Man Believed To Be Last Survivor Of 109th Train Crash Dies At 84

August 19, 2018

Joe Anistranski was only 16 when he witnessed the horrific results of the 109th Field Artillery train wreck of Sept. 11, 1950 in Coshockton, Ohio. Joe should not have been there. He and a friend, William Disbrow, also 16, had enlisted in the Pennsylvania Army National Guard, each signing the other’s papers in lieu of parental permission. Anistranski and Disbrow would “hang around” the 109th Armory, the former said in an interview in 2015. “They (the artillerymen) treated us like mascots,” Anistranski said. Anistranski died Thursday while on a fishing trip to Ontario, Canada. He was 84 and resided in Hanover Twp. Disbrow died in the train wreck that took 33 lives. Anistranski went on to serve 43 years in the Guard, initially as a “weekend warrior” and then full time. He was trained as a medic and he also served as battalion supply sergeant. In 1969 he joined the National Guard Bureau as a full-time employee. He served as an administrative technician and then as a first sergeant, in A Battery, Service Battery and D Battery. He retired in 1993. His employers during the 50s and 60s included Air Products and Foster Wheeler Corporation. Anistranski, who was born on Christmas Eve in 1933, and Disbrow dropped out of Coughlin High School and “enlisted” in the Guard early in 1950. The friendship took a tragic turn on what Anistranski often called “the other Sept. 11” when Disbrow was killed in the accident. Disbrow was in the last car, Anistranski said, and for some reason he did not take up an offer to share in a cake that Disbrow’s mother had baked. Anistranski remained in the fifth car. The crash occurred at Coshocton where The Spirit of St. Louis passenger train of the Pennsylvania Railroad smashed into the stopped troop train. The official count was 33 killed and 278 injured, but Anistranski said some, including himself, were hurt but not included on the list. The crash knocked him unconscious, the former soldier said. Others pulled him from beneath seats and debris. He then joined in the search for victims and, later, recovery of the dead. It was gruesome work. Anistranski said he helped Pvt. Dan Keuhn recover the body of his father, Sgt. Lester Keuhn. “I didn’t know Dan before that, but we became friends for life,” Anistranski said. Dan Keuhn died a few years ago. The 109th Field Artillery remembers the 33 victims in an annual ceremony in front of the armory. Anistranski lamented early in 2015 that the annual tribute was losing significance and he urged that a broader community-wide observance be held in September 2015, on the 65th anniversary of the mishap. “I don’t know how many of us will be alive in 2025 on the 75th anniversary,” Anistranski said. “Maybe we should do the commemoration in 2015.” Anistranski said then that the community was losing its sense of history. He suggested a scaled-down recreation of the transferral of bodies from the railroad station on East Market Street to the armory. Anistranski said a broader observance would be an appropriate way to honor the dead and the hundreds of injured. He said he hoped thousands of people would come out to line the streets. It could not be determined Saturday now many track wreck survivors remain. There is no association of train wreck survivors as declining numbers ended that club. Funeral arrangements for Anistranski are pending from Hugh B. Hughes and Son Inc. Funeral Home, Forty Fort.

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