A Good Friday Indeed
As it began, the day was like any other early spring Friday in Central Georgia. It was Good Friday and Easter was only two days away. It was such a nice day that Mrs. Merle Barwick decided to take her class on a field trip around the still young Cochran airport on Airport Road, some four to five miles northeast of the center of the town of Cochran. As it unfolded, the day turned dark and violent. As it ended, this Good Friday turned out as a triumph in the face of tragedy - all to the credit of a couple of Bleckley County school teachers.
Mrs. Merle Barwick had been teaching the rudiments of reading, writing and arithmetic to her students for many years. It was said that "Miss Merle," as she was known by her students, was so enthusiastic about her teaching position that she spent most of her summer vacation preparing for the opening of the next school term. As two Army fliers would soon learn, it was the non-basic lessons which Mrs. Merle learned which saved their lives.
All of a sudden, Mrs. Barwick and her students noticed a plane in trouble. In those days, teachers and students, as well as almost every American, paid close attention to low flying airplanes in the skies. With a war starting in Europe and raging in the Pacific, nearly everyone kept their eyes upward when they heard the roar of propellers above.
Two planes were flying on a northwesterly course from Savannah, presumably to Cochran Field near Macon. Not to be confused with Cochran's Airport, Cochran Field was a air base south of Macon, which was initially used for the training of Royal British Air Force cadets
Mrs. Barwick, then a 42-year-old elementary school teacher, at first thought nothing of two American planes flying overhead. Soon, she perceived that something was wrong as one of the planes began to break from its tandem formation. Barwick heard the crashing of the United States Army twin engine bomber, as it slammed nose-first into the sandy soil. Sensing a grave situation, the Samaritan sprinted two hundred yards to the scene of the crash.
Initially, it appeared that the plane intended to land, but overshot the runway. When the pilot attempted to pull the plane up, the engines stalled and it crashed to the ground after clipping the tops of the trees along its perilous path.
As she approached the crash scene, Mrs. Barwick quickly analyzed the situation, looking for the most severely wounded among the crew. The teacher, turned medic, treated Lieutenant Lee Scott, the plane's pilot, who appeared to be the most critically injured.
Using the first aid skills she had learned in Red Cross classes, Mrs. Barwick applied pressure to the wounds of Lt. Scott, whose head had slammed into the cockpit controls crushing his skull. Barwick never left her patient until more experienced medical personnel came to his aid.
It was just about that time when Ned Smith, a salesman from Dublin, and Marshall Wining, the instructor at the aviation school at the nearby airport, came to their aid and pulled the injured men from the plane.
Teacher Barwick's assistant, Miss Mary Will Morgan, knew first aid. She too had taken classes in life saving, just in case she came upon a drowning person or an injured passenger in a car wreck. Mary Will never dreamed that she would be treating a downed airman on Bleckley County soil.
Miss Mary Will found Sergeant Fred Mangold was writhing in excruciating pain. His leg, bleeding in multiple places, suffered compound breaks in the three places. Mary Will, too, never left her patient. She put together a makeshift tourniquet. Concerned for his safety and bound to stay by Sergeant Mangold's side, Mary Will volunteered to go along for the wild ride in a speeding car bound for the base hospital at Cochran Field. Mrs. Barwick, too, volunteered to escort her patient to the hospital, more than a half hour away.
Two other crewmen were aboard. Private C.B. Wood was also taken to the base hospital with unknown, but apparently minor injuries. A fourth crewman, known only as Johnson, was positioned in the nose of the plane and only endured a few minor scratches and cuts. Luckily, the plane did not burn upon its head on collision with the ground and remained virtually intact.
The crash would be the first time that the Bleckley County State Guards (Unit 99) would be called into action during the war. The unit, under the command of Captain Harry L. Daniel, took over the duties of guarding the plane from curiosity seekers and souvenir hunters until military police officers arrived on the scene. Bystanders obeyed the guards and not a single person attempted to cross the line during the night and early morning which followed.
Flying aboard the second plane was Sergeant Mangold's brother, whose plane turned around and landed to give aid to their fellow airmen.
Lieutenant Scott and Sergeant Mangold were stabilized and sent to another hospital in Middle Georgia. Scott, from Jackson, Mississippi, was somewhat restless over the Easter weekend, but counted his blessings that he was alive, thanks to the acts of his savior, Mrs. Barwick. Mangold, from Indianapolis, Indiana, rested comfortably under the intensive care of his doctors.
Both men, through the loving hands of their saviors, survived their wounds, It is not known to this writer how they fared after they left their loving hands. What is known is that these two school teachers, turned angels through the grace of God, just happened to be at the right place at the right time.
The whole experience led to a boom in the teaching of Red Cross first aid and life saving techniques in Bleckley County schools and Middle Georgia. And, guess who became the instructor of first aid at Limestone School? You got, it, Mrs. Merle Barwick.
Merle Barwick, daughter of long time Bleckley County School Superitendent, I.A. Willis, was born in the early years of the 20th Century. While she had no children of her own, "Miss Merle" was beloved by her students during her seventeen years as principal of Union Hill School and her many years as a 7th grade teacher at Cochran Junior High School. Among her peers, Mrs. Barwick was considered a leader in the field of education in Georgia.
Merle Barwick, who molded the lives of several hundreds of school teachers and saved the lives of two Army fliers, died on August 21, 1957. She is buried in Cedar Hill Cemetery in Cochran beside her parents.