Thursday, August 06, 2009

Only in Coltons Point - Plant a Rose, Find a Bomb


Wednesday evening Coltons Point got more than it's total annual share of emergency vehicles as multiple volunteer fire departments, the County Sheriff's Office, a Hazmat Hazardous Waste Team, eventually the Office of the State Fire Marshall, and even the US department of Defense converged in a blaze of flashing red, white and blue lights on the Point.

That's what happened when young Willie Ashby started digging a hole to plant a rose bush for his mother and wound up digging up a bomb. At first he thought it was old trash buried beside the home long ago and he threw the strange cylinder onto the sidewalk. Then he realized it was a bomb and a quick call to emergency services brought a traffic jam of emergency vehicles to the Point just after dusk.

The Coltons Point Times was the first and only media on the scene when field reporters Hillbilly Joe and Duke Deere came tearing up to the house on their John Deere's saying all hell had broken loose down by the St. Clements Museum.

I immediately raced to the scene stopping at the Potomac Gardens on the way, our only store and bar, where a huge crowd of at least a dozen people had gathered to see if the house next door was going to blow up. Fireworks are big in Coltons Point and this promised to be one of the best shows ever.

I interviewed Willie who said how was he to know the junk was a bomb? I visited his mother who wanted to know when the emergency teams would let her back in her house because she left chili cooking on the stove when they evacuated the area.

As I made my way to the police blockade there were emergency vehicles parked everywhere with lights flashing and emergency flood lights illuminated the area of town as if it was daylight. Working my way closer and closer to the location of the bomb I interviewed a number of emergency workers who said this kind of thing happens 5-10 times a year in St. Mary's County.

Seemed like a lot of bombings for a bunch of miniscule towns, villages really, until they explained it to me. Way back in 1919 the US Navy acquired St. Clements Island just offshore for defensive purposes. Now St. Clements is the most sacred site in America being the birthplace of religious freedom in America and with Coltons Point being the oldest continuously settled charter community in the original thirteen colonies. Things go way back down here in Southern Maryland, all the way to the St. Clement's Island landing in 1634.

From 1919 until 1956 the Navy had little regard for sacred sites, religious freedom and the site of the first landing by the colonists in the area between Virginia and Massachusetts so before and after World War II they used the Island for target practice by huge guns at the Dahlgren Proving Grounds about 20 miles up the river. During the War they used the Island to prevent German submarines from attacking our nation's capitol.

The bomb discovered while planting roses at the Ashby home was quite possibly the result of a very bad day by some Navy gunner trying to blow away the Island about 50 years ago. Not surprising I guess since the Navy bombed the Island for 37 years and never even hit the abandoned lighthouse sitting on it. When the Hazmat team realized what type of bomb was there they called in the State Fire Marshall's Office to identify it and make a determination on how to destroy it.

Here modern technology took over as Duane K. Svites, Deputy Chief State Fire Marshall and Commander of the Southern Region notified the Department of Defense of the bomb, then used his cell phone to send photos of the bomb to Andrew's Air Force Base up by Washington, DC for identification purposes. They were to determine if it was a practice round or the real thing and either way because it did not explode arrangements had to be made to move it and blow it up.

While this was going on crews started searching the rest of the rose bed and lo and behold found two more bombs which had not exploded. This was becoming a most volatile rose patch. One might have suspected someone in the Navy 50 years ago might not have liked the people living in the house and declared war on it.

At this point the entire yard was cordoned off as a potentially dangerous site, there was no telling how many more bombs might be there. If metal detectors find more stuff in the yard Mrs. Ashby might need to get a lot more roses to fill the holes.

On a slightly more serious note, the all volunteer fire departments did an exceptional job in responding and maintaining crowd control over the dozen people trying to find out the cause of such extraordinary excitement in the sleepy little village. The communication and coordination between the County Public Safety, County Sheriff, volunteer fire departments, State Fire Marshall and the Department of Defense was an exemplary example of first responders at work.

Way down here in the infamous 7th District of Maryland it is reassuring to know that no matter how you get bombed the local authorities are always prepared to take care of you. Now we certainly hope we have finally seen the last of World War II.


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