Thiokol medals

A memorial dedicated to the 29 victims of a 1971 explosion at the Thiokol plant sits in front of the Ralph Bunche Complex in Woodbine. An effort is underway to get medals awarded posthumously for the victims.

KINGSLAND — Organizers of a planned memorial dedicated to 29 workers killed in an explosion at a munitions plant in Woodbine 45 years ago are seeking more recognition for the victims.

They have started a petition drive to posthumously award the Presidential Medal of Freedom to each of the victims killed Feb. 7, 1971.

Jannie Everett, an organizer of the petition drive, said the victims are deserving of the medal because of the sacrifice they made in defense of the Vietnam War effort.

The plant manufactured flares that were used by the military during the war in Vietnam. The day of the explosion, the fire spread to a conveyor belt and ignited illuminant pellets in containers near the line. Fire spread to a storage room which contained more than 56,000 flares.

Workers fled the burning building and stood nearby, unaware of a potential explosion.The highly explosive materials had been improperly classified to be not as dangerous as they actually were.

Two small blasts were followed by a large explosion, which caused the casualties. Debris from the building was found more than three fourths of a mile away. Besides the 29 people who died in the blast, another 50 people were injured, most seriously.

Everett, whose mother was among those seriously injured in the blast, said the victims should be considered patriots for their support of the military effort during the war.

She said the White House has very strict rules about petitions for the medals. They are limited to 100 characters in the title and 800 words in the text.

Everett said she felt it was important to list the names of each of the victims killed in the explosion, which made it challenging to succinctly describe why they are deserving of the award.

“This brave, predominately female workforce was dedicated to the mission of manufacturing and supplying U.S. soldiers with munitions for conflict in Vietnam,” the petition said. “Their effort in the defense of democracy and the liberation of South Vietnam exemplifies their resilience, patriotism and dedication. They are role models who leave a valued legacy of love and respect for the freedom of all mankind.”

She is planning a trip to Washington soon to help generate support for the petition, which can be signed from July 7 to Aug. 6. Everett said anyone 13 and older can sign the petition.

“I’m hopeful people will see the petition and sign it,” she said. “They had to fight 17 years in court for justice. Some died before they were compensated.”

  • Reporter Gordon Jackson
  • writes about Camden County and other local topics. Contact him at gjackson@thebrunswicknews.com, on Facebook or at 464-7655.

Reporter Gordon Jackson writes about Camden County and other local topics. Contact him at gjackson@thebrunswicknews.com, on Facebook or at 464-7655.

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