This is Buzzy's Country Store blog designed to keep you apprised of what's going on at the Store. Buzzy's is a general store located in St. Mary's County, Southern Maryland near Pt. Lookout State Park. Buzzy and Jean Ridgell purchased the Store from Jean's father Harry Raley in 1953. Buzzy operated it until his passing in 2009. His son J. Scott Ridgell is the current owner.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Today in South County History - 13 June 1959

While looking thru some old issues of the St. Mary's County Beacon, I found this front page article on Capt. Harry Yeatman and his efforts to save 19 folks stranded out in the Bay.

I contacted Larry and Ted Yeatman about the article. In turn they provided me more info about their Dad's heroics that day in the Bay. Larry even provided me a story that he wrote about it.  An excerpt from that account is provided here as Larry quotes his Dad's remembrances of the event: 

 “You know,” he started again, “I rarely think about that day or the accident. I’ll bet I haven’t talked about this in almost thirty years. But surprisingly, or maybe not, I can see everything as if it happened just yesterday.
Like I said, I don’t think about that day very often, but whenever I replay the accident in my mind, I always see it in slow motion: I’m about to break the anchor free from the bottom; the boat unexpectedly lurches sideways; the coiled rope twists; I lose my balance; my left leg comes down in a stray loop on the deck; the boat rides up to the crest of the next swell; my foot is dragged to the snubbing post. With the entire weight of the boat bearing down on my leg, above the howling of the wind and the screams of the passengers, I hear my left leg snap like a pencil.
I knew right away that I was hurt bad. However, it seemed so unreal that I glanced back at the passengers who had gathered in and just behind the cabin as if I expected to find that something else had made the snapping sound. I felt no pain, but I realized from the pressure of the line against my leg that something was very wrong. Looking down at the pitching deck, I saw just how badly I was injured. My left leg bone was completely shattered; it no longer connected my leg to my foot. The flesh above my ankle was torn so thoroughly that the only thing that kept my foot attached to my leg was a single tendon. As waves crashed over the bow, I watched in disbelief as my left foot flopped from one side of my injured leg to the other on the rolling deck.
 What happened next and exactly how I got back into the boat has always been a bit fuzzy in my mind. I was still pinned by the anchor rope. Trying to reach my pocket knife, I thought if I could cut either the anchor line or the tendon that was barely keeping my foot attached to my leg, I would be able to free myself, get overboard, swim to the stern of the boat, and be lifted aboard by my passengers. That would have been a fatal mistake; there’s no question that I’d have drowned.
I was able to reach my pocketknife, but it turned out to be too small to cut the one inch nylon rope, so I called back for someone to bring me the knife I used for cutting bait. One of the passengers opened the cabin windshield and slid the knife across the bow to me. As I grabbed onto the anchor line to cut myself free, another swell directed the entire weight of the boat onto the rope, and that’s when the line severed two of my fingers. I didn’t realize they had been cut off until much later when I was in the hospital. Anyway, I finally managed to cut the anchor rope.
I was free, but I wasn’t safe. I had to get off the bow and back in the boat. I crawled and hopped on one leg down the washboard toward the stern. This was no easy feat because waves continued to slam against the boat causing it to pitch wildly. It’s almost funny now, but at one point my dangling left foot somehow got caught in the side window of the cabin. I had to hop backwards on my right foot to free myself once more.
When I finally jumped down onto the afterdeck, passengers spotted my dangling left foot, and that’s when they really became frightened. They were screaming and crying all at the same time. I pulled myself into the wheelhouse and reached up for the radio to call for help. There were lots of charter boats fishing in the area, so fortunately help was nearby. Somehow I needed another boat to get alongside the Sammi Jean, have someone jump from that boat into mine and pilot us to shore. Of course, that was easier said than done in the heavy, rolling seas. 
I was beginning to lose quite a bit of blood, and the floor of the cabin was sopping red and slippery. Above the commotion, I yelled to the passengers to find something I could use as a tourniquet. After a minute or so they reported that they couldn’t find anything suitable.  "Well someone must have a belt,” I screamed over the howling wind. 
An older man, who looked to be in his late seventies, quickly removed his leather belt and handed it to me. Calmly, I cinched the belt as tight as I could around the lower part of my calf. The bleeding stopped. I reached up over my head, grabbed the radio, and waited for help to arrive.
Louis Bean, the owner of the fishing center, was fishing only half a mile away from my position when he heard my distress call. Even though he was so near, it still took him almost fifteen minutes to maneuver his boat alongside mine. Both boats were rolling and pitching violently when a twenty year old mate, Joe Bohanan, jumped from his boat down into mine.
Once aboard the Sammi Jean, Joe asked, ‘Cap’n Harry, are you alright?’ We both looked down at my leg. “I’ve been better," I answered. “Hang in there," was all he said.
As Joe began piloting the boat to Point Lookout, I reassured my passengers, who were now somewhat calmer, that they were fine and that I’d be okay as well. Joe and I spoke no other words to each other as we made the seven or eight mile trip in heavy seas to the Navy ambulance which was waiting for us at Point Lookout. I stayed seated in the cabin and continued to reassure my passengers that they were safe and that everything would be fine.
I remained conscious the whole time, but I really wasn’t thinking much about my injuries. However, at one point on the return trip it did cross my mind that I had taken on this part-time captain’s job to earn some extra money, and now I might not be able to work at all, at least for the foreseeable future.
There’s not much more to tell. When we arrived at the wharf at Point Lookout, I climbed out of the boat and onto the dock by myself. Everyone protested and offered assistance, but, honestly, I was afraid they’d drop me and I’d fall overboard.
You fellas know the rest of the story – the amputation, hospitalization, and rehabilitation. They say that everything happens for a reason. I believe that. I really do. I don’t have any idea why this happened to me, but I think in the end, that I might be a better man for it. You know, there really is some truth to that old saying: ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger."

With the story concluded, Dad rose from his stool and opened up the shed doors. The sun was now much lower in the western sky, and the flag drooped, soaked and still, against the flagpole. My father hugged each of his sons.
The Enterprise also had an article on the event (click here.)  As Ted noted in an email to me:  I still remember waking up that Sunday morning and Uncle Jimmy (Radford) telling us what had happened the night before. Goes without saying that was a life changing event for Dad and for us all. I love the last statement in the article: "This won't slow me down." And the truth is it never did slow him down.

Quite a story wouldn't you agree?   

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