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Local boy worthy of medal for heroic rescue

By Henry Timman • Feb 26, 2017 at 8:00 PM

After a 1938 incident near Norwalk there was an effort to secure the Carnegie Medal for bravery for a Norwalk boy, but I was unable to determine whether or not he ever received it.

Late in March of 1938, four children were playing at a small cave evacuated in the bank of the creek just south of the Rte. 20 bypass on Norwood Avenue.

Eleven-year-old Julian MacDonald, Jr., (commonly called Pete) was in the cave when the roof collapsed and covered him completely. Emmett Gray, Jr., also aged 11, began digging away the dirt to try to uncover MacDonald, while their playmate Jack Gerken ran to his parents' home nearby to sound the alarm. Before three adults reached the scene, young MacDonald was uncovered sufficiently to breathe. It took much more digging to remove him from the cave, and it was due to Emmett's first-aid efforts that "Pete" survived until being rescued.

Newspaper reports said that young Gray deserved the Carnegie Medal, but I was unable to determine whether he ever was recognized further for his quick thinking. What happened to our young hero? He went on to serve in the Navy as a young adult. He married in 1948 and moved to Bellevue to live with his wife's family. On March 30, 1949, he was en route home from a job in Lorain and lost his life in a traffic accident at Rtes. 4 and 113 east of Bellevue. His grave can be seen in the Bellevue cemetery.

Not so fortunate was Joseph Frank Hissong, age 13, who was living at the Huron County Children's Home in 1948, On August 9, 1984, he was camping with fellow scouts from a troop at the Home, along the Huron River just north of Mason Road at Fries Landing. He and two other boys were in the water; Hissong floating on an inner tube. He suddenly slipped into the water and disappeared. Some men working nearby secured a rowboat and recovered the body.

The Coroner ruled the death as accidental by drowning. It was said that young Hissong was a fair swimmer, but may have panicked when he went under the water and was unable to save himself. His life had been filled with tragedy in that his father had been killed while working at a foundry Monroe, Michigan, in 1937 and his mother died in 1940. Joseph was buried next to his mother in the Clarksfield Methodist Cemetery on Zenobia Road.

There were people who considered any Children's Home to be a terrible place for children, but Joseph was a good example of someone who had no relatives except a grandfather near Fremont who perhaps was unable to take him in. Joseph apparently enjoyed living there and participating in the Boy Scouting program. He had gone to the Fries Landing camp the week before with his other troop, and then had been allowed to return on his fatal second trip because he was such a capable assistant around the camp.

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REMEMBER: My “Just Like Old Times” books are on sale at Colonial Flower and Gift Shoppe at 7 W. Main St. in downtown Norwalk. These preserve my earlier columns in permanent book form.

Henry Timman, an authority on Firelands history, resides in rural Norwalk.

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