Thursday, February 20, 2020

50 Years Ago This Month: Two Missing Canton, Ga. Girls Saved by Local Guard Soldiers

On Feb. 17, 1970, Georgia Army National Guard Specialist 4 Jerry Wood, 1st Sgt. Leland Bell and Gene Padgett located two girls who had been missing for three days in Canton, Ga. The Soldiers were from the Canton-based Company A, 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment. Georgia Guard Archives.

By Maj. William Carraway
Historian, Ga. Army National Guard

On February 15, 1970 two girls aged 2 and 3 wandered away from their homes in Canton, Ga. and became lost in nearby woods. After more than 40 hours missing, the girls were located by two Georgia Army National Guard Soldiers of the home-town Guard unit.[1]

Upon receiving the report of the missing children, the Georgia Department of Defense’s Civil Defense Division, forerunner of today’s Georgia Emergency Management Division, partnered with Cherokee County authorities to coordinate the efforts of hundreds of volunteer searchers who methodically combed the designated search area.[2] While no Georgia National Guard personnel were called to active duty for search operations, members of Canton’s Company A, 1st Battalion, 121st Infantry Regiment volunteered to assist the search effort. Additional support came from the Atlanta-based Organizational Maintenance Shop which delivered eight radio-equipped jeeps and additional personnel.
Members of the Ga. Army National Guard's Company A, 121st Infantry Regiment who assisted in the search for two missing girls in their hometown of Canton, Ga. Feb 15 to 17, 1970. Canton resident Gene Padgett (second from right) along with Guardsmen Specialist 4 Jerry Wood and 1st Sgt. Leland Jones found the missing girls. Georgia Guard Archives
The Guard search effort was led by 1st Lt. Carroll Edge and 1st Sgt. Leland Bell. On February 17, Bell, Specialist 4 Jerry Wood and local resident Gene Padgett were searching a dense area of woods outside the designated search area. The men had left their jeep and were moving through the dense understory on foot. It was the third day the children had been missing and the nights had been rainy with temperatures dipping into the low 40s. Bell and his team had been assigned to search beyond a stream that bordered the search area. Initially, the authorities believed the stream would act as a barrier and that the children would not be able to cross. The men were justifiably surprised when they spotted the girls who had indeed crossed the stream. The mud-spattered girls were tired, hungry and cold, but otherwise in remarkably good health.

The Georgia Guard effort did not stop with the end of the search. The Canton Armory became the staging ground of a community effort to help the families. North Georgia residents donated food, clothing and furniture. Soon the Canton Armory was full of bedding, clothing and other gifts intended for North Georgia families in need.

On February 25, Georgia’s Governor and First Lady visited the girls and contributed $200 to funds solicited by Edge through his membership in the Canton Jaycee. Governor Maddox publicly commended Bell, Wood and Padgett and praised the efforts of searchers and rescue organizations that came together for in a search effort that captivated North Georgia.[3]

Today, Canton is home to Troop B, 1st Squadron, 108th Cavalry. Soldiers of the Canton unit recently returned from Afghanistan, part of their fourth overseas combat deployment since September 11, 2001.

[2] Georgia Department of Defense Annual Report 1981, 3.
[3] "Gov. Maddox Visits Lost Girls’ Families.” The Georgia Guardsman Magazine, March, 1970, 9.

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