Woman reflects on 1969 Winston-Salem gas explosion that killed her father

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WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The discovery of methane gas at Bowman Gray Stadium this week, a byproduct of an old landfill that used to be under the property, has opened up a tragic chapter in the history of the city.

In September 1969, an explosion at the National Guard Armory on Silas Creek Parkway killed three guardsmen and severely burned several others. It was determined methane gas coming from an old city landfill underneath the armory property and the spark of a match caused the explosion.

“I was 10 years old, I was raised without a dad,” said Teresa Willard. Her father, Master Sgt. Joel Calhoun Jr. was killed in that explosion. He was 39 years old. “He had severe burns, 80 percent of his body were third-degree burns, he had lost his nose and ears.”

Willard says at the time there was no burn center in the state to help the guard members who lost limbs from the heat of the explosion. The military flew them to Texas where three died and many more were left with a lifetime of scars.

“It was horrible to hear what my mom said my dad had gone through and what those guys had gone through from being severely burn like that,” Willard said. “They had to get in ‘sit baths’ and they had to scrub that dead skin off every day. It was just horrible.”

Adding insult to injury, newspaper articles from the time showed two other explosions happened on the armory property several years before the deaths. In the end, the City of Winston-Salem would settle, nearly a million dollars, with the victims and the families of those who lost loved ones.

Willard hopes that the city takes this recent discovery at Bowman Gray Stadium seriously and that nearby residents hold them to it.

Test results conducted the first week of June showed the highest concentrations at Bowman Gray near homes, enough to cause an explosion if the gas is trapped in an enclosed building.

City leaders say testing will continue.​

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