1944: Tragedies in combat and mines were the worst
Editor's Note: This is one of a series of articles about the history of the Sun Advocate and the county it covers as a newspaper. These articles are being prepared in commemoration of the 120th anniversary of the newspaper's birth in 1911.
The first two years of World War II were fraught with disaster and tragedy, so as 1944 dawned people hoped that the seemingly reversal in the fortunes of the United States and its allies would bring good things.
Unfortunately, it was the worst year of the war for Carbon County.
While local officials had already begun planning for victory day celebrations, almost every issue of the Sun Advocate brought news of local military men either losing their lives, missing in action or taken prisoner. In some issues of the paper that year as many as three deaths among fighting men from the area were reported.
But rather than beginning with military deaths, the year began with an accidental shooting near Kenilworth when a boy who was rabbit hunting with his friend was running with his shotgun and fell over some rocks. The shotgun he was carrying went off and it hit his friend in the side, killing him.
On Jan. 22 two trains collided near Horse Canyon, killing both engineers. The trains, one carrying full coal cars and the other pulling empties, had enough momentum to telescope a gondola steel coal car into the cab of one of the diesel engines.
"The locomotive (which rolled off the track and down an embankment) was reduced to a mass of twisted wreckage," stated the paper on Feb. 3. Both engines were brand new, having only been shipped to the area from the Baldwin Locomotive Works in Philadelphia, Pa. a few days before.
Mining itself also caused many deaths that year. On Jan. 27 Clayton Wooton and Louis Zogmastter were struck by falling rock at the Columbia mine and instantly killed. Three others nearby escaped injury. Less than a month later two more men were killed in the Hiawatha mine.
Not all was blood and guts however. In February a special election was held for voters to approve the new Scofield Dam project and it passed, though voter turnout was light. Two proposals were on the ballot and both had less than 10 people vote against the measures while over 400 people voted for each. At the time the project was to be completed by September completed by September of 1944, although in reality it would drag on for much longer than that.
The other single big story of the year was the campaign of Price Mayor J. Bracken Lee for governor of the state of Utah. In May Lee, who had previously said he would not even be a candidate for any public office in the fall, announced that he would run for governor under the Republican ticket. While having lost in the primary race for the same office four years earlier, a number of people persuaded him to run again. When the primary was held in July, the majority of the state's Republicans nominated Lee to run against the standing governor Democrat Herbert B. Maw.
The general election took place on Nov. 8 and while the bulk of Democratic leaning (the county went big for a fourth term for Franklin D. Roosevelt over Thomas E. Dewey) voted for Lee (east Helper precincts went for Maw), the state as a whole decided on the Democratic incumbent.
However, it would not be Lee's last run at governor and he would eventually end up in at the Capitol, presiding over the state.
But despite these events, it was hard to overshadow the pain that was felt in the county by the deaths of servicemen. The worst days (in terms of numbers) came in August and September when there were multiple deaths reported in specific issues of the Sun Advocate.
In the Aug.10, 1944 issue the names included James L. Bruno of Helper, James Jeurgens of Clear Creek, Levi Seely of Price and Joseph Kolovich of Hiawatha who all died on the battlefields of Italy.
In the Sept. 21 issue it was reported that Marine Lawrence Vanoy of Kenilworth was lost, William K. Fox of Helper died in the skies over Germany and Weston K. Keen of Spring Glen was killed in North Africa during a bombing mission.
The paper also reported on many who were missing in action and many who were wounded. Unfortunately, many reported missing were later in the war or afterward found to be dead. In addition some of the wounded succumbed to their injuries and later died too.
Once in a while the paper would report that a missing man was found through connections to having been captured by the enemy. People knew this was not good either, particularly if they were captured by the Japanese who many knew ran prison camps that were much more violent and inhumane than the Axis powers in Europe did.
Yet with all the bad news that came, nationally things were improving. With the invasion of Normandy in June, and as the allies pushed their way across Europe, a feeling began to prevail that led to planning for the end of the war and beyond. A new railroad depot was designed for Helper, restrictions on some previously scarce items eased and even Price began to plan for a victory day celebration that they hoped to hold once victory in Europe was achieved.
But even by December that was months away, and around Christmas 1944 the Battle of the Bulge was begun, with the German army counter attacking and the possibility that the Nazis could take Europe back was a reality for nearly a month.
And the stories about those American men dying and suffering in that battle would not come into the paper until early 1945.