World War II Honor Roll

William S. Robbins

Seaman, First Class, U.S. Navy



Entered the Service from: New Jersey
Died: December 31, 1944
Buried at: Calvary Cemetery
                  State Highway 70 and Hampton Road
                  Cherry Hill NJ     

SEAMAN FIRST CLASS WILLIAM S. ROBBINS, 18, was killed in a train crash on New Years Eve, December 31st, 1944 at Ogden, Utah. Born in 1926, he had enlisted in the Navy in August of 1944, and was returning to duty after his first furlough home.

William S. Robbins had ties to Haddon Heights NJ, where is named on the town War Memorial, and Westville NJ, as well as Camden. He was survived by his mother, Mrs. Edward Smith, of 709 North 9th Street in Camden NJ, and two sisters, Mary and Dorothy.

William S. Robbins was brought home to New Jersey. He was buried at Calvary Cemetery in Delaware Township (present-day Cherry Hill) NJ. His mother and step-father rest next to him.

Train wreck: A fateful New Year's Eve

50 lives claimed, 70 others injured in Pacific Limited tragedy

Ogden Standard-Examiner staff

OGDEN New Year's Eve, 1944. The Pacific Limited was getting ready to leave Ogden for California and Irene Pierce did not want to get on the train. She couldn't explain her reluctance, but it went way beyond normal fear of travel, way beyond any desire to stay home.
      Cost was not the problem. Pierce's husband worked for the Southern Pacific and she got to ride free. Still fear, unreasoned and unfathomable, gnawed at her guts. Even getting into the cab to the station was an emotional struggle.
     "I didn't want to go," said Pierce, who still lives in Ogden. "For some reason I didn't want to go."
     But she did. Her husband had said "come with me," on a short trip to Carlin, Nev., and back, so she went. She put her daughter to bed in her mother's home and went down to Union Station in Ogden. There, in the early morning hours, she looked at one of the From 24 engines that was part of the two sections of the train she was about to ride away on.
     "And I was thinking, what a wicked monster."
     It was a warning from her gut she should have listened to.
     The train she boarded was the first half of the "Pacific Limited," westbound out of Union Station about 3 a.m., the morning of Dec. 31, 1944. The train was usually one piece but had been split in two in Ogden, a separate engine pulling each section. 
     Seventeen miles west of Ogden, on the Lucin Cutoff, with the Great Salt Lake on both sides, something happened. A freight train slowed the first section. The night was foggy. Some said the engineer of the second section didn't see signals warning him to slow down. Whatever the cause, the second half of the "Limited," rammed into the first, hitting the Pullman sleeping car where Pierce was riding. The impact threw the car up into the air where it landed on top of the engine. More than 50 people died and another 70 or more were injured. Pierce was almost among the dead. But for a fluke, and her own fear, she would have died, crushed or boiled alive with her fellow passengers.
      The accident came at the heights of Union Station's busy period during World War II. Ogden was where trains going north-to-south and east-to-west met, making it a critical juncture during the War. Millions of soldiers heading across country traveled through Ogden. As many as 100 trains a day carried everything from freight to passengers to war supplies.
      The Pacific Limited was no exception. The first section was loaded with soldiers and civilians. The last car, named the "Lake Cushman," was the car that Pierce boarded. The porter waved her to a berth in the rear of the car, "and its funny, I wouldn't be here if it wasn't for that porter," she said, because she did exactly the opposite of what he wanted. 
     "He said "Sit here,' and I said "No, I want to go up there," and she pointed to a seat at the very front of the car.
     The train left Union Station about 3 a.m. and Pierce couldn't get her fear to let go. While other passengers took off clothes, made seats into beds and went to sleep, she sat and fretted. When the accident occurred, she was still dressed.
      "It was just a terrible noise. You know, it's hard to explain it. Just a huge noise and a swaying, and I thought "I'll be glad when it stops swaying,' and finally it stopped swaying." 
      The engine from behind had rammed the car she was in, splitting it and throwing it up on top of the wrecked engine. It was a steam engine, and part of the noise Pierce could hear was broken steam lines boiling alive those passengers the accident had not killed outright.
       An Ogden doctor who went to the scene, L.S. Sycamore, was quoted in news stories. "It was a scene of carnage when I reached the wreck," he said. "Heads, legs and arms of dozens of victims were scattered about. The wooden cars were smashed to pulp, or reduced to matches, so to speak."
      Pierce said almost all the passengers in the car she was in were killed. She crawled out on her stomach, apparently uninjured. Outside, it was still foggy, gloomy and dark. 
      Ogden, which received the word on the final day of the year, found itself faced with a tragedy that would overwhelm even modern emergency response services. Ambulances, doctors and nurses had to be found. No cars could get to the scene, so all rescue workers went on a special rescue train. Many of the injured, and all the dead, had to be brought back on that same train before they could be helped.
      The city's mortuaries were swamped. People who, only hours before, had seen relatives off on the train now had the wearying task of going from mortuary to mortuary, identifying the dead. Fortunately, the first train carried two military hospital cars with three doctors and some nurses. Workers unhitched the wrecked cars on the end of that train, loaded injured into the medical cars and took them ahead to Nevada.
      Pierce said she still doesn't completely understand her own reaction. There she was, surrounded by unimaginable horror, feeling totally calm, quiet, even relieved. Even her husband, who was working in one of the cars ahead of her, survived the wreck.