Sunday, August 15, 2021

A Once in a Lifetime Test of Courage

Grover C. Williams 1939

Friday night in Atlanta, the war was over and a festive atmosphere pervaded the city. After a night on the town, 35-year-old Grover Williams and a buddy were looking for a room. They stopped by the 15-story Winecoff Hotel but were told it was already full for the night. No vacancy. So they walked a short distance to the corner of Houston and Pryor Streets and checked into the Avon Hotel. 

When silence finally descended on the city, the men were safe in the Avon. Then came the commotion on Peachtree Street: a cacophony of screams and sirens. One man said it sounded like the crowd at a football game. 

Out of the Army and back on the job with Atlanta's Coca-Cola Bottling Company, Williams and his buddy went to investigate. What they saw shocked Williams into a life of silence on the subject. 

The Winecoff Hotel December 7, 1946

A scene of horror played out before a growing crowd on Peachtree Street. Fire was working its way up the Winecoff, forcing guests out of their windows. They saw a shower of window screens, suitcases, broken glass - and bodies - falling from the hulking brick structure. 

A once in a lifetime test of courage lay before the two men. His buddy peeled off, done for the night, but Grover Williams stepped up. He helped Atlanta firefighters with a net on the Peachtree Street side of the building. Suddenly, Dr. Bob Cox, 33, and his three-year-old son struck the net from high above. Dr. Cox's head struck the net's rim, killing him,  but his son, little Bob, landed on the net and was scooped up by Williams, who took him to an ambulance bound for Grady Hospital.  

Williams worked 36 years for the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. in Atlanta.
Whatever else Williams saw and did that night died with him in 1996. He never spoke about the Winecoff fire. He only revealed the story of the net rescue forty-eight years later when he met the one person whose right-to-know outweighed his own need to repress the whole experience: little Bob Cox, all grown up, and a physician like his father. The two men met in 1994 when a historical marker was dedicated at the site of the Winecoff, honoring the fire's 119 victims and the firefighters who saved the rest.
 To Bob Cox, Grover Williams told his story. Cox wrote in 2021, "he (Williams) was emotionally touched when he met a person he had helped survive. It was a special time for both of us." 
(Photo by Sheryl Cox)

Labels: , ,


Post a Comment

<< Home