Sunday, December 5, 2021

Dec. 5, 1957: Rome, Douglasville Guardsmen Rush to Scene of Massive Explosion

By Maj. William Carraway

Historian, Georgia Army National Guard.


Aerial image of the blast that appeared in the Dec. 6, 1957 edition of the Atlanta Constitution.

Just after 11:00 in the morning the business district of Villa Rica Georgia, a town of 1,700, was shattered by a massive explosion. In an instant, four buildings were destroyed, and debris hurled in all directions damaged buildings for blocks. Stunned citizens beheld images of collapsed structures and scattered fires and immediately began the frantic search for survivors.[1]

Telephone calls to the State Department of Defense Headquarters were relayed by the Department of State Civil Defense to fire, medical and rescue organizations. Jack Grantham, communications coordinator for the Civil Defense also coordinated directly with State Patrol to marshal resources to the stricken town. The Governor requested immediate assistance from the Georgia National Guard.[2] Coincidentally, 25 Citizen Soldiers of Rome’s Company A, 163rd Tank Battalion were already on state active duty conducting a search and rescue for a suspected drowning victim near Cartersville. These Soldiers were rushed to Villa Rica arriving just ahead of a contingent of 25 Soldiers of the Douglasville-based Company D, 122nd Armored Infantry Battalion. Lieutenant Colonel Horace T. Clary, commander of the Calhoun-based 163rd Tank Battalion assumed command of the troops on the ground whose numbers grew rapidly. The effort was soon joined by 18 Soldiers of the Atlanta-based 201st Ordnance Company. Other Atlanta-based units such as the 179th Armored Field Artillery Battalion and 48th Armored Signal Company assembled and dispatched troops, vehicles and equipment to include ten trucks, an ambulance and a five-ton wrecker from state headquarters in Atlanta.

Lieutenant Colonel Horace Clary, commander of the Calhoun-based 163rd Tank Battalion directs Guardsmen and first responders at the scene of a massive
gas explosion in Villa Rica, Ga. Dec. 4, 1957. Georgia National Guard Archives.

The first Guardsmen to reach the scene established security around collapsed structures while others assisted in debris removal. Still others brought power generators online to power lights to continue the search into the night. A field kitchen was rushed to the scene to provide meals for the Guardsmen and responders.

Georgia Guardsmen of Rome’s Company A, 163rd Tank Battalion move into Villa Rica in the wake of a  Dec. 4, 1957 following a deadly
gas explosion. Captain Guy Amspoker (with speaker) of battalion staff posts Guardsmen around the rubble of destroyed buildings to protect
community property. Georgia National Guard Archives.

The Guardsmen were relieved of duty at 4:00 pm December 5. The final toll of the blast was twelve killed with more than 20 injured.


[1] “At Least 12 Dead and 20 Injured as Blast Levels Villa Rica Stores.” Atlanta Constitution. Dec. 6, 1957, 1.

[2] “Violent Explosion at Villa Rica, Ga. Brings Rome, Douglasville Guardsmen.” The Georgia Guardsman.  Nov Dec 1957, 2-3.

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