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A brave soldier died


Messenger city editor

This article was sent to the Checkerboard by Sarah Crowe and was written and printed Nov. 10, 1989, in The Messenger, Hopkins County KY..

It was 1947, two and a half years after the fall of Nazi Germany and more than two years after the end of World War II.

Hopkins Countian C.M. Oldham had sent five sons, three grandsons, and a son-in-law to fight in the desperate conflict to save the world from Hitler and the Japanese.

All survived except his daughter's husband, Gwen Hart Crowe, the first of Hopkins County's war dead whose body was returned home from a temporary resting place in war-torn Europe.

Crowe never saw the youngest of two sons born to him and his wife, Sarah.

Mrs. Crowe remembers her proud sorrow on that day, and with equal clarity recalls the coldness of death that enveloped her heart when her husband was first reported missing.

Some years ago, she wrote a letter to her sons, Michael Crowe of Madisonville KY, a teacher at West Hopkins High School, and David Crowe, principal of Warren Central High School in Bowling Green KY.

In that letter she described in detail, from a perspective only women who shared her tragedy could possess, her feelings and some of the major events of World War II.

Here are excerpts from that letter which Mrs. Crowe titled "A Brave Soldier Died."

My sons:

This is how it was on Dec. 7, 1941. I can remember the Sunday morning so vividly when Japan attacked the United States. It started as a chain of events that was to affect us all of our lives.

It was a beautiful sunlit morning on the Hawaiian Islands, called the "Crossroads of the Pacific." Since then, that day was to be known as "The Day of Infamy" to all Americans.

At 6:30 in the early morning light, a periscope was sighted in the channel by the auxiliary ship, the USS Antares. The ship immediately notified the USS Ward, a destroyer on patrol in the area . . . (The sub was destroyed and) the first shot of the American and Japanese war had been fired . . .

No alarm was sounded. The base was not put on alert, nor was the torpedo net protecting the harbor checked or closed. The net remained open until 8:40.

At 7:20, a young lieutenant saw some planes . . . Japanese bombers. A half hour later, hell broke loose over Pearl Harbor. The Japanese had struck their treacherous blow.

When the first phase of the attack subsided at 8:25 a.m., Pearl Harbor and its surrounding airfields were a scene of wreckage. Airplanes had been destroyed, every battleship had been hit, most all destroyers were a total loss, a large floating dry dock had been wrecked and ammunition buildings and supplies had been destroyed.

. . . The toll of three minutes' work by Japanese bombers: 2,383 men had been killed, 1,842 were wounded — some of whom later died — and 900 were missing.

On this lovely Sunday morning, we planned to go to church. Then in the afternoon we were going nut hunting. You, (older) son, were too small and would stay with Grandmother.

We listened to the radio and were astounded . . . Many changes were to come soon.

(On Dec. 8, the United States declared war on Japan.)

On the European front, Germany, under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, had invaded Poland on Sept. 1, 1939. On Sept. 3, 1939, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. On Sept. 18, 1939, Russian troops occupied eastern Poland. On Sept. 27, 1938, Poland surrendered unconditionally to Germany.

Relations between America and Germany were bad. Time passes. Germany is fighting and pushing.

On Dec. 11, 1941, Germany and Italy partner with Japan in the (Axis) and declare war on the United States. The U.S. Congress on this date also recognized a state of war with these countries.

On Nov. 23, 1942, we received an order for Gwen Hart Crowe to report for induction into the Armed Forces. It said:

"Greetings, the President of the United States orders you to report on Dec. 5, 1942, for training and service in the army to serve your country."

We had waited and expected this. There was no use for tears, for we knew he had to go.

We went with him to the bus which was carrying a load to be inducted into the service. His training began, and we waited for his letters . . .

On Dec. 18, 1942, we received the first letter from him. It read:

"I rode the bus which took us to Ft. Benjamin Harrison IN. There were Pullman troop trains from Harrison, with about 500 soldiers and 21 coaches. They didn't tell us where we were being sent until we got within 10 miles of camp. We rode about 30 hours.

"This camp is new, about four months old, and already has about 31,000 soldiers. Camp Van Dorn MS, is near Centreville MS, 40 miles from Baton Rouge LA. We have to wear leggings most of the time for the red bugs and chiggers are bad.

"The climate is nice. We are taking shots and can't leave camp for 14 days, and if we could, there is no place to go. We get up at six o'clock, have breakfast, then exercise. We have to strip before a doctor for an examination. We have to clean our mess kits, get our guns ready for inspection, for we are getting ready to start infantry training."

I received letters regularly. On May 11, 1943, I rode a train with you, son, and we found a one-room cabin in Centreville MS, to be near him. On some weekends he could get a pass and visit us. Others he was on field trips or alerts, and could not visit us.

The summer had almost ended, and on Aug. 9, 1943, the division was ordered on maneuvers . . . no one could get a pass, so you and I prepared to come home . . .

We received letters, and he wrote of eating chow by an open fire, the pine knots burning; sleeping on the ground, how lovely the moon and stars were as he gazed at them from his bed on the ground.

He wrote of how homesick he became from time to time, of finding creeks and washing his clothes in them, of how pretty the coral snakes were — but how dangerous; and of wanting maneuvers to be over.

The boys pulled pranks on each other. One example was taking powder from blank shells and placing it around someone sleeping, then setting it afire . . .

Maneuvers were over Nov. 18, 1943. The division was taken to trains which took them to Camp Maxey TX. He wrote: "It's great! We have sheets, yes, clean, white sheets and pillow cases too. And foot lockers!"

After everything was checked, furloughs were issued and he was home on Nov. 22, 1943.

Time passed so quickly, and on Dec. 6 he was on his way back to camp. Now he would be lonely again . . . we were at home and planning Christmas, realizing we would not be with him.

The war in the European and Pacific areas raged on. The news each day was terrible. It told of the defeat and fall of different cities . . . (but) we would not consider stopping short of victory.

On Feb. 22, 1944, to our family came another dear baby boy. I recall (my husband's) letter:

"The telegram the hospital sent was held in camp, for I was on the range for three days and did not receive it until I arrived back at camp. Now I have two sons. The boys are calling me Pop; I like that. When my uncle will give me a leave, I will see him."

Then came the warning papers, those top secret papers that told his commanding officer to get the division ready for embarkation.

In August 1944, the regiment was busy packing and crating equipment for unknown overseas movement. On Sept. 10, 1944, the division began movement from Camp Maxey TX, to Camp Miles Standish MA. Eight trains carried the troops.

. . . Passes to Boston and other towns within a 50-mile radius were issued. Many men made their last long-distance call home, and letters for the first time were censored.

The men loaded at Boston to start their Atlantic voyage. Some were very seasick. They arrived (in England) on Oct. 10, 1944, and set up camp. It was raining . . .

On Nov. 2, the regiment began movement by truck and rail to a British checking station. They (arrived) at LeHarve, France, Nov. 4, 1944. On Nov. 5, the regiment moved by truck convoy to the vicinity of Aubel, Belgium. The weather was cold, and the snows had begun.

There was excitement and tension throughout the camp. The 393rd was entering combat.

On Nov. 6, the men saw and heard their first bomb.

Now weeks and months of training were to be put to the test. This was the greatest thing of their life . . .

On Nov. 10 . . . they suffered several casualties from patrols worming their way through enemy minefields and some from German artillery. The cold rains and slushy snow kept the area a sea of mud . . .

The regiment's first offensive began on Dec. 13, 1944, and was an attack to the north and east. The attack was interrupted by the great German offensive in the Ardennes on Dec. 16. The Battle of the Ardennes, or more commonly called the Battle of the Bulge, was on.

This was a smashing blow. Aid stations were overflowing with wounded. Communications were failing, and ammunition piles began to dwindle.

The Germans kept coming, crawling over their own dead. Cooks, clerks, drivers, and mechanics of the 393rd division picked up rifles and crawled into foxholes to engage the enemy in combat.

Several days later, orders were received for the 393rd to pull back and regroup.

For 40 days the battle raged. Christmas and New Year brought only gifts of death to thousands of American troops.

(U.S. troops broke into Germany for the first time on Jan. 29; three months later the European phase of the war ended. But before that . . .)

It was on Monday, Jan. 21, 1945. It was a very cold day and very windy. Mother and I had finished last week's laundry.

You, sons, had played about the house and sat by the fire.

Near bedtime, the phone rang. I hurried to answer it. They asked me if I was alone. I said no, and was given this message:

"We regret to inform you that your husband has been reported missing in action since Dec. 17, 1944. If other information is learned, you will be promptly notified."

How can I tell you, sons, what it was like? How much like death it was at that moment.

I could picture him the last time I saw him as a proud soldier serving his country.

The agony of having to wait for further news seemed crippling.

Only a week before, I had sent him your pictures . . . I (knew I) must be brave for you, my sons, but for him to be cold and without life seemed more than I could bear.

I sat in the bedroom with you that night, sons, as you slept. I read over his letters, and the fire went out, but I did not feel the cold.

I remembered Christmas Eve, at his mother's, when his letter said:

"It will soon be 1945, and this war is still going strong. I think I'll gaze into the crystal ball and see what 1945 has in store for us. Give the boys a big Christmas, and maybe I'll be there to fill their stockings next year."

Days passed into weeks. Friends came. His clothes hung in the closet. I wrote to the boys in his company asking if they could tell me if he had been found safe.

My memories went back to our wedding day, to the days at Camp Van Dorn, where he starred on the basketball team. I remembered the tiny one room we lived in to be near him . . .

After many weeks, I received a letter from his best friend, saying:

"I do not know what happened to him, but I do not think he was taken prisoner as the Germans took no prisoners if they could help, because of the rapid advance they were trying to make in the Battle of the Bulge.

"His job in the patrol was to chart the enemy movement and ascertain their strength and report his findings. This he did till the enemy's strength became so great he could not return. They broke through us, and we withdrew and reformed and he was missing. I was wounded also."

The next day the second telegram came. It said:

"We regret to inform you that your husband has been reported killed in action on the day he was previously reported missing in action."

Soon I was notified that he was buried at Henri-Chapelle Cemetery in southeastern Belgium with 18,000 American war dead.

On May 8, 1945, the Germans surrendered . . .

On Sept. 2, 1945, the war ended in Japan . . .

On V-J Day, with the war ended, I could only rejoice for those who would be coming home, for so many had been left in foreign countries. Everyone was ringing bells and singing, "When Johnnie Comes Marching Home."

As for us, we must wait for the return of the war dead.

He arrived on the Joseph Vs. Connally, the first ship to come home with our war dead. It carried 6,100 (and) arrived in New York Oct. 25, 1947. On this day, flags were flown at half mast throughout the nation to honor their memory.

You, sons, were too small to realize what was happening.

As I stood to be presented the flag, I knew he was home at last. He had known so much of war and hate.

I'll never know just where he fell, or how, but I know he did it for us.

I proudly wear the gold star for him. I will let no one destroy his memory.

He has earned that right. America has no better than him, and he belonged to us.

Let him sleep in peace in America's beauty that he loved.