Survivors and Guard members remember deadly Xenia tornado on 45th anniversary
Story by Stephanie Beougher, Ohio National Guard Public Affairs
XENIA, Ohio (04/02/19)
In a matter of minutes on the afternoon of April 3, 1974, the relative quiet on a spring day in the small southwestern Ohio town of Xenia was shattered. A powerful F-5 tornado tore a path of destruction. It killed 33 people and injured hundreds more.
Homes and schools were leveled. Businesses were destroyed. The nearby Ohio Army National Guard armory was damaged.
Cathy Wilson was 9 years old when the tornado touched down near her family’s one-story home. She took cover in the bathtub with her mother and sister. After the twister, they went outside to see the damage. The neighborhood was one of the hardest hit by the tornado.
“There was a boat trailer upside down in the street. There were power lines down everywhere. Two blocks down from us was pretty well flattened — that’s how close it was,” Wilson recalled.
Wilson’s father, retired Chief Master Sgt. Ray Kidd, was an aircraft mechanic at the Ohio Air National Guard’s 178th Wing in Springfield. He remembers jumping in his car to get home, and the many roadblocks he faced to travel across the town to reach his family. At the edge of town, he had to abandon his car because roads were closed. A short time later, he wouldn’t let a derailed train spread across Main Street stop him from his mission.
“I crawled under the train. I walked back up and I could see the path of the tornado. I knew it couldn’t have missed our house,” Kidd said.
He finally made it home to find out his wife and children had made it out safely. Kidd and other Airmen from the 178th were put on state active duty to help guard against looting and assist in the recovery efforts.
They were followed closely behind by Ohio Army National Guard members, who would also aid in the recovery efforts. Retired Col. Mark Ryan flew in the morning after the tornado.
“You could see the devastation from the air. I had never seen anything like it before in my life,” Ryan said. “They had us going out into the rural areas and going to farmhouses. We’d land and check for survivors and see if people were injured.”
On the ground, Sgt. Bob Petty and others were guarding against looting and helping in other areas.
“We moved bricks, boards, furniture or whatever to try and get a hole through so (people) could get in. We transported and moved people to different places,” Petty said.
Tragically, a few days after the tornado, Staff Sgts. Walter A. Radewonuk and Terry L. Regula of the 178th were killed when fire raced through a downtown furniture store they were guarding.
Ohio National Guard troops continued to help the residents of Xenia with cleanup for several weeks after the tornado.
Forty-five years later, there are still reminders of that day throughout Xenia. There are parking lots where buildings once stood. Downtown, a memorial marks the names of everyone who lost their lives.
At the Greene County Historical Society, where Wilson is the executive director, visitors can see some of the destruction of the deadly twister. The display includes an aerial photo showing the path of destruction, and T-shirts and bumper stickers with the rally cry “Xenia: where the spirit has just begun.”
Wilson said there was a spirit of rebuilding after the tornado, with those who stayed helping each other out. “That’s one defining moment in our lives,” she said.
Added Kidd: “Xenia was a different place. It also brought the neighborhood closer together.”
Looking back on the experience, Petty said he feels a sense of pride. “It made me proud to be in the Guard and to be a part of a big force that can do so much good, and to help the people who have undergone such a horrendous thing,” he said.
Photos from Ohio Army National Guard Historical Collections and Ohio Air National Guard archives