Joe Sechovec remembered the water-soaked ground.
And the dark storm clouds, filled with rain, that came rolling across the sky.
It was June 1944.
Newspapers had been carrying stories about American troops that landed in Europe during the D-Day invasion and were making their way across France.
But the June 12th edition of the Fremont Tribune had some very different news.
“Elkhorn, Tributaries Hit Area with ‘Worst Flood’ in History,” the headline stated.
That June flood — which happened 75 years ago this month — flowed through several area towns. Thousands of acres of farmland were flooded.
Residents fled to their attics for safety.
Some people were found clinging to trees and telephone poles. One woman, Mrs. John Thernes, and her two grandchildren were stranded atop a piano until help arrived.
And then there was Joe’s story.
Joe was 85 years old when I interviewed him for a Tribune story in 1984 — what then was the 40th anniversary that terrible flood.
“I saw clouds coming and I knew it would be bad,” he said.
A jeweler and watch repairman in Dodge, Joe closed his shop early on the night of June 11 and returned to his family’s farm.
In 1944, Joe’s farm was just 400 yards from a small creek that no one had bothered to name. Rain poured over the Dodge countryside and Joe soon noticed that water was coming out of the creek toward the barn.
Joe hurriedly chased five cows from the barn, but when he returned to his house he found waist-deep water in the kitchen.
From their second-story window, Joe, his wife Bessie, and four daughters ranging in age from 3 to 15, watched as flood waters swept the barn away.
“We had over 30 rabbits and grain and hay in the big barn,” he said.
Other buildings, including a garage, chicken coop and hog shed, met a similar fate in the darkness.
His children began to cry.
The waters continued to rise and a little after 2 a.m., the house started to jerk and twist from its foundation. Windows broke as the house was torn from its foundation.
“The water was like a wide river taking everything with it,” he said. “We bid each other goodbye. I said, ‘We won’t see each other tomorrow.’”
There was no way anyone could see them in the darkness.
The house traveled precariously for about a half mile east when it hit some large trees.
As the house struck the trees, 2-by-4 boards from the kitchen ceiling began shooting through the walls. One board pinned Joe to the wall. He quickly freed himself and helped his children through an open space in the roof and into the tree branches.
But when Joe turned to find Bessie, he saw that her foot had gone through some floor boards, trapping her in water up to her waist.
“She told me I would have to cut her leg off, but I had nothing to cut it off with and I wouldn’t have done it if I did,” he said.
With lightning providing the only light in which to work, Joe worked until the water reached his mouth and freed his wife from the boards.
He helped her onto a tree branch just as the house began to sink, then climbed onto a branch himself.
Clinging to the tree, Joe didn’t notice his wrist had been cut. He had a broken rib and two large gashes in his back.
The family saw hogs and horses floating by. Then Joe noticed that gasoline had been spilled into the waters and feared lightning might strike it and cause a fire.
Around 6 a.m., Joe heard someone shouting. It was Oswald Peters, a local firefighter. Oswald and other firefighters tied ropes to nearby trees and formed a human chain to help Joe and his family to safety.
They escaped with nothing but the clothes they were wearing, yet were glad to be alive.
“I was in the war (World War I) and saw terrible things, but I was alone and only had to take care of myself,” Joe told me. “That was nothing compared to this when I had a family and didn’t know if I could save them or not. Nothing could be worse.”
Thirty-five years after I wrote the story about Joe, I’m writing flood stories again.
I haven’t had to write about someone’s home being torn from its foundation during mid-March flooding, but I’ve heard stories of people who’ve lost everything and I’m so very sorry for them.
So why write a column about Joe’s terrible experience?
Maybe it’s because of what I remember about Joe.
When I met him, he seemed kind of sad. His dear wife had died, not on that awful night, but many years later. I’m sure he missed her.
But I also recall a picture of Jesus with a big heart painted over his chest. Actually, I think there was more than one Jesus picture.
Joe appeared to be a man of faith, something I’m sure he needed throughout his life.
Joe’s story reminds me of an analogy Jesus made more than 2,000 years ago. It’s in the New Testament book of Matthew in chapter 7.
At this time, Jesus is teaching about several things such as seeking the Lord for what we need and doing his will.
Christ compares those who hear his words and do what he says to a wise man who builds his house on a rock.
When the rains come, streams rise and winds beat against the house, it doesn’t fall because its foundation is on the rock.
Jesus and his word are that rock.
A foolish man builds his house on sand. When the rains come, streams rise and winds blow, the house falls with a great crash.
Only Christ can give us the unshakable foundation we need to withstand the tumultuous storms of life.
It’s true that Joe’s physical house was ripped from its foundation and sank.
But I believe his spiritual foundation remained intact for the rest of his life.
We all need a firm foundation in Christ.
Like the roots of the tree in which Joe and his family found safety, we must be rooted in God’s love and his word. We need strong roots when rain-filled storm clouds come rolling our way.
We get these roots by being in a personal relationship with Jesus, talking to him daily, reading’s God’s word and asking the Holy Spirit to strengthen and guide us.
OK, I know.
You’ve heard all this before. How do you know this will help when tough times come?
All I can say is that when I’ve lost precious loved ones, including my parents, husband and grandbabies; when I’ve faced fear, grief or challenges of any sort — what’s helped me most is having the Lord and that spiritual savings account, that quiet reservoir of hope that is only supplied by God and his word.
And the Holy Spirit, who gives us the strength and direction we need.
I constantly must remind myself to trust the God who works things out and who helps me at every turn. I pray for God’s help all the time and the Holy Spirit reminds me of Bible verses.
One of my favorites is Isaiah 41:1-3, in which the Lord says:
“…Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the LORD your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior….”
Our God is mighty and we can be strong, too, as we hang on to his promises, which have been and always will be rock-solid.