By Capt. William CarrawayJanuary 8, 2018
ATLANTA - With brutally cold temperatures impacting the east coast and with fresh memories of the snowfall accumulation that covered North Georgia in December, winter weather has been foremost in many minds. Georgia Guardsmen were alerted to the possibility of response missions last week, and while the order to respond did not materialize units across the state were prepared to assist the citizens of Georgia as they have during previous emergencies. In this article, the Georgia Guard looks back at one of those emergency responses: the Winter Storms of 1973.
Ice Storm Paralyzes North Georgia
For two days in January 1973, sleet and freezing rain fell over north Georgia. Beginning Saturday January 7, more than four inches of ice accumulated on roads and power lines bringing traffic to a standstill and cutting power to more than 300,000 people.
In response, Georgia Air National Guard C-124 Globemasters of the 165th Military Airlift Group airlifted truck and trailer-mounted generators to Dobbins Air Force Reserve Base in Marietta to provide emergency back-up power. Generators were also provided by the Saint Simon's Island-based 224th Mobile Communications Squadron while the 129th Tactical Control Squadron of Kennesaw provided two large power plants. Through a joint effort between the Georgia Guard and the State Civil Defense, 27 generators were supplied to provide power to critical locations within the Atlanta area.
Record Snowfall Blankets Central Georgia
Less than five weeks later, Georgia was again struck by severe weather, this time in the form of record snowfall that blanketed much of central Georgia. The storm came swiftly, with snowfall beginning on Friday, February 9. As much as 19 inches of snow fell in Macon and surrounding areas.
Captain Paul Jossey, commander of the Headquarters Detachment, 176th Military Police Battalion in Forsyth recalled the storm impact.
"As I left the rear entrance of my home about 1 am Saturday morning, I stood knee deep in snow. I made my way to the State Patrol station near I-75 and stood on an overpass looking south. All I could see was snow and cars backed up for miles."
Captain Jossey observed just a small portion of the traffic problems on I-75 that morning. Multiple traffic jams, some as long as ten miles, were reported along a 50 mile stretch of interstate.
The Guard Responds.
In the early morning hours of February 10, 1973, the Adjutant General of Georgia, Maj. Gen. Joel B. Paris arranged for aerial transportation for Governor Jimmy Carter to view the storm impact. After witnessing the enormity of the snow accumulation, Carter ordered all highways closed and authorized Paris to activate Georgia Guard units to assist civil authorities. But by the time the orders came in, many Guardsmen were already assisting.
In Perry, Company B, 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment was fully operational and had already mobilized two M-113 armored personnel carriers along with a � ton truck to Interstate 75 to assist stranded motorists. One of the tracked M-113s also assisted a disabled vehicle of the Perry Fire Department. The Infantry APC was able to tow the fire vehicle to a city garage for repairs.
Georgia Army National Guard engineers were critical in snow removal operations, particularly in Columbus, home of the 560th Engineer Battalion. Milledgeville-based infantrymen of the 1-121st Infantry Regiment's Service Company worked 23 straight hours from Saturday morning to Sunday evening. A critical mission performed by the company was the transport of patients, doctors and nurses to local hospitals. Sixteen vehicles remained on continuous dispatch traveling 4,800 road miles and transporting more than 650 citizens.
By the evening of February 10, so many citizens were sheltering in Guard armories that local food supplies were severely strained. The Georgia National Guard, in partnership with the Atlanta office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, collected four tons of food from areas outside the storm's impact. Trucks and Guardsmen of the 277th Maintenance Company and 122nd Support Center transported the food supplies to Fulton County Airport where the aviators of the Winder and Atlanta-based 151st Aviation Battalion delivered the food to Macon and Forsyth.
In 36 hours of winter storm response, more than 500 Georgia Guardsmen responded to 10,000 mission requests and transported more than 6,300 Georgia citizens to shelters and hospitals. Mrs. Anne Kruger of Cochran was one of those citizens rescued. In a letter to Maj. Gen. Paris, Kruger recounted the circumstances of her rescue.
"Two transfer trucks had jackknifed and blocked the road. So there, on a snowy, windy hill on I-75, we spend the next twelve hours without heat or food... Gas was so low we could not turn on the car for heat. Suddenly, at 6:30 am, a blue circling light startled us. We looked across the snowy interstate to see the police were leading a caravan of National Guard trucks. We were being evacuated to the National Guard Armory in Forsyth. The 176th Military Police Battalion gave us coffee and food and blankets for our children. Not only were these National Guardsmen well trained and efficient in handling this emergency but they were also patient and considerate. We do not know their names, but we will never forget their kindness."