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Fort Drum places memorial at site of 1947 fire that led to Feres Doctrine (VIDEO)

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FORT DRUM — The courage of Capt. Francis H. Turner was on the minds of his daughters Elizabeth V. Barbee and Carolyn T. Leps on Monday as a memorial was dedicated to him and four other soldiers who died in a Dec. 10, 1947, barracks fire that led to the Feres Doctrine legal precedent.

Capt. Turner, who arrived at the installation only nine hours before the 2:30 a.m. fire, was credited with saving the lives of 10 men after he sounded the fire alarm and searched the barracks to help them escape. Trapped in debris while attempting to exit the building, Capt. Turner suffered burns to about 90 percent of his body, and died 18 days later.

Ms. Barbee, 5 years old at the time of the fire, learned of her father’s bravery through her mother.

“My father was a hero,” she said. “We always learned that; we were always told that.”

Also lost in the fire were Capt. Robert L. Dodge, 1st Lt. Wallace H. Swilley Jr., 1st Lt. Robert D. Manly and 1st Lt. Rudolph J. Feres, for whom the doctrine was named. Four other soldiers were injured in the blaze.

No cause has been determined for the fire, and the official report of the fire has not been found. The soldiers were at the post, then known as Pine Camp, for Exercise Snowdrop, a test of cold weather readiness.

The new memorial sits on the southern side of post, where the front door to the barracks would have been.

The Feres Doctrine, an interpretation of the Federal Tort Claims Act, effectively prohibits military service members from suing the government for injuries or death connected to their service, even when negligence is found.

The doctrine came into place with the December 1950 Supreme Court ruling in the case of Feres vs. United States, which combined the wrongful death lawsuit of Bernice Feres with two separate military medical malpractice cases. The policy has drawn fierce debate in recent years, and Mrs. Leps said she was hopeful one day it could be overturned.

Mrs. Leps’s interest in the site’s history came about through an October 2010 trip to post to see the barracks area for the first time.

“I expected to see a lot of sorrow and pain, and what I felt was peacefulness, a calm coming over me,” she said.

She said Ms. Barbee and sister Anne Marie Fletcher, who died in 2003, originally researched the family’s tie to the Feres Doctrine, and Mrs. Leps carried a copy of the Supreme Court decision provided by the two with her when she met E.W. Duane Quates, archaeologist for the post’s Cultural Resources Program.

The connection of the fire to the policy helped move forward a three-year study of the site and its history, which has turned up several personal belongings, including a typewriter believed to have been used by Capt. Turner.

“Knowing what the story was, and knowing that there were survivors to this, every artifact we recovered we had them in the back of our minds,” Mr. Quates said.

The archaeologist described the memorial dedication as a “bittersweet” culmination of his team’s work.

“I think it means the most to me, to be able to provide them with something that’s so valued,” Mr. Quates said. “They know what their father did was worthwhile, but they now know that the Army recognizes that as well.”

Following the ceremony, Ms. Barbee said her mother would never have made the trip to post, as Capt. Turner’s death upset her all her life. However, she said, the memorial has helped give herself closure for what happened that fateful morning.

“I’d like to think of the two of them here, holding hands, and saying, ‘It’s all right; it’s all right now,’” she said.

Video from the ceremony can be found at http://wdt.me/REHf8t.





Monument Dedication for 1947 Pine Camp Barracks Fire
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