MILL HALL - It was 40 years ago today Peter Bates stood with his hands on his hips at the Fishing Creek Bridge over Mill Hall.
He was 22 years old, dressed in Army green as a member of the 728th Maintenance Battalion of the Pennsylvania National Guard based in Lockport. He was on official duty just days after a flood. The bridge had collapsed into the creek, bringing down power lines and leaving piles of concrete, rocks and uprooted trees.
Yesterday, Bates took that stance again.
Peter Bates stands along the creek in Mill Hall in about the same place he stood some 40 years ago as a national guardsman after the Agnes flood of 1972
He stood in the same spot. There were no downed power lines, toppled trees, crumbled sidewalks or collapsed bridge. He no longer fits in his Army uniform so he donned a blue ball cap, blue shirt and blue jeans for the occasion.
It was a different time in his life. He's not 22 any more. And, he's no longer a member of the National Guard.
But he still remembers that day 40 years ago when the local Guard was called into action to serve the community during and after the devastating Flood of 1972.
"Actually, when that photo was taken it was after the water receded. I was making sure than nobody got close to the downed power lines until the utility company arrived," Bates said, looking at the old photo that was used on the front cover of a special "Flood 1972" souvenir booklet that was published by the former Pennsylvania Mirror and included pictures like this one submitted by The Express.
Many of the homes across the creek in the 1972 picture are still there today, most notably a large white one on Water Street at the other end of the bridge. And there's a telephone pole on the right side of the picture. It's still there, too.
Peter talked about the deluge of the raging Susquehanna River that set the Guard in motion. The river had already overflowed its banks when he and a fellow guardsman got their first assignment.
"We were told to take two 'deuce-and-a-halfs' (large trucks) and go up the Farrandsville Road to Rocky Point ... where the Boy Scout Camp was ... and get the Boy Scouts out. We got them all out. We drove back through four or five feet of water, but everyone was safe," he said.
As soon as the water went down, Peter said most of the local Guard was sent to critical areas - like the Mill Hall bridge - where there were downed wires and safety issues. Others were assigned to patrol stores and businesses to keep looters out.
"All the windows were broken out of the stores and there were people everywhere. I was up at Weis one night. Weis was worried about the food being contaminated, but some people didn't care. They came right in and tried to take food. The liquor store ... well people wanted in there, too," Peter said with a smile. His wife, Susie, joked there were probably a lot of people who wanted to get in there.
As a pilot and employee at Piper, he remembers that planes were taken from the airport to the just finished Route 220 bypass to get them out of the flood. After the water receded, he helped fly them to Williamsport where they stayed until the airport was cleaned up.
When the Guard was no longer needed in Lock Haven and this area, Peter said many of the local units were sent to the Wilkes-Barre area to help out there. He said he remembers some were assigned to gather caskets that surfaced when a cemetery was swallowed up by flood waters.
Ask Peter what he remembers most about the flood, he'll respond quickly, "It's the mud... all the mud. When the water went down there was mud everywhere."