By LOREN GAYLORD FLAUGH
(Part one of a two-part series. Find part two here).
DEC. 7, 2011, marked the 70th anniversary of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and America's entry into World War II. Of the 16 million men who saw active duty in WW II, fewer than 1.8 million veterans are still living. Most are about 90 years of age. Many came from farms and rural areas.
Harold Crawford is one of these veterans. He's also a veteran of the teaching profession. Known to his many former students as "Dr. Crawford," he was born Feb. 9, 1925, and retired in 2007 as associate dean of agriculture at Iowa State University.
After graduating from ISU with a degree in ag education in 1950, Crawford taught high school vo-ag at Story City and Sac City. He earned a master's degree from ISU while teaching at Story City, and returned to ISU in 1965 to teach in the ag education department. He earned his doctorate in ag education in 1969 from ISU and served as department head for a number of years. Crawford taught many students in his 42 years at ISU and 15 years as a high school teacher, including GIs from WW II, their sons, daughters, grandsons and granddaughters. He enrolled at ISU as a transfer student in 1948 and has had an office there since retiring in 2007.
In fact, he's enjoyed ISU and teaching so much that he's retired three different times. ISU's ag education department celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2011, and Crawford has been there for more than 50 of those years. He's done a lot for the college, say colleagues and former students.
Serving in the Navy in WW II, Crawford and his shipmates took part in heavy action in the Pacifi c. The 70th anniversary of Pearl Harbor had special meaning for him and other WW II veterans. The number of vets in that "greatest generation" is dwindling.
Growing up on family farm
Crawford was raised on a family farm in Pennsylvania during the Great Depression. "I'd never heard of Pearl Harbor," he says. "Dad and I were milking on Sunday, Dec. 7, 1941, when we heard Pearl Harbor was bombed. Dad was looking at a nearby farm to buy. While we were driving to that farm, Mother asked, 'Do you think this is the right time for us to buy a farm?' I remember Dad saying, kind of under his breath, 'Harold might not be around to help. He'll be going into the service.' We never did look at the farm."
Crawford enlisted in the Navy at age 18, went to basic training and then gunnery school. "I was assigned to an amphibious assault ship, an LST [for landing ship tank], and sent to the South Pacifi c," he says. "We arrived in Pearl Harbor on July 11, 1943."
LST-555, Crawford's ship, was in the Solomon Islands, with stops at Guadalcanal and Tulagi. His ship participated in a succession of assaults. He helped haul Marines to Peleliu Island, where a bloody, hard-fought battle was won. His ship took him to New Guinea to begin preparing for the initial assault of Leyte in the Philippines. One LST carried Army Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
"We watched as he walked off the ramp and onto the shore. He visited with some of us soldiers and sailors. I walked on the beach right next to MacArthur," Crawford recalls. LST-555 was credited with shooting down two Japanese attack planes.
Crawford's ship was in the first landings on the Bataan Peninsula in January 1945. Easter Sunday 1945 found LST-555 off the coast of Okinawa. The closer the Allies came to Japan, the hotter the action. Japanese suicide bombers, or kamikazes, started becoming a serious problem even during the Leyte invasion.
"Now they were everywhere," says Crawford. "They usually came over two or three at a time. One dove in on our ship, glanced off one of the gun tubs and crashed in the water. They were always bad news. We watched the battleship USS Pennsylvania get hit by one."
In July and August 1945, LST-555 rotated between Leyte and Okinawa. Planning was under way for the assault of the Japanese Home Islands in November. Crawford was on Okinawa when the atomic bombs were dropped on Japan, ending the war.
His ship was sent to Japan on Sept. 11 to evacuate prisoners of war. While offshore, a typhoon forced the ship to turn around. "We hit rocks along the shore," says Crawford. "I went below and was climbing back up when I discovered that someone had closed the hatch. Water was rushing in when the Lord came to me. I knew I had had it." But the hatch was reopened as the ship settled deeper onto the rocks.
Later, LST-555 was ordered cannibalized for parts, towed out to deep water and sunk by gunfi re. Petty offi cer 2nd Class Harold R. Crawford returned to Beaver County, Pa., in March 1946 to live out the rest of his life in peace and raise a family.
Served their country well
When asked today what it's like to have been a part of the war effort, Crawford says, "It was a proud time and an experience I'll never forget. We came home and went back to work with hardly any fanfare. It was great to serve our country. It was also great to be back home.
"It wasn't just those who served in the military who won the war. People back home here who worked hard, long hours on farms and in factories also helped carry out that daunting mission."