successfully reached the car and all were found safe. But the feeling of happiness was very short-lived. Shortly after all five were put in Callaway's boat, it was hit in the front by some floating object. The rear end of the boat was swung around with such terrific force that its motor was put out of operation when the propeller struck the car. Those some distance away from this heart-rending scene could only hear the rush of water and screaming of children, punctured with occasional exclamations of "Oh, my God!" After the boat had capsized, Bill Callaway managed to hold onto Mrs. Henley and three of the boys-David Dodson, Steven Zvacek, and Mike Henley. Clinging together and holding to Bill Callaway, they were thrown by the swift current against a small tree that had been bent over by the heavy current.
Charles Edwards and Frankie Henley became separated and drifted away from the others. After clinging to branches of a tree, Charles and Frankie climbed another tree to safety where they spent the rest of the long night. They were picked up by boat the next morning at about 5 a.m.
Callaway held the other people up in the water up to a tree for approximately 3 hours against a current so rapid that it took all the strength he could muster to keep from being swept away. Just one second's relaxation meant death for those depending on him and for himself. Although they were also holding on to a submerged log sticking out of the water and the top of a bent-over tree, the current was frequently so swift as to force their heads backward and partially underwater. On each such occasion, Bill Callaway found the strength to pull the mother and children back against the current to a place near the bent-over tree where they could keep their heads above water. Finally, about 3 a.m., members of the Holden Fire Department coupled
September 2, 1965 CONGRESSIONAL RECORD-HOUSE 22861
together sections of fire hose and added sections of rope which were tied to the structure of the bridge, to form a lifeline. Then the night watchman for the city of Holden, Bill Meyer, was assigned the unwelcome task to take the end of the rope to Callaway. Moments before, Callaway had called out for haste in rescue effort by making it clear that the combined weight of the children in the swift current was taking his strength. He yelled back he could not hold on much longer. Bill Meyer swam out and by help from the lifeline made repeated trips to take Mrs. Henley, David Dodson, and Steve Zvacek to safety: Meyer himself suffered from such great exhaustion he was unable to return for Callaway and Mike Henley. No one else at the scene was strong enough or a good enough swimmer to make the trip even with the help of the improvised lifeline made of coupled fire hose and sections of rope. We should pause at this point in our description to consider the fact that if a lesser man than Callaway had realized he was near the end of his strength, he could have easily concluded the time had come to save himself. After all, he had rescued the entire group from the top of the car. He had kept them from being separated while others came after them one by one. Why not head for shore and leave little Mike to fend for himself? But this was not the way Bill Callaway lived or died. Mike, Steve, David, and Mrs. Henley had been brought in by means of the hose and rope lifeline, Bill Callaway promised to bring in Mike as well. In these last moments of these desperate efforts, Raymond Day, fire chief of Holden, Mo., held a spotlight on Callaway. He could be heard to say he could not move his arms. Something happened.
Callaway was heard to cry out, "I am paralyzed." Then he sank from sight in the waters of Blackwater Creek. With him went little Mike Henley. No one knows for sure what happened in these last few minutes. There are few hard facts from which the events may be reconstructed. But these facts have given credence to two theories about what must have happened. First, there is advanced the theory supported by the considerable fact that just before Bill Callaway went down his arms were held up, cradled in a rigid position as if still holding Mike. This must be true because when he was found on the following Wednesday morning, his arms were still in that circled shape. There is no doubt Bill Callaway died from exhaustion. His wife who was at the scene in view of the dramatic struggle to hold the others against the tree concurs in this belief. Another prevailing theory strongly supported by the facts is that as one of his last acts of heroism, Bill Callaway took off his own life jacket and tried to fasten it around little Mike Henley.
Callaway was found without a life jacket. Mike Henley was also found without a jacket. But there was a life jacket found at a point between the two, fastened to small or too tightly to be worn by a grown man. Thus, everyone will always have a right to believe that, as a last, measure of heroism, Callaway tried to give his own life jacket to the Henley boy. Chroniclers of history encounter difficulties when describing two related, but simultaneous events. The night of July 19 at Holden is no exception. About a half-mile away another man, Forrest McKeown, was to struggle heroically against angry nature. Throughout those long hours just after midnight until after 3 a.m., calls had been going out for those who had boats to bring them to Blackwater Creek and be ready to participate in the rescue of Bill Callaway. While Bill Callaway was struggling against the current and giving of himself to the point of complete exhaustion, calls by the Holden Fire Department reached another man who was destined to rise to the occasion with a measure of heroism equivalent to that of the other principal in this real-life drama. His name is Forrest McKeown.
A hero from Holden, Mr. Forrest McKeown
Posthumously awarded a Carnegie Hero Medal
as was Mr. Bill Callaway
McKeown operated a body repair service and a tow service in Holden, Mo. Because it was known he had a boat he was called and immediately responded by bringing his boat to the Highway 131 bridge over Blackwater River. When Forrest McKeown arrived with his son, Ronnie, it was decided they should try to make it upstream in the main channel of the Blackwater. It was thought that somehow McKeown might be able to get upstream to rescue Callaway. At about 1:45 a.m., assisted by others, McKeown launched his boat in the swirling waters. Bystanders who knew he suffered from a heart condition urged him not to take his boat into the treacherous waters. But he shrugged off these suggestions because he felt it his duty to try to contribute his efforts to the rescue of Bill Callaway.
They had barely reached midstream in the exceedingly swift current when a floating log hit the boat and caused it to capsize only a short distance upstream from the bridge. The current swept McKeown and his son, Ronnie, back toward the bridge. The son caught on to a beam under the bridge and managed to work his way, hand-over-hand, to the bank. The father, Forrest McKeown, was swept under the bridge but was caught by the arm by L. M. Carmody and Lester Long, as he came out the other side. Moments later, the capsized boat was dashed against the bridge. For a while, McKeown was able to hold onto the hand of Cannody. Then Lester Long ran to the tow truck, yanked out a tow chain, and dropped it over to Mr. McKeown. Mr. Carmody sustained a fracture of two ribs due to the strain of trying to hold McKeown against the force of the swift current.
When the chain from the wrecker was thrown out McKeown was able to reach for and grab it. He was almost dragged out of the water through the combined efforts of Long and Carmody when he lost his hold and plunged back into the swift current. As Forrest McKeown sunk into the dreadful waters of Blackwater Creek the group on the bridge experienced that awful feeling that so many times comes to all of us--a feeling of great helplessness, a feeling of being so close to winning a victory but denied through a quirk of fate. It was an awful feeling for those who had extended such strong efforts to save McKeown and yet failed.
For those in the Vicinity of the bridge which carries Highway 131 over the Blackwater, the long night seemed to become interminable when it became known that both Callaway and McKeown had been lost.
This is where Forrest McKeown launched his boat to go upstream
Uncertainty prevailed as to whether Charlie Edwards and little Francis Henley had been saved. Little Mike Henley was also missing. https://www.findagrave.com/memorial/89755861/james-michael-henley
Long after daylight, he was found in a tree-appearing to hold onto it as he would have in life. Disregarding the lateness of the hour, the group at the bridge-now made up of people not only from Holden but from Warrensburg and Harrisonville, Whiteman Air Force Base, and all over John-son County-refused to relax their efforts to locate those who were thought lost and to account for those who might be saved. Men stayed at the scene through-out that night-and continued the search far into the daylight hours without stopping to rest or change their water-soaked clothing.
On Wednesday morning about 6:30 a.m., July 21, Bill Callaway was found with his arms still locked in the same position as when he was holding the children to the tree. A very short time later the body of Forrest McKeown was found. On Wednesday morning the waters began to subside, thus bringing to an end one of the worst tragedies ever experienced in western Johnson County, Mo. It had been a night filled with true-life drama and many heroes. Not only the neighbors but everyone in the surrounding area had tried to make their contribution to the effort.
They came from over at Warrensburg and from Cass County, including the city of Pleasant Hill. Owners of light aircraft volunteered the use of their planes. A helicopter came from Whiteman Air Force Base. Toward morning, it was estimated the searchers for the bodies of Callaway and McKeown numbered in the hundreds. Coffee and sandwiches were provided by the Holden Chamber of Commerce and by unselfish individuals who volunteered on their own to try to sustain those working at the rescue effort. In the days that followed eulogies of the two brave men were on the lips of every person. Friends and neighbors recounted how Bill Callaway had spent his lifetime helping his fellow man. Father of seven, he took another homeless child to live with them. In every conversation, it was recounted how he had gotten up from a sickbed to initiate the original rescue of the Henley group. It was recounted how frequently he had worked the night-time shift from midnight till 8 a.m. only to spend most of the daylight hours working with the Scouts, returning to the night shift with little or no sleep. An equal hero was Forrest McKeown.
He was always recognized in the community where he lived as a man who was ready always to answer a summons for help with his wrecker at any hour of the night. He was praised as one who was always ready to assist others with their problems, often without pay and with a genuine reluctance to accept even their thanks. People said of Forrest McKeown that he regarded it a duty to his chosen community to try to help his fellow townspeople in Holden. Two brave men had lost their lives by attempting to bring a mother, two sons, and two other children to safety from the swollen waters of Blackwater Creek.
Neither Callaway nor McKeown at any time during the fearful night that separated Monday, July 19, from Tuesday, July 20, gave one thought for their own safety but only to save the lives of those in peril. In these times when people step aside to watch a bus driver be severely beaten when bystanders do nothing to defend a girl being dragged into a building to be first raped and then murdered, and when a man can lie upon a sidewalk bleeding to death while passers-by’s remain oblivious to his pleas for help, men like Bill Callaway and Forrest McKeown deserve highest honors. It was, therefore, appropriate that at a special meeting less than 1 week later the Holden City Council passed a resolution commending the actions of those on the night of July 19, as follows: Whereas the Holden Fire Department and persons recruited by Fire Chief Raymond Day responded to a call for help with a whole-hearted effort and in a heroic manner; and Whereas it is the desire of this body to make known its appreciation of the entire Holden community for the effort and valor shown: Therefore be it Resolved,
1. The city council commends Fire Chief Raymond Day and all members of his department who responded to a call for help in the early hours of the morning on July 20, 1965, with regard to the need for the rescue of persons endangered by floodwaters of the Blackwater Creek a short distance north of the city of Holden.
2. The city council further commends the following persons who, when asked by Fire Chief Raymond Day to serve with the fire department under his direction, unhesitatingly answered his call and served with distinction and valor: William "Bill" Callaway (deceased), Forrest McKeown (deceased), Bill Kenney, Richard Gard, Ronnie McKeown, Bill Meyer, and Claude Allen Rice; and be it further Resolved, That special commendation is given posthumously to William "Bill" Callaway and Forrest McKeown, who both lost their lives in heroic attempts to save the lives of others. The city council extends its deepest sympathies to the families of these men, knowing that their deep sorrow is mixed with their feelings of justified pride in the actions of these men. The city clerk is ordered to forward copies o! this commendation to the widows of these brave men. Passed by the City Council of Holden, Mo., this 26th day of July 1965. R. P. DILLON, Mayor.
In the Thursday, July 22 issue of the Warrensburg Daily Star-Journal, Editor William C. Tucker published an editorial entitled, "Memorable Deeds of Heroism'': During the floodwater tragedy that took three lives north of Holden this week, Johnson Countians rushed in immediately and unhesitatingly to offer help. This is in deep contrast to the so-often-read-about cases where individuals and groups simply stand by and witness, unconcerned, without intervening to prevent rapes, murders, beatings of helpless people. They don't want to get involved. The people of Johnson County. do want to get involved. They did so to the extent that two who answered early pleas for help from a flood-swamped automobile lost their lives. It was one of the county's worst tragedies in years. The two victims in the rescue effort, Bill Callaway and Forrest McKeown, as well as the scores of others, responded to the emergency in the darkness of night, amidst swirling waters, in the true Christian spirit, voluntarily, without fear for their own lives.
Numerous instances of heroism were re-ported; numerous instances of performing small but vitally important tasks were performed. As the county coroner (Dr. Keith D. Jones) declared, there were "giants of heroism" at work in the accident that began when a car with five persons was swept off a bridge in floodwaters. Many residents, officials, neighbors, strangers, off-duty officers worked throughout the night and day, in rain, without sleep to save those who were alive and to find the bodies of the victims.
On the basis of what has been reported, the valiant efforts of Bill Callaway and Forrest McKeown merit national citations for bravery. Perhaps when the tragedy is further studied the efforts of several living persons also should be honored for their courage and determination to save the lives of others. There is no doubt that in the disaster that occurred among us this week, true bravery and great heroism were demonstrated to the highest degree.
At the center of this great tragedy, of course, stand the heroes Bill Callaway and Forrest McKeown, but surrounding them in brilliantly supporting roles are many unsung heroes. Certainly, such a list should include:
Fire Chief Raymond Day
L. M. Cannady
I know this list is not complete, but it represents the best information I could obtain. People from all walks of life were there that night to contribute their efforts. Only those who were present will ever know or realize the horror of this tragic night or experience the feeling of help-lessness to hear the roaring waters created by angry nature and producing a force that all the combined efforts of those present could not overcome. As U.S. Representative I respectfully submit that the acts of Bill Callaway and Forrest McKeown qualify them for national public recognition and award.
The two men were equally courageous, equally brave, and equally heroic. The two heroes extraordinary fought throughout the long, dark night the black waters of a river carrying such an appropriate name. Their courage must not go unnoticed. What a sharp distinction from bystanders and witnesses to beatings, rapes. and murders of help-less people who do not want to get involved. The tragic deaths of Callaway and McKeown must not go unhonored.
The heroism of Holden must not go unrecognized. Bill Callaway and Forrest McKeown died that others might live. Such heroism deserves recognition. Mr. Speaker, I ask unanimous consent to revise ·and extend my remarks and include extraneous matter. The SPEAKER pro tempore. Is there objection to the request of the gentleman from Missouri? There was no objection
July 23, 1965
The bodies of the two men, found near Blackwater creek were identified as Edward Callaway, 40 and Forrest McKeown, 50. Both were men of Holden, Missouri. The victims were would-be rescuers who disappeared after helping persons trapped in a car, Monday night near Holden, Missouri.
Michael Henley, 11, of Holden, Missouri was swept away in the same flooding Blackwater creek, in the same incident that claimed the lives of Edward Callaway and Forrest McKeown. Edward Callaway and Forrest McKeown, both of Holden, Missouri were in boats which capsized in the attempt to rescue the Henley boy.
At Holden, about 100 persons search the receding waters of Blackwater creek yesterday without finding any trace of two men presumably drowned while attempting to save a family. The men, Edward Calloway, about 50, a farmer and Forrest McKeown, 51, who operated towing service, disappeared into the swollen creek waters at separate places near Holden in rescue efforts.
Callaway helped rescue Mrs. James T Henley and her four children, who were stranded on a bridge in a car over the creek about three and a half miles north of Holden, Missouri. When the rescue boat capsized, Callaway supported four persons against a tree for more than an hour until they were rescued, but he was swept away by the swift current before he himself could be saved. Michael Henley, 11, also was swept away. His body was recovered later.
McKeown apparently drowned when his boat, in which he was searching for Callaway and the Henley boy, overturned when it struck a tree.
Article from the Kansas City Star on July 21, 1965.