I’m writing about the front page article concerning the 50th anniversary of the gas explosion at Atherton’s Drug Store on Marietta Square, written by Rachel Gray in your Oct. 31 edition. In her story, Rupert Raines recalled how he, Wendell Black and George Kelly had just walked out of Atherton’s and “waved to a car of passing teenagers who had honked” and that was the last thing he remembered.
I’m writing to inform you who those teenagers were who honked their car horn that night. They were Steve Johnson, Ronny Bass, Denver Hall, Charley Minor and myself.
We were going home from football practice at Marietta High in Steve’s car. We stopped at the red light directly in front of the store. I was in the back seat next to the window away from the store. It was cold and we had all the windows up. I had just rolled my window down to wave to Jimmy Smith, who was standing there talking to the three policemen at the door of the store. I said to Steve, who was driving, to honk the horn to get their attention. Just as he honked, the blast went off.
In the blink of an eye that the whole store front was gone. Water from a blown water line was shooting over our car straight across the street. When we realized what had happened, we all got out and headed to the three policemen and Jimmy.
I would have to say that we were the first on the scene. We pulled large blocks of cement, which had been part of the sidewalk moments earlier, off of Black and started to tend to the others who were unconscious.
I’m really writing to you to let you know the heroism of Ronny Bass. Without hesitation, he went straight into what was once the doorway of the store. Through piles of debris and sparking electrical lines, which were dangling everywhere, Ronny went right down into that hole to start trying to rescue survivors. We followed his courage and fearlessness into the pit.
I’m a former Marine and served in Vietnam 1967-68. I was in a lot of combat and received two Purple Hearts. I saw a lot of heroism, but I have to say Ronny’s bravery was second to none. I grew up with Ronny and he spent a career with Cobb County and Marietta Police Departments. He passed away a few years ago. God rest his brave soul.
We stayed until the wee hours of the morning, doing what we could. When I finally got home, I received a call from a United Press International reporter and the interview appeared in the MDJ.
As for the rest of us, Steve Johnson attended the Naval Academy and retired as a commander. Charley Minor became a music mogul and founded World Records in California. He was murdered about 20 years ago. Denver Hall was killed in the 1970s when he fell from a Southern Bell work bucket. I’m retired from the advertising industry and still live in Marietta.
I think it would be wonderful if a plaque was placed in the sidewalk in front of the Atherton’s site where Marietta Pizza is now to honor Ronny and all those who helped on that dreadful nightmare.
After all these years every time I pass that corner, I can see Ronny charging into death’s door to help his fellow man and woman.
God bless Marietta and its citizens.
MHS Class of 1964