1947 base newspaper tells hurricane tale

  • Published
  • By Susan Griggs
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs
A special piece of Keesler history -- the Sept. 26, 1947 issue of The Keesler Field News -- made its way back to the base Friday.

The newspaper was donated to the base history office by Cathy Verberkmoes, who received it from Sally Henden, the manager of the base bowling alley back in 1947.
"She knew I liked old stuff and gave it to me," Mrs. Verberkmoes said. "I've probably had it for the last 25 years."

The eight-page newspaper was supposed to document the sixth anniversary of Keesler Field, but instead, it was headlined "Hurricane Issue" after a fierce storm swept the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Back in those days, hurricanes weren't given names, so this one was referred to as the "Hurricane of '47."

The front page story of the weekly "official camp paper" chronicled the storm's 100 mph winds, 20 deaths and property damage that ran "into millions of dollars." However, "Keesler Field suffered slight damage and no deaths or injuries due to the fact that the field is situated 8/10 of a mile from the beach, thus protecting it from the 13-foot tidal wave which wiped out the central beach area and the Point Cadet section of Biloxi."

The narrative described all aircraft on flying status that couldn't be stored in the hangars being moved to safety at Barksdale Field, La. The home of Keesler Field's commander, Army Brig. Gen. Edward Anderson, was flooded by almost 2 feet of water. As the waters receded, "a large fish was found floundering in the general's kitchen not far from Mrs. Anderson's deep-freeze unit." Families living on base were evacuated to theaters, service clubs and the officers club.

One of the writers for The Keesler Field News, Pfc. Andy Patton, called the hurricane "nature's own version of our atomic bomb, built in her own backyard, the deep-blue sea. It ravaged crops, knocked down homes, did untold damage to buildings and ships, then brought in an accomplice and battered the waterfront of every town in its wake."

Mrs. Verberkmoes, the person who donated the paper, is also a part of Keesler's history.

She was the base's recreation center director from 1979 through much of the '80s. She organized pool tournaments, ping pong contests and talent shows and remarked that one year Keesler had 12 Airmen selected for Tops in Blue, the Air Force's premier expeditionary entertainment team.

After Mrs. Verberkmoes left the job for health reasons, she came back to the base often as the director for many talent shows and the Keesler Little Theater.

Her husband Casey, a retired chief master sergeant who served in the Air Force for 28 years, came to Keesler for technical school back in 1951. He hails from Michigan and trained in electronic fundamentals and ground control approach radar maintenance before embarking on an Air Force career that took him around the world.

The couple, who've been married for 56 years, met while he was stationed at Offutt Air Force Base, Neb.

"I was prepared to hate this place," Mrs. Verberkmoes remembered about coming to Keesler. "I got bit by a spider my second day in Biloxi, and our first apartment had those big roaches that lived in the oak trees nearby. But I fell in love with the people and the way of life here."

They bought a home just north of Jeff Davis Elementary School in Biloxi, where they raised their three children. The family moved several times during the chief's career, but when he retired while stationed in California, they returned to Biloxi.

Mr. Verberkmoes, who earned a bachelor's degree from the University of Southern Mississippi in Hattiesburg through the Bootstrap program, went on to earn two master's degrees and teach computer science at USM-Gulf Coast for 16 years.

"Everyone in this community has a tentacle that ties them to Keesler," he remarked.