Memorial Day service honors workers killed at Iowa munitions factory

A memorial marker at the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant.


By ELIZABETH MEYER | The Hawk Eye, Burlington, Iowa | Published: May 24, 2019

MIDDLETOWN, Iowa (Tribune News Service) — Seventy American flags fluttered in the wind Thursday as the Iowa Army Ammunition Plant honored its employees killed at the munitions factory.

Since production began at the Middletown plant in 1941, 70 people have died from accidents at work, where employees often handle dangerous materials, including, at one time, nuclear weapons.

"You don't have to wear a uniform to serve the country," said John McGuiness, president of American Ordnance, during a Memorial Day ceremony at Eagle Park on the IAAP campus. "The 70 patriots that we recognize this morning are heroes in their own right. They came to work everyday, doing their best, contributing and ensuring great products went out to those who needed it the most."

The Eagle Park Memorial, built in 2007, has 70 names etched into it in honor of those who died over the last 78 years. The last death there occurred in 2014, when 31-year-old Troy Snaadt of West Point was killed operating an excavator on the property's Lake Mathes.

"Those who gave the ultimate sacrifice here at our facility should never be forgotten, and this memorial allows us to recognize their sacrifice every single day," McGuiness said.

Production at the Middletown plant began just before the United States entered World War II and employed more than 10,000 people at its peak. American Ordnance, the operating contractor, has several hundred people at the plant on its payroll. The rest are a mix of government staff and various contract employees, with one Army official, Lt. Col. Stephen Koehler.

Between the plant's hundreds of buildings and storage capacity exceeding 1 million square feet, IAAP produces thousands of rounds of munitions a week, including rocket-assisted projectiles, high-explosive artillery and grenades.

Vera Leebold of Dallas City, Illinois, has attended the Memorial Day service here annually in remembrance of her late sister, Sylvia "Sally" Clark.

"It's been over 50 years and it's still hard," said Leebold, who brought a large, framed picture of her sister to the memorial.

Clark, one of 12 children from Pontoosuc, Illinois, was 18 when she was killed by what Leebold described as a "minor explosion" at the plant.

"She would have liked to go to beauty school, but financially, she decided to come work at the Ordnance plant," Leebold said. "She was going to work in the office, and they told her you can make more money if you go into the plant. She was only here six weeks when she got killed."

The flags displayed behind the memorial this year were present at the ceremony for the first time, thanks to a donation from the Iowa and Middletown Railway. The flags were installed by the Optimist Club of Burlington-West Burlington, said Lt. Col. Koehler.

"Memorial events like this are a time for solemn mourning, but it's also a time of reverent celebration," said Koehler, who will be replaced at the plant this year by a new Army official. "It's a celebration of men and women who gave their all so that we may continue to enjoy the freedoms and benefits of our great nation."

©2019 The Hawk Eye (Burlington, Iowa)
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