"1945 Michigan Train Crash Story" by David Spell

My name is David Spell and I was one of 6 sailors that were in the train wreck in Michigan, North Dakota.  The story starts during the month of June 1945, all 6 of the sailors on the train were from North Carolina.  I am writing you to explain the reason why I, along with 5 other sailors were on the train together when the wreck happened on the 9th of August, 1945.

The six sailors were originally aboard a heavy cruiser ship, the USS Pittsburgh (CA 72) in the North China Sea during the war.  On June 4th, we were caught in a bad storm, (a typhoon).  The water began to run onto the bow of the ship, causing much damage. Later that night, the wind began blowing in excess of 148 MPH and the ships bow began to break apart, eventually breaking off completely.  As morning began, the weather let up some and we drifted out of danger and later in the day, the sea was calm again.

At that time, we were about 200 miles from Guam Islands.  We made it to a dry dock near the islands and had some repair work done to the ship and started toward the coast of the state of Washington around the middle of July.  We arrived in Bremerton, Washington at the naval yard.  During the crossing, the Captain made arrangements for five of the crew to have 25 days of leave at home.

Once our leave time was over(around the 1st of August) crews began to return to their ship.  Six sailors, including myself, boarded trains in Chicago, Illinois on the Great Northern.  A large group of military people were on train #1 in Chicago.  Train #2 left Chicago 20 minutes later.  We six sailors were on train #1, sitting in a passenger car that was about 5 cars from the rear.  Our train (#1 train) stopped in Michigan, North Dakota due to a hot box.  At approximately 7:30PM, train #2 , which was 30 minutes behind our train came into Michigan, North Dakota.  Train #2 hit the back of our train, hitting us at a speed of approximately 57 MPH.  The five other sailors and myself were seated in the approximate middle of the train in the 5th car from the rear.  Some of the sailors were standing and talking, some were not wearing shoes, but we were all relaxing as train #2 hit us from behind.  People were thrown about the car, some received minor injuries including cuts and bruises.  It was said that one passenger, a man, was killed in our car due to a broken neck. 

A ship wreck and a train wreck are two events that you don't forget.  It was a very serious accident with a lot of people hurt.  It is an experience that isn't forgotten, even after 67 years.  Most of the people on the train were military personnel going back to their bases.  After several months, most of the personnel began to be discharged and left for home. 

This is a small part of the story about the wreck, but I am sure people who read this will understand how bad it was. 

David Spell

Hope Mill, NC

Age 88

If anyone else would like to share their story about the 1945 Michigan Train Crash please mail it to me or call me.  Thanks, Maria Vasichek, P.O. Box 51 Michigan, ND 58259, grinch@polarcomm.com or 701 259-2289.