New London explosion survivor reflects on school explosion 77 ye - KLTV.com-Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville, Texas | ETX News

New London explosion survivor reflects on school explosion 77 years later

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Ledelle Carpenter sings the New London fight song Ledelle Carpenter sings the New London fight song
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  • A Look Back: 77 years after the New London school explosion

    A Look Back: 77 years after the New London school explosion

    Tuesday, March 18 2014 7:22 PM EDT2014-03-18 23:22:48 GMT
    The rescue scene (Source:  NewLondonSchool.org)The rescue scene (Source: NewLondonSchool.org)
    The New London School explosion took hundreds of lives of children and teachers, and to this day, it is the worst school disaster in U.S. History. Read the story and hear what survivors have told KLTV over the years.More >>
    The New London School explosion took hundreds of lives of children and teachers, and to this day, it is the worst school disaster in U.S. History. Read the story and hear what survivors have told KLTV over the years.
    More >>
KILGORE, TX (KLTV) -

It has been 77 years since an explosion killed nearly 300 people in New London, but to survivors like Ledell Carpenter, the memories are very clear.

Carpenter’s last name was Dorsey before she was married, and she attended what was one of the richest rural school districts in the United States back in the 1920s and '30s; rich because of oil discoveries in and around New London.

On March 18, 1937, a gas buildup in a crawlspace under the school caused a devastating explosion that changed the small community forever. Ledell was in school that day.

“It was like the school there just went up in the air and came back down,” she recalled.

She and her brother survived, but she lost two sisters. One sister had just ordered a class ring.

“Her class ring didn’t come in until after she died, and we gave it to momma,” Carpenter said.

She says people caught her when the only way out was through a window. In the aftermath, she was interviewed by a young Walter Cronkite.

There are many things she’d rather forget about that day, but there are many good memories too, like the New London Fight Song, which she’s happy to sing at the drop of a hat.

“Hit them high, hit them low, watch the wildcats go when the wildcats are carrying the ball. ‘Tis a high, high hee - a London victory! Shout out your colors one and all! The lines won’t hold when we're headed for the goal as the Wildcats are carrying the ball,” Carpenter sang.

Her granddaughter, Paula Pass, was with Ledell at The Willows in Kilgore for rehabilitation when she just started singing the song. Paula posted the video of the impromptu performance to Facebook, where it caught our attention.

“She was in a really good mood and started singing the song. I don’t think she was aware the date was actually approaching the anniversary. She kept singing it repeatedly, several times. We thought it would be good to share it,” Pass explained.

I thought Ledell would be shy about singing, but she likes to smile, and she says that’s what the song does to her every time she sings it.

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