On December 23, 1972, a massive earthquake devastated
the Nicaraguan capital of Managua. 7,000 people died and thousands
of others were injured. More than 250,000 people were suddenly
Roberto lost many friends in the quake. He had
spent most of November in Nicaragua managing a Puerto Rican all-star
team in the Amateur Baseball World Series tournament. He felt the
threat to his many colleagues, thousands of fans and friends.
Clemente accepted the honorary chairmanship of
an earthquake relief committee and used local media to appeal for
help. He worked day and night, even soliciting donations door to
door. The relief team raised $150,000, and gathered and shipped
nearly 26 tons of food, clothing and medicine by air and sea. Then
came reports from Managua—the corrupt regime of General Anastasio
Somoza was intercepting the deliveries.
Roberto wanted to make sure the food and medicine
got to the people who needed it. On New Year’s Eve, he helped
load an aging DC-7, then boarded the flight.
"When your time comes, it comes; if you
are going to die, you will die,' Vera remembered him saying. "And
babies are dying. They need these supplies."
One of the DC-7’s engines exploded almost
immediately after take-off. There were two more explosions, then
"He liked Nicaragua
because it looked like the old days in Puerto Rico when we didn’t
have so much progress. He said the people on the farms still
used animals, and it reminded him of when he was a little boy.
And when we traveled through the country he liked to visit with
the people and learn more about the way they lived. The common
people, he just liked to talk with them."