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MORGAN CITY, La. — Hundreds of police officers, firefighters and first responders from across the nation formed a nine-mile funeral procession across St. Mary Parish Thursday to bring Sgt. Rick Riggenbach to his final resting place in Morgan City as citizens lined the route with American flags to show their thanks for his sacrifice.Riggenbach funeral

Riggenbach, 52, was a 15-year veteran of law enforcement in St. Mary Parish, having worked 10 years and eight months with the St. Mary Sheriff’s Office and 4 years, 5 months with the Chitimacha Police Department. Riggenbach also was a U.S. Navy veteran and was a former member of the Bayou Vista Volunteer Fire Department.

Saturday, Riggenbach was shot when responding to a report of an individual with a gun, and two St. Mary Parish Sheriff’s deputies, Matthew Strickland and Jason Javier, were wounded when they responded as backup. Strickland and Javier have been released from the hospital and attended portions of Riggenbach’s services Thursday.

Suspect Wilbert Thibodeaux, 48, is in custody in Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola. He is accused of setting multiple fires at a home on Flat Town Road in Charenton as well as two vehicles and a shed before shooting the first officers to arrive at the scene. Thibodeaux also is accused of killing Eddie Lyons Sr., 78, in the incident.

Riggenbach leaves behind a wife, four children, two grandchildren, his parents and four siblings.

Franklin police Sgt. Terrence Moore, who knew Riggenbach, called the day’s events “one of the greatest honors” for an officer who died in the line of duty. Officers “who gave their all, this is what they deserve and more,” Moore said, noting that being a police officer is a brotherhood.

“The blue line runs deep. This is the definition of love, right here,” he said.

Chitimacha Fire Capt. Kenneth Perry called Riggenbach “a real hero,” while Chitimacha Police Chief Blaise Smith said Riggenbach’s death was a “tragedy for the whole department,” but noted that so many other departments have come to stand by them in their time of need.

Among them were eight tribal police departments from Oklahoma that sent officers to work shifts with and for Chitimacha officers. While their brothers watched the city, every officer from Chitimacha was in attendance to send off one of their own.

Morgan City police Lt. Travis Crouch noted it was “a sad day to lose a brother, but it’s heartwarming to see people turn out to support the family. To see people who didn’t know Rick personally weeping, that’s a strong statement of the brotherhood of the fire, police and emergency services.”

Special Agent in Charge Jimmy Gibson, with the Department of the Interior Bureau of Indian Affairs, said the ministers spoke well about Riggenbach’s life.

“He lived his life to serve the community. He will be deeply missed,” Gibson said.

Rep. Sam Jones, D-Franklin, said that because he was a deputy in the early 1970s, this death hits close to home.

“I have so much respect for these guys because I don’t think I could do it anymore. Every day, for no reason, we should thank a policeman, fireman or first responder. We owe them that. I hope that God grants him great favor. I think he will,” Jones said.

Julie Dinger, who was on the funeral procession route, said she remembered Riggenbach from his days working in Bayou Vista for the sheriff’s office.

“When I was working, he would watch me get out (of the store) late at night. That’s how I remember him,” Dinger said.


Photos from the day were taken by Jean L. Kaess and can be viewed here.


MORGAN CITY, La. — I’ll admit my heart was racing as the cab of the simulator began to rise above the pool.

I had my instructions, safety gear, an instructor by my side and a diver in the water — just in case. Still, when you’re about to be a crash test dummy who is flipped upside down in a pool of water and told to figure your way out of a seat belt and a helicopter with your eyes closed, it’s a little unnerving.

When you actually do it, it’s exhilarating.

The reason you do it is because it could save your life one day.5E89_Jean_swims_out

Carl Moore, marine coordinator at the Young Memorial campus of South Central Louisiana Technical College in Morgan City,  instructed me every step of the way, just as he has the 9,577 students before me.

Young Memorial has used the half-million-dollar Modular Egress Training Simulator built by Survival Systems in Canada for about five years.

199477_4697595171699_1216063781_n“We had one (student) that actually came back and his helicopter went down off Main Pass and he actually came back and thanked us,” Moore said. “He said if it wasn’t for that he didn’t think he ever would have gotten out of it. And, he said it was so realistic that when he came out he actually expected to see a diver on the side. He said it was just like training and that’s what Survival Systems does. Each one of those exits replicate a real helicopter and they’ve gone in and done pressure tests on it. That’s what it feels like in real life, how much pressure it takes to get rid of that exit when it’s on upside down.”

When I had to bust my window out to get out of my seat, I had to remember to bust it out at the top. It takes 100 pounds of pressure to remove it from the center, but only 20 pounds when striking the top of the pane — a useful trick to know. In truth, though, the hardest part is not becoming disoriented when the helicopter flips over.

Moore says the most common error students make is with seat belts. I can attest to that.

Students “don’t like the seat belts. They think the seat belts are going to harm them. In actuality, what we were talking about is the seat belt is actually your friend because it keeps your orientation with the helicopter and your biggest problem is you think the window is on my left. If I turn upside down, the window is now going to be on my right. But we try to tell them, if you’re in the same seat it’s always going to be on your left. So that’s the hardest thing,” he said.

On my first of three simulations, I released my seat belt too quickly and didn’t quite make my way out of the cab successfully. Instead, I misjudged my own buoyancy and smacked my head on the window. This is the place to learn, right?

“We do so many exits here … and this is where we want them to make their mistakes, and we use helmets. We’re probably glad we use helmets because they do a lot of hitting and banging,” Moore said of the students.

Workers wear lifejackets and coveralls when going offshore but not helmets. To simulate as real of an experience as possible, students wear lifejackets, coveralls, boots and helmets in the simulator.

Additionally, “30 to 35 percent of our students are non-swimmers. So imagine somebody who can’t swim, put them inside that and flip them upside down. It takes a lot of trust to work with them. They’re in the classroom four hours and then they’re in the pool four hours, so they build up a trust with their instructor. Melissa (Ganaway) is one of the instructors. She goes in with them so they have a little trust with them. They won’t like strangers coming in and taking them in. It works well,” Moore said.

“There’s a lot of mariners that can’t swim. We get them that the biggest thing they’ve been in is a bathtub. We had a gentleman from Africa and he said the closest thing he had to swim in was a river and if he had gone in that river his family would have kicked him out of the tribe. He would have been kicked out of the village, so he never had put his foot in the water except for a shower. And his first experience came in here for four hours and then flip him in that,” he said gesturing to the simulator.

When the Deepwater Horizon went down in 2010, “the one thing that nobody has said anything about is safety because safety worked that day. Of the 100 and something people that got off of that rig, there was nobody injured during the evacuation. The people that were killed on that rig were killed at ground zero, but the rest of them got off into the life rafts … We had 25 of them trained here.”

One female student trained at the facility Moore specifically remembered. He said she was one of the last to jump off the platform.

“She remembered her training, and she stepped off that Deepwater Horizon just like she stepped off of that (platform) and she remembered Melissa telling her ‘hold on, hold on’ and she stepped off. But she said the last thing that went through her mind was Melissa telling her how to step off of that platform. So, everything that went on with BP, the cleanup, the oil spill, nobody ever said anything. Safety worked that day. That was the one time nothing has been done for safety because it worked. They didn’t have to. It worked. We did our job,” he said.

Ganaway and Moore each have more than 10,000 rotations each in the simulator. “We’ve seen a lot. We haven’t seen everything, but we’ve seen a lot,” Moore said. Working with them are safety diver Todd Boudreaux and operator Patricia Rodriguez.

As for the students, “we’ve seen them all the way from 17 to 84. It’s a big variety,” Moore said of the age of those trained. An average of 42 people per week are trained in the simulator.

“Some of them, the bravado of them, they mess up, and they get all upset. We tell them this is where we want you to mess up. We want them to mess up here. We want them to see things like when she went down, and the first thing she did was float straight up and felt the buoyancy of her body. If we hadn’t done that, she never would have experienced it. You make your mistakes here. You’re trying to develop muscle memory so that they know what to expect. They go through their ditching. They go through their routine and they’re able to get out,” he said.

Additional reporting by Managing Editor Harlan Kirgan. To view video of Kaess in the METS, visit and click the multimedia link.

BAYOU VISTA — There is no such thing as an ex-Marine, and Carl Marcel is living proof of that.

Marcel in 2012

Marcel in 2012

Marcel in the 1950s

Marcel in the 1950s

The 75-year-old enlisted in the U.S. Army National Guard in 1953, while he was still in high school. As soon as he graduated in 1955, he enlisted in the Marines.

When asked how long he was in that service, he replies simply, “Till I die.”

The New Orleans native who grew up in Houma left active duty to run the family business, a Yellow Cab company, at his father’s request. Interestingly, it was through that company that he delivered telegrams informing new widows of their husbands’ deaths during the Vietnam War.

While on active duty, Marcel was part of a demolitions company attached to other companies.

“Basically, we blew everything and anything up” using Bangalore torpedoes, he said. That included bridges, iron and tanks.

He described the torpedoes as series of munitions tubes connected to a “hell box,” an eight-foot section of which “would disappear this house,” he said, indicating his Mercury Road home.

Marcel also explained the use of a satchel charge, a backpack or messenger bag containing dynamite or C-4 plastic explosive. They are primarily used in combat and are useful because they don’t explode on impact, but must be detonated, he said.

“If we didn’t blow it up, we went over there and got it out of the way,” he said of his work.

Marcel went through boot camp at MCRD San Diego before being transferred to Camp Pendleton, Calif., for more training. From there he went to Camp Fuji, Japan and Okinawa, Japan, where he was part of the 3rd Marine Division.

Okinawa was a “jumping off spot for trouble anywhere, anytime, anyplace,” he said.

Through that service he saw history in the making including the events of the Suez Crisis (1956), the Berlin Crisis (1958), and Lebanon (1958).

In October 1956, Israel invaded Egypt, and two days later Britain and France followed on grounds that passage through the Suez Canal was to be free. In retaliation, Egypt blocked the canal by intentionally sinking 40 ships. The Marines were called in to support the mission of freeing the canal.

Marcel recalled standing on the top deck of his aircraft carrier just after daybreak drinking coffee. He called his friend up to see the sight of the entire 7th fleet filling the East China Sea.

“It was nothing but ships, everywhere you can see, everywhere on the horizon.”

In November 1958, Soviet Premier Khrushchev issued an ultimatum giving the Western powers six months to agree to withdraw from Berlin and make it a free, demilitarized city.

At the end of that period, Khrushchev declared, the Soviet Union would turn over to East Germany complete control of all lines of communication with West Berlin; the western powers then would have access to West Berlin only by permission of the East German government.

The United States, Great Britain and France replied to this ultimatum by firmly asserting their determination to remain in West Berlin and to maintain their legal right of free access to that city.

“Khrushchev backed down,” Marcel explained.

In 1958, during the last months of Lebanese President Camille Chamoun’s term, an insurrection broke out, and 5,000 United States Marines, one of which was Marcel, were briefly dispatched to Beirut on July 15 in response to an appeal by the government. After the crisis, a new government was formed, led by the popular former general Fuad Chehab.

Through it all, he said there’s something civilians should know: “Marines always bring back their dead … there’s no such thing as leaving you behind.”

A sign in front of his house, “Until they all come home,” indicates his dedication to that principle to this day.

While he remains in service of the Marine principles, his duty has shifted from explosions to children as he is active year-round in collecting for the local Marine Corps Reserve Toys for Tots campaign.

Officially, donations are accepted between Oct. 1 and Dec. 22, but Marcel saves stuffed animals and toy cars all year. He urged parents not to be shy about signing up to receive toys for their children as every child deserves a little bit of Christmas. Sometimes, he said, parents fall on hard times and can’t provide that little bit of joy. Marines are happy to step in and help.

When the time comes, he said, parents should bring their Social Security numbers and those of their children to St. Mary Outreach to sign up.

A popular quote about the U.S. Marines sums up Marcel’s fervor for the service: “Civilians cannot and will not understand us because they are not one of us. The Corps — we love it, live it and shall die for it. If you have never been in it, you shall never understand it.”

Until Hurricane Katrina, many people here defined their lives as Before Andrew and After Andrew. The Category 3 hurricane struck Morgan City at 3:30 a.m. Aug. 26, 1992, and changed the landscape — and lives — of the city and St. Mary Parish.

The statistics from the National Hurricane Center describe the storm in cold, hard facts: Hurricane Andrew 0001

A peak gust of 164 mph measured 130 feet above the ground was recorded in Florida, while a 177 mph gust was measured at a private home. Additionally, Berwick reported 96 mph sustained winds with gusts to 120 mph. The Daily Review reported at the time that winds were 150 mph.

Andrew produced a 17-foot storm surge near the landfall point in Florida, while storm tides of at least 8 feet inundated portions of the Louisiana coast. Andrew also produced a killer tornado in southeastern Louisiana.

Andrew is responsible for 23 deaths in the United States and three more in the Bahamas. The hurricane caused $26.5 billion in damage in the United States, of which $1 billion occurred in Louisiana and the rest in south Florida. The vast majority of the damage in Florida was due to the winds. Damage in the Bahamas was estimated at $250 million.

The storm first struck Homestead, Fla., as a Category 5 storm. Homestead is remembered by the national media as being the epicenter of destruction for Andrew.

Louisiana was the second landfall point, but remains foremost in the minds of those who lived through the storm.

RaeAnne Connor Lenderman said, “I was 10 years old. I will never forget driving back into town and seeing people walking around just lost. Everything seemed to be in slow motion, and we watched families dig through piles of debris trying to salvage anything they could. We lived across the railroad tracks in Berwick, and when we topped the tracks, we saw our roof gone. My daddy just started bawling. That was the first time I remember my dad crying — something I will never forget.”

Cedric LaFleur was Morgan City’s mayor during Andrew.

LaFleur said literally every home in Morgan City sustained some degree of damage, and news reports of the day indicate Berwick and Patterson were hit especially hard.

Hurricane Andrew 06School was closed for a week in the parish and electricity took at least that long, or longer in some areas, to return.

Morgan City Fire Chief Morris Price, at that time a captain with the department, said it took two days for firefighters to clear a one-lane path from the diesel plant on Front Street to the Joseph J. Cefalu Sr. Municipal Steam Plant on Myrtle Street so that work could begin on electricity repair.

Residents’ memories of being in the area at the time vary.

“My son will be 20 this month,” Antoinette Brown said. “He was born smack in the middle of Andrew, 2.6 pounds and 12 weeks early. So, yeah, I remember that one.”

Terri Sons said, “It was hard driving back to town knowing we didn’t have a home to come back to. It was hit by a tornado. I was in high school at the time. It was a huge reality check. Your life changes in a split second! I will never forget Andrew!”

Millie Martin Angeron was living in the Bahamas in 1992.

“My husband sent me, along with our three small children, to be here with his family because of the threat to the islands. In the days to follow our arrival, my feelings of security turned to anxiety watching Andrew plow through south Florida as he set his sights on south Louisiana.

“My father-in-law and brother-in-law worked for Oil and Gas at the time. We were told that we would be allowed to take shelter on one of their larger vessels, which had taken safe harbor in the Bayou Boeuf. Of course, I thought that was a fabulous idea! I had absolutely no idea what to expect. I only knew that as we were driving east on Highway 90 toward Amelia there was traffic backed up for miles heading west. My 6-year-old nephew asked the obvious question. ‘Why are we the only ones driving this way?’”

Ney Toups took away a bit of valuable knowledge from her Andrew experience.

“I remember that hurricane. It was very nasty. Me and a few of my family lost some things, but we still had each other and that’s what mattered the most. So, now, when they say ‘hurricane,’ me and my family say ‘highway.’”

*Photos courtesy of The Daily Review, Morgan City, LA

MORGAN CITY — During any morning, especially when the weather is bad, it’s easy to be annoyed and in a rush.

Stacie LaBelle, Morgan City animal warden, holds a chihuahua rescued on the La. 182 bridge.

Stacie LaBelle, Morgan City animal warden, holds a chihuahua rescued on the La. 182 bridge.

Motorists crossing the La. 182 bridge into Berwick this morning around 8 a.m. took a few extra moments out of their day — and blocked traffic across the bridge — to avoid a lonely chihuahua in a blue sweater.

Morgan City police were called to help clear the bridge, but the dog was so timid that he “eluded the police,” according to Sgt. Teddy Liner.

“We’re pretty sure he’s someone’s pet and not used to being outside,” he added.

Morgan City’s animal warden caught the dog, which has a bad hind leg, about 30 minutes later. Liner said it is possible the dog was coming from Berwick since it was first seen crossing the bridge.

Police said another possibility is that the dog may have been dropped off — something which happens far too often in the area, according to Stacie LaBelle, Morgan City’s animal warden.

To identify and retrieve your dog, call the police department at 985-380-4605. If he is not claimed within seven days, he will go up for adoption.


*This story placed in the Louisiana Press Association Better Newspapers contest.

BERWICK, La. — She was the homecoming queen, and he was the king. The high school sweethearts were returning from college to take part in this year’s homecoming pep rally when they were hit by a drunk driver.

Now Miles Liner is on life support, Taylor Adams is recovering from her injuries and a small community that has already suffered too much tragedy is left to once again

Daily Review file photo

Daily Review file photo

pick up the pieces.

A little more than 500 students attend this tiny high school ranked 11th in the state for its students’ grades. It’s nestled in St. Mary Parish, where Red Ribbon Week activities also are ongoing.

Yancey Hebert, 46, of Pierre Part, was charged with driving left of center and two counts of first degree vehicular negligent injuring, Assumption Parish Sheriff Mike Waguespack said.

Hebert was traveling east in a 2002 Chevy Silverado on La. 70 near Shell Beach Road in Belle River when he attempted to pass another vehicle traveling east, the sheriff said. Before he finished the maneuver, he hit the 2006 Nissan Sentra Liner was driving westbound head-on, Waguespack said.

“Due to driver error and intoxication, Mr. Hebert’s truck drifted completely across the center line into the westbound lane and struck Mr. Liner’s vehicle head-on. Both vehicles then veered off the roadway to the north where they came to rest,” an Assumption Parish press release stated.

The accident occurred at 1:46 p.m. Thursday.

There is the chance that charges against Hebert will be upgraded, Waguespack said. State Police Troop C investigated the accident, but no report was available from them this morning.

Hebert was being held Friday morning in the Assumption Parish Detention Center. No bail had been set.

Seat belts were worn by all occupants. Liner sustained critical injuries and was taken to Thibodaux Regional Medical Center by Acadian Ambulance’s AirMed. Adams sustained moderate injuries and was transported to Teche Regional Medical Center in Morgan City by Acadian Ambulance. Hebert sustained minor injuries and was taken to Teche Regional by a trooper, according to the release.

The press release stated Hebert displayed obvious signs of intoxication. He submitted to blood and urine tests, and results are pending through the Louisiana State Police Crime Lab.

Liner is on life support at the Thibodaux hospital, Waguespack said.

“We have unfortunately been through this before,” Berwick High School Principal Buffy Fegenbush said.

A student drowning two years ago, a cancer death of a student in 2009 and another car accident that claimed the lives of five members in 2005 have touched the school and community.

Fegenbush said the initial impact is when you need people most. “We were blessed to be together last night.”

The school held its annual pep rally, parade and bon fire Thursday night. However, activities were “toned down out of respect for the people we love,” she said.

Liner, who turned 21 Monday, played football and baseball in high school. Adams, 20, was the cheerleading captain. Both were in the drama club and honor students as well as being “very friendly and good people,” Fegenbush said of the 2010 graduates.

Liner attends Louisiana State University, while Adams attends Our Lady of the Lake, both in Baton Rouge.

“We are blessed in our Berwick community because we are always surrounded by those who are willing to support our kids through the good and the bad, so that makes us very fortunate.


To donate to a scholarship fund set up in Liner’s name, visit The Miles Liner Foundation.

*Daily Review file photo


Littlest Blessings contains “Mother and Child,” a poem I wrote years ago describing a tender moment between my newborn son and myself during his midnight feeding. Being a December baby, the Christmas tree kept us company as we got lost in the wonder of each other.

This book is filled with stories of unconditional love and tender moments like that one.

From the publisher: “As anyone who has ever loved a child knows, children are an amazing gift. They enter into the world knowing nothing about life, but yet somehow manage to teach us the true meaning of it. Through their eyes, we are able to see the world with a renewed perspective where love is unconditional, imagination and curiosity are limitless, and resilience from adversity seems endless.

No matter their age, our children are both our greatest and littlest blessings. In this anthology, you’ll read about the joy and wonderment they bring into our lives, and the enduring lessons they teach us when we least expect it.”

As always, a portion of the proceeds from the sale of every book published by Whispering Angel Books goes to charities promoting physical, emotional and spiritual healing.

Gen X Manifesto

It has been said we are “the ignored generation”. We are not.

WE are Gen-X, the Exceptional Generation.

We might be numerically half the size of both our parents’ and our children’s generations, but we make enough noise that no one – no one – can ignore us.

We had loose morals growing up, but we also grew up with a deadly virus that attached very real consequences to those actions. That taught us to temper with caution the burning desire we possess to take our every action to the edge…sometimes just to see what will happen.

We grew up with drugs, perverts lurking in the shadows and warnings on every product. Still, we did not grow paranoid – we grew happy. We were considered street-smart by some and amoral by others. We are still.

We felt our angst as we grew and we rebelled, to be sure, but we adjusted.  Therein lies our greatest strength. It is our ability to adjust to a world that never changed as rapidly for a generation before as it did for us. We saw the end of the Cold War and the beginning of AIDS. We saw a space shuttle blow up for the first time, but also we saw such technological wonders come of age along side of us as the first home computers, video games and the internet grew.

We had no great war when we were coming of age to help us define us ourselves as previous generations had done. We had no enemy outside of ourselves. We clothe ourselves in eternal adolescence, accessorize with mockery and get a respectable haircut so that we can get a job. That is who we are, even in middle age.

Yet, we are a generation that can adjust to anything thrown at us. Change was the rule, not the exception, in our lives, and we embraced it. We probably will throw it back it at the world unwittingly at some point. Get ready. It’s all we know how to do.

We, as a generation, can be random, contrary and ambiguous. We are a melancholy group in one moment and are dancing in the fire of our passions with an umbrella the next.

Many of us come from “broken” homes, but those homes made sense for us…and our parents, all of them, worked. We had a lot of parents. We, as a group, are more ethnically diverse and better educated than our predecessors. We are more accepting of the differences among people in our nation than our predecessors.

We also came of age during a failing economy that suddenly boomed, and most of us were “latch-key” kids. This made us independent and resourceful. It also made us value both freedom and responsibility. It gives rise to our dislike of authority and structure. At the same time we can be flexible and tolerant. Remember random, contrary and ambiguous? This all is Gen-X in a nutshell.

We are the grandchildren of the Greatest Generation, children of the Boomers and we gave birth to Gen-Y – the children who question everything.

Do not mistake: our grandparents were the greatest, strongest generation. They made more sacrifices and endured more than we can imagine. They should be honored. We have taken up their mantle in a war brought to our shores while our children still grow. It is because of their example that we know what must be done.

But it is more than that. We had opportunities for education, angst, tolerance and dancing in the flames because the preceding generations allowed it to be so. We owe them a debt, and we put them through far more than we should have. It is a debt we still are trying to figure out how to repay.

You may never understand us completely. That’s ok. Just accept us, get out of our way, and thank us when we’re done lighting the world on fire. Then get ready because we’ll hand it all over to Gen-Y soon enough.

Our children are our greatest legacy, for through their curiosity they truly will change the world in ways even Gen-X can’t imagine.

EDITOR’S NOTE — The following is a historical feature marking the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic with first-person observations included. The facts presented were gathered from and Associated Press research. (As published in The Daily Review)
Anguish and heroism, chivalry and snobbery, life and death — they’re the narratives of a disaster told 100 years ago, both captivating and horrific, on a ship in the freight lanes of the Atlantic Ocean.
The drama that played out speaks to the larger themes of man being at war with nature and society as well as death being a part of living, thus giving life its final meaning. But this isn’t a literary work — it is a true story that has given rise to books, movies, songs and museums.
It all occurred on an “unsinkable” ship of untold luxury that was the final resting place of 1,500 souls who came from a cross-section of society
And the band played on.
April 15 marks the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the Titanic. If James Cameron hadn’t made an epic movie about it in 1997, we still would be marking the date, but perhaps on a more scholarly level.
Titanic created the American fascination with disasters. It was macabre entertainment at the dawn of the communication era. Never in history had information traveled so quickly around the world.
The richest and most powerful people in the world were on board that ship, and scandal was afloat. After it sank, there were tales of great hubris and ignored warnings, wall-to-wall news coverage, investigations and more.
This was a morality play in real life based on themes that have played out time and again since. Think Amelia Earhart going missing, the kidnapped Lindburgh baby, the space shuttle disasters, Katrina, BP, even the Japanese nuclear plant disasters after the earthquake and tsunami last year. Each had one theme or another of nature or hubris — technological or human — or simply a national fascination with a single incident.
This tragedy even had its own villain, which the American press found in the owner of the White Star Line, J. Bruce Ismay. Not only did they fault Ismay for scrimping on safety, such as the number of lifeboats, in favor of luxury, but they blamed him for surviving the sinking. Unlike Capt. Smith, he didn’t go down with the ship. He was chastised, much as Costa Concordia Capt. Francesco Schettino was branded a coward for leaving his ship when it sank in the Mediterranean Sea in January.
The 882-foot-long Titanic was built in Belfast, northern Ireland, and steamed from Southampton, England, to Cherbourg, France, and Queenstown (now Cobh) Ireland, before turning on April 11 toward New York, carrying more than 2,200 passengers and crew, more than 130,000 pounds of meat and fish, 1,750 pounds of ice cream, 400 asparagus tongs and only 20 of the 32 life-boats designed to be on board. The ship ignored more than 30 different ice warnings. At 11:40 p.m. on April 14, Titanic hit an iceberg and stalled. At 2:20 a.m. on April 15 it sank.
The story of the Titanic is best told through its passengers. While it’s easy to talk about why the ship sank, its causes and the lessons learned, the true tragedy lies with the lives affected.
A few facts: 60 percent of the first-class passengers survived, 42 percent of the second-class passengers survived and only 25 percent of the third-class lived.
Economists Mikael Elinder and Oscar Erixon of Uppsala University in Sweden analyzed 18 of the world’s most famous maritime disasters from 1852 to 2011. They found that men actually have a distinct survival advantage. Of the 15,000 people who died in those accidents, only 17.8 percent of the women survived versus 34.5 percent of the men.
The 82-page report claims the Titanic was a rare exception because its captain threatened to shoot men unless they yielded to women.
First Class
John Jacob Astor, 49, was called the richest man in the world, but was trying to let a scandal die down at the time of his death.
On May 1, 1891, Astor was married to Ava, daughter of Edward Shippen Willing of Philadelphia. Together they had a son and daughter. However, in 1909, Astor divorced Ava and, two years later, married Madeleine who, at 18, was a year younger than his son Vincent.
Astor put Madeline, who was in “a delicate condition” on one of Titanic’s lifeboats, but was not permitted to join her.

This is the life vest Madeline Force Astor, 18, wore as she left Titanic the night it sank. It is featured in the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. Astor’s husband, the rich-est man in the world at the time of the accident 100 years ago, was 49-year-old John Jacob Astor. Madeline was his second wife. On May 1, 1891, Astor was married to Ava, daughter of Edward Shippen Willing of Philadelphia. Together they had a son and one daughter. However, in 1909, Astor divorced Ava and, two years later, married Madeleine — who was a year younger than his son Vincent. At right in the photo is a plaque depicting some of the names of the deceased from Third Class, which sharply contrasts the lesser numbers in higher classes.

Astor’s personal effects when his body was recovered included a gold watch; gold cuff links with a diamond, a diamond ring with three stones, 225 pounds in English notes, $2,440 in notes, £5 in gold, 7 shillings in silver, five 10-franc pieces, a gold pencil and a pocketbook.
In 1894, Astor wrote a semi-scientific novel, “A Journey in Other Worlds.” During his life, he also developed several mechanical devices, including a bicycle brake (1898), helped to de-velop the turbine engine and invented a pneumatic road-improver.
In 1897, Astor built the Astoria Hotel in New York — adjoining the Waldorf Hotel, which had been built by William Waldorf Astor, his cousin. The new complex became known as the Waldorf-Astoria. Astor’s real-estate interest included two other hotels, the Hotel St. Regis (1905) and the Knick-erbocker (1906).
His fare to board Titanic with his party was 247 pounds, 10 shillings and 6 pence.
Second Class
Joseph Philippe Lemercier Laroche was Haitian and the only black man to die aboard the Titanic. His family was well-off and could have af-forded first-class tickets but, because of race restrictions at the time, was only allowed to purchase second-class tickets.
Laroche studied engineering in France where he met his wife, Juliette. Their daughter Simonne was born Feb. 19, 1909; a second daughter, Louise, was born prematurely on July 2, 1910 and suffered numerous medical problems.
Racial discrimination prevented Joseph Laroche from obtaining a high-paying job in France. Since the family needed more money to cope with Louise’s medical bills, Joseph decided to return to Haiti to find a better-paying engineering job. They planned the move for 1913.
In March 1912, however, Juliette discovered that she was pregnant, so she and Joseph decided to leave for Haiti before her pregnancy became too far advanced for travel. Joseph’s mother in Haiti bought them steamship tickets on the La France as a welcome present, but the line’s strict policy regarding children caused them to transfer their booking to the Titanic’s second class.
Joseph’s family survived the sinking. Their fare for riding Titanic was 41 pounds, 11 shillings and 7 pence.
Third Class
Austin Blyler van Billiard was born Feb. 9, 1877, the only son of James van Billiard, a successful marble merchant.
At the turn of the century, Austin emigrated to Europe to find work during the arrangements for the Universal Exposition that was opening in Paris that same year. Austin found work, as an electrician, and he prospered.
It was while working in France that he met his Eng-lish wife, Maude Murray (b. April 13, 1873), whose father was in Paris on business. The two were married Nov. 3, 1900, after only a few months’ courtship.
The couple soon had two children: James William (b. Aug. 20, 1901) and Walter John (b. Feb. 28, 1903). In 1906, the van Billiard family decided to try their luck at diamond mining and emigrated to Central Africa. Here they lived a harsh existence and two more children were born. Austin returned to America to work as a diamond merchant in 1912. They first returned to London on board a French steamer, after smuggling their children on board
French steamers in those days had a policy that children would not travel on board and, if they did, they would not dine with their parents but in the ship’s nursery. The Laroche and van Billiard families both ran into this issue which affected their fates regarding the Titanic, the Laroches more so than the van Billiards.
Austin decided to take his two eldest children with him to America ahead of the rest of the family. He and his two sons boarded the Titanic at Southampton for a cost of 14 pounds, 10 shillings.
The description of his body is male, age 40, dark hair, red imperial and moustache, grey suit, green flannel shirt, brown boots. In his posses-sion were a pipe, 3 pounds and 5 shillings in purse, a gold watch with “J.B.” on back, 12 loose diamonds and a pair of cuff links.
The body of his son Walter also was found. His was identified by the Red Cross as the very first to be recovered by the MacKay Bennett.
He is identified as being age 10 to 12 with light hair wearing a gray overcoat, one grey coat, one blue coat, a grey woolen jersey, white shirt, grey knickers, black stockings and black boots. He had in his possession a purse containing a few Danish coins and ring, along with two handkerchiefs marked “A.”
Austin’s wife Maude received compensation of 100 pounds from the Red Cross and 540 pounds from other assorted relief funds. She did eventually make the trip to North Wales, Penn., with her two remaining children. She never remarried and died in a nursing home Jan. 17, 1968, at age 94.
Loraine Allison was the only child in first or second classes to die. Some 53 of 76 children in third class perished.
After the collision, Loraine’s baby brother Trevor went missing with his nurse Alice Cleaver. When the Allisons realized the pair were unaccounted for, they resolved that they would not leave the Titanic until after Trevor was found, nor would they be parted from little Loraine. They were last seen standing together, smiling, on the promenade deck.
Alice apparently bundled up the infant in her charge and went off to second class to round up the rest of the Allison household. Alice boarded lifeboat 11. Bedroom Steward William Faulkner held baby Trevor while Alice got in. Although there is no firm evidence, it seems certain that the Allisons were unaware that Cleaver had taken the child off the boat safely.
The next day, Alice Cleaver and Sarah Daniels realized that they, along with Trevor and the cook, Mildred Brown, were the only survivors of their party.
After the sinking, baby Trevor returned home to Canada, where he would be raised by his aunt and uncle, George and Lillian Allison. Trevor died Aug. 7, 1929, at the age of 18 in Maine of ptomaine poisoning and was buried beside his father in Chesterville, Ontario.
The party’s fare for boarding Titanic was 151 pounds, 16 shillings.
Elizabeth Gladys Dean, better known as Millvina, was born on Feb. 2, 1912. She was the daughter of Bertram Frank Dean and Georgette Eva Light Dean.
In April 1912, she was only nine weeks old and was, with her parents and elder-brother Bertram, about to emigrate to Wichita, Kan., where her father hoped to open a tobacconist’s shop. Millvina boarded the Titanic at Southampton with her parents and brother. Millvina, her mother and brother were all rescued. They returned to England aboard the Adriatic.
She never married, working for the government during World War II by drawing maps and later serving in the purchasing department of a Southampton engineer-ing firm. It wasn’t until Millvina was in her 70s that she became a Titanic celebrity.
Millvina died May 31, 2009, after a short illness, the final survivor of the Titanic to pass away.
There were 12 dogs on board the Titanic. Three of them survived, including two Pomeranians, according to a recent tweet by dog expert Cesar Milan.
Among the graves of Fairview Lawn Cemetery in Halifax, Nova Scotia, there is one that was a magnet for bouquets and weeping girls in the 1990s. The name on the tombstone: J. Dawson.
Jack Dawson, you will recall, is the name of the character played by Leonardo DiCaprio in the movie “Titanic.” The cemetery is the final resting place of more victims (121) of the Titanic than any other. Film director Cameron has said there’s no connection between his Jack Dawson and the J. Dawson buried there.
The real J. Dawson, or Joseph Dawson, shoveled coal in the bowels of the ship and didn’t win his Titanic ticket gambling as DiCaprio’s character did.
Also buried in the same cemetery is John Law Hume, violinist in the band that played on as the Titanic sank.
Finally, a few factoids I learned during my trip to the Titanic Museum in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. (which I highly recommend) a year ago:
—There was a fire raging in the boiler room of the ship nearly the entire cruise. The coal fueling the ship had caught on fire.
—The grand stairway was paved with the latest innovation in flooring — linoleum. Plans to use marble were scrapped in favor of the new material because it was the hottest thing at the turn of the century.
—Water chilled to 28 degrees will destroy your body even more quickly than you can imagine, and it is unbearable. It is easy to understand how those who were tossed into the water by the sinking ship quickly died.
—The museum is growing its own iceberg to simulate the one that sank the ship. A wall of ice is intimidating.
—At the degree the ship was listing toward the end, it was impossible to walk long before the ship upended and broke apart. Passengers would have most surely had to crawl across the deck of the ship long before it tossed them into the water. This, too, is simulated at the museum.

“Hope Whispers” Wine supports breast cancer centers!

The book,”Hope Whispers,” for which the wine was named contains one of my poems. Brigid’s Forge II is included on page 17. While I make no money from inclusion in this anthology, proceeds from every purchase are given to a variety of charities.

The Winery at Versailles has created a delicate white wine with whispers of rich, ripe berry flavor. They will be donating $2 from every bottle sold to the Breast Care Services of the Hahne Cancer Center at DuBois Regional Medical Center in DuBois, PA or the Women’s Center at the Wayne Health Care in Greeville, OH. The wine was so popular it sold out quickly, but will be available again in mid-May. Contact them if you’d like to purchase “Hope Whispers” wine and support this cause. Shipping is available!

The Lymphoma Letters

This is the story about a young woman after life handed her limes.