by Elise Miller Davis
I've copied this word for word, and preserved as much formatting as possible. I found it in a 1952 edition of the Readers Digest, and felt that it was definitely worth sharing. Enjoy.
Just before midnight in February 1952, Roy Gaby, driving for a Houston Texas, trucking company, ran out of gasoline while returning from waco in a heavy 14 wheel truck-trailer. From a house nearby he telephoned his wife, "SOS, honey, I'm out of gas." Mrs. Gaby sighed, bundled up the baby and set out to the rescue in the family car.
On the way home Mrs. Gaby drove ahead of Roy. About ten miles from Houston a speeding car, with an apparently drunken driver who was never stopped, darted out of a side road, forcing Mrs. Gaby's car off the highway on the right. In the rear-view mirror she caught a glimpse of Roy's truck swerving to avoid a collision. Then she heard a crash.
The engine had smashed into a mammoth oak tree, the trailer had piled up on the cab and Roy was trapped in the twisted debris.
A passing mostorist rushed into the village of Fairbanks and notified Deputy Sheriff Don Henry.
Henry decided to try "untelescoping" the wreck. "we attatched a wrecker to the front of the mashed in engine, hoping to pull it straight enough to get Gaby out. The idea didn't work. We added the power of a truck at the front of the wrecker. Finally, two more trucks were attatched to the rear, and they pulled in the opposite direction. But still, no soap."
Small flames appeared beneath the truck, and there was no extinguisher at hand. Halting passing drivers, Henry set helpers to working franticaly at the crumpled doors with hammers and crowbars. The twisted doors refused to budge. Henry crawled onto the hood of the cab and turned his flashlight on the victim. The steering wheel was crushed against Gaby's waist and his feet were pinned beneath the twisted brake and clutch pedals. Tiny Flames were licking at his feet.
"I'm an accident investigator," henry told me later, "but I've never seen a more terrible sight and I've never been more helpless."
At that moment a husky Negro appeared out of the darkness. "Can I help?" he asked quietly. Henry shook his head. Nobody could help if three trucks and a wrecker couldn't budge that cab, and by the time the cutting torches and the fire apparatus arrived it was just going to be too bad. The Negro calmly walked over to the cab, put his hands on the door and wrenched it off!
Speechless, the crowd watched the Negro reach in the cab and tear out the burning floor mat. Then he put out the flames around Gaby's legs - with his bare hands.
"It was just about then that i caught a glimpse of the big fellow's face," said one of the witnesses. "at first I thought he was in a trance. Then I saw that set expression for what it was - cold, calculated fury. I'd seen it before - at Pearl Harbor, on Okinawa. I remember thinking: Why, that guy's not calm, he's enraged. It was just as if he despised fire.
Swiftly, almost as if rehearsed, the Negro worked on, poking large arms into the truck cab. "He straightened that steering wheel llike it was tin," the driver of the wrecker said. "With his left hand on the brake pedal and his right on the clutch, he all but uprooted the whole works to free Gaby's feet."
But the crucial job wasn't done. The victim still lay encased in what witnesses called "a squashed sardine can over a bonfire."
Stubbornly the big man struggled to squeeze in beside Gaby. The space was too tiny. Stepping back from the cab, he hesitated fleetingly. The flames were growing. He glared at them, slumped to a squatting position and began pushing into the cab, fighting crazily. At long last he was in far enough to rest his feet firmly on the floorboard. He started rising slowly. His muscles bulged in the half-light and the sleeves of his shirt tore.
"My God, he's trying to push up the top!" a woman's voice called. Neck and shoulders agains the caved-in roof. Hard.
"We actually heard the metal give," reported a farmer who had come to the scene. Discussing the rescue afterward, Deputy Henry shook his head, still baffled. "And he held up that top until we could pull Gaby out."
In the excitement of attending to Gaby, no one thought to thank the Negro or even ask his name. Later, at the hospital with Gaby, Deputy Henry told newsmen: "The mysterious Samson disappeared as quietly as he'd come. If i hadn't witnessed it I'd never believe that a lone man could do the job we couldn't do with three trucks and a wrecker."
"I wish I knew his name," put in Mrs. Gaby. "He was a giant."
Actually, 33-year-old Charles Dennis Jones is not a giant. He is six feet two inches tall and weighs 220 pounds. He'd been out to nearby Hempstead to change tires on a disabled truck when he came upon the accident. By morning the whole city of Houston was wondering about his identity. Newspapers throughout the country carried the story. But Jones didn't tell even his wife about his experience. His boss, C.C. Meyers, became suspicious when he noticed the big fellow walk away from a group of employees discussing the amazing rescue. Remembering the mission he'd sent Jones on the night before, Meyers grabbed a photograph from the company files and headed for the Sheriff's office. "Yes, thats him," agreed Deputy Henry.
And Myers knew immediately how Charlie Jones found the strength to lick that fire.
One December night 14 months before, Jones had come home to the three-room house where he lived with his wife, Mildred, and their five small children. Under one arm he carried a tiny pine tree, and a single string of Christmas lights.
They'd had a lot of bad luck that year. Only two months before both his mother and Mildred's had died within a week, leaving greif, doctor bills, and funeral expenses. But Evelyn Carol, his eight-year-old first born, wanted some real Christmas-tree lights and he had them. He'd manage. He was healthy and husky and could stand a 16 hour day. Double work meant double pay. And they had a roof over their heads. Paid for.
Mildred left for church, where she was singing that evening. Jones tucked in the children. As he undressed, he wondered if he should risk leaving the tree lights on. He decided he would. Evelyn Carol wanted to surprise her mother and he'd promised. He fell asleep.
Mildred's pillow was still untouched when Jones awoke. There was a burning in his nostrils, a crackling sound in his ears. He heard a childs cry: "Daddy!" Instantly he was on his feet, awake in a world on fire, pushing through choking waves of smoke, grabbing small bodies until he counted five, finding his way to the open window, pitching the children out.
People gathered. And Mildred came runing through the darkness, crying his name. Then Jones heard a man's voice, maybe his own: "No, no-Evelyn Carol, come back, come back!" A child's answer: "But I must get my Christmas lights!" And like a fleeting spirit Evelyn Carol in a little white nightgown ran back toward the flames.
Later a neighbor told how Jones had raced after his child but just as he neared the dwelling its last remains exploded. How the blast had thrown Jones to the ground, unconscious.
The next morning for the first time in ten years, Charles Dennis Jones failed to report to work at Robertson Transport. Everbody there had heard. When a man loses a child and his home, has four children to support and another one on the way, what can other men do?
Before nine o'clock a paper was circulating - from workshops to offices to yards. By noon an envelope bearing the names of 84 Robertson employes, and $765.50 was delivered to Charlie Jones.
The following day friends at Hughes Tool Co., where Mildred had formerly worked sent in $80. By mail, from strangers, came $16. There were countless offers: Can you use an icebox? An army cot? A boy's coat size 6? It seemed everyone had united to help the Jones family. And before long Charlie began to work on a new home. He figured that before the new baby came he'd have his family back under their own roof.
You could understand why he would always hate fire.
Reading a newspaper account of Jones's heroic rescue, R.A. Childers, Houston businessman, wrote the papers, saying that he would give $400 to start a fund providing an annual college scholarship for a Negro Highschool graduate. The rescue had taken place during Brotherhood Week. "Could anything be more characteristic of brotherhood than the fact that Jones walked away without waiting for thanks?" Childers asked.
And so it came about in the new house Charlie and Mildred and their children had built with their own hands that they recieved a group of citizens who informed them of the proposed Charles D. Jones Endowment Fund. Jones heard the committee's proposal in his faded blue overalls, eyes glazed by unshed tears. His wife stood beside him, his children huddle near. He didn't say a word.
Finally, Mr. Childers broke the silence. Somehow Charlie must give a statement to the press. There was the mystery he might yet clear up. How in the name of heaven had he managed to wrench off a steel door, beat out flames with his hands, raise with his back the crushed-in top of the drivers cab?
Charlie Jones looked at Childers and at the hushed group around him. He cleared his throat and said simply: "A man don't know what he can do until another man is hurting."