When German forces invaded Poland on September 1, 1939, the world did not realie at the time that World War II had begun. The United States watched for the next two years as the German war machine crushed Denmark, Norway, Belgium, Luxembourg, The Netherlands, Greece, and Yugoslavia. Italy joined the German forces, attacked France and Brittain, and marched into Russia. Japan also embarked on its plans for expansion in the Far East. As part of its plan, the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941, and the United States was no longer a spectator but a principle force in the conflict. Historians agree that there were three main causes of the war: (1) the problem left insolved by World War I, (2) the rise of dictatorships, and (3) the desire of Germany, Italy, and Japan for more territory.
World War I left Germany in economic ruin. The Germans blamed the Treaty of Versilles and other peace settlements from World War I for leaving them with widespread unemployment, runaway currency inflation, and food and raw materials shortages caused by an Allied blockade. The Germans begged for help but the other countries of western Europe were too involved with their own problems to help. Out of the discontent of the Germans rose Adolph Hitler and his Nazi party. A hungry, disillusioned people quickly lifted him to power.
Italy and Japan also considered themselves unjustly handicapped in trying to compete with other nations for markets, raw materials, and colonies. They believed that countries such as the United Staes, Belgium, France and Great Britain unfairly controlled most of the world's wealth and people. In prosperous times, Italy, Japan, and Germany could find markets, bute these were not prosperous times. So they looked afor the lands wot conquer in order to get wehat they considered theur share of the world's resources and markets.
The League of Nations was set up after World War I to help nations settle their disputes peacefully. But the League had no international police force that could snuff out sparks of war. The United States did not join and the League grew weaker and weaker each year. The League also made attempts at disarmament of the nations but France refused to disarm until an international police system could be established. Disarmament failed and so did the League of Nations.
With the Depression of 1929, the international cooperation that had seemed to grow during the decade was crushed as nations again became chiefly concerned with solving only their own problems, instead of cooperating with their neighbors. Each sought security for itself in the form of rearmament and alliances. So in a real sense nationalism became a force as a cause of the war.
Finally, many countries had liberal, democratic governments after World War I, but dictatorships developed during the 1920s and 1930s and destroyed democratic rights. Totalitarian givernments found rich soil for growth in Russia, Italy, Germany, and other countries. There was Communism in Russia with Lenin and Stalin, Fascism in Italy with Benito Mussolini, Nazism in Germany with Adolph Hitler, and Militarism in Japan where "samurai" (warrior class) was held in the highest regard.
Thus the stage was set and the principle players named in the war that before it was over would involve more than fifty countries and cost more than $1.15 trillion. World War II would kill more persons, cost more money, damage more property, affect more people, and cause more far-reaching changes than any other war in history. In terms of man-power, at the height of its strength the United States had 3,400,000 in the navy; 2,400,000 in the army air services; 484,000 in the marine corps; 170,000 in the coast guard; and 6,000,000 in the army. One of those six million was my father, Wentworth Bagley Crane, Jr., the oldest son of a farmer from Brunswick County, Virginia. This is the story of his war experiences.
BOY GOES TO WAR--MAN RETURNS
W.B. Crane, Jr., was born into a farming family in Brunswick County, Virginia, on June 30, 1919. Farming was the main sourceof income for the Crane family but it was only one of the survival skills the family passed down from generation to generation. As he grew, W.B.'s father and grandfather taught him to be a carpenter, electrician, and plumber. His family helped him develop self-discipline and pride and, from an early age, he strived for excellence in everything he did. In high school, he was an honor student and star athlete, lettering in football and baseball. He did not know it as he was growing up but those acquired skills and the instilled pride and self deiscipline would serve him well as a young American soldier in World War II.
In September, 1941, Crane was a civilian working as a carpenter with a construction company at Bellwood in Richmond (now known as the Defense General Supply Center). When he was drafted and inducted into the Unted States Army on September 11, 1941, the war in Europe had already been raging and escalating since September 1, 1939. America was not yet involved but was receiving pressure from Britain and France to come to their aid. Crane's carpentry skills were needed by the Army as they were in the process of building several new military camps, one of which was Camp Wheeler, Georgia. Instead of going directly into basic training, he spent the first training cycle (about three months) assigned to carpentry duty, erecting the various buildings that made up the new Camp Wheeler.
On December 7, 1941, Crane was returning to Camp Wheeler from his weekend leave spent in Brunswick County visiting his fiance, Dorothy Gibson. He and Dot had made their plans to get married when he came home again for his seven day Christmas leave. As he returned to camp, he heard that the Japanese had bombed Pearl Harbor and that all military personnel were ordered to report back to their military bases. The next day the Unted States declared war on Japan.
With the declaration of war came the cancellation of all military leaves for the soldiers. No leave meant no wedding and for the first time in his life, young Craen made a decision to break the law. He would go AWOL and go home to marry his sweetheart. After bedcheck on December 22, he slipped into his car, casually drove off the base, and headed for Brunswick County, Virginia. He and Dot were married on Christmas Eve and spent their honeymoon in the "pink room" of her grandparents' house. On December 27, he told his unsuspecting bride that he was AWOL and then left to report to his commanding officer at Camp Wheeler.
Back at Camp Wheeler, Crane had to listen to a tirade from his C.O. who threatened "to make an example" out of him. INstead of following through on the threat, the C.O. meted out the punsihment of two weeks kitchen police (a fancy name for potato peeler). At the end of two weeks, Crane returned to serious basic training. K.P. was a light sentence indeed because he could have been charged with dessertion and the punishment for dessertion during war time could have been execution. Grateful for his slap on the wrist, Crane excelled in all areas of B.T., from the rigors of the physical training to making "expert" in marsmanship on the rifle range. He also began his rise in rank.
When the thirteen weeks of basic training was completed, PFC Crane was assigned to the Headquarters Company of the 147th Infantry Brigade and was sent to Camp Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. There the Brigade was assigned to the 37th Infantry Division which included National Guardsmen from Ohio. They spent three weeks at Indiantown Gap, where they were given more training.
When the stay in Peensylvania was done, all the equipment belonging to the 37th Infantry Division was shipped to the docks in New York City. The men boarded a train and headed for New Yprk but continued through the city and on to Albany. From Albany, the train continued to Cincinatti, Ohio, and from there to Chicago, Illinois. The men did not know their destination or the destination of their equipment. From Chicago, the train started across the central plains states and stopped for the first time in El Paso, Texas. There the troops were allowed off the train and they took a two mile hike to get the kinks out of their legs. For days they had been riding, sleeping, and eating in the same seats. At night they had to ride in complete darkness as no light, not even the light of a cigarette, was allowed on the train.
When the train left El Paso, it followed the Rio Grande River into New Mexico. It crossed Arizona into California, went through Los Angeles to San Francisco, which finally the men recognized as the destination that had been determined before they ever left Indiantown Gap, Pennsylvania. Their transcontinental train ride had taken more than a week. Their equipment had also arrived in the "city by the bay." By this time it was May, 1942.
In San Francisco, the men pitched paramanel tents in Amazon Park. These tents slept six men and were their homes for three weeks. The weather would be warm during the day but the temperature would dip very low at night and the humidity was extremely high. At night the moisture would penetrate the tents and soak the men's blankets. Their clothes would have to be kept under their layers of blankets in order to be dry enough to put on the next day. In the mornings, the blankets would have to be hung out to dry in order to use them the next night. During the three weeks, the 37th Division underwent more physical training taking ten or fifteen mile hikes by the bay.
Orders finally came to pack up and the men marched down to the docks where they boarded the luxury liner, Santa Lucia, which had been converted for troop transport. It took one complete day to load the ship and when done, five thousand men were ready to sail for parts unknown. For two days, they sat in the Bay and then headed out to sea. After about twenty miles they were joined by destroyers and cruisers that escorted them on a twenty-one day zig-zag route that eventually got them to the south Pacific. In the Pacific, they would be part of an "island hopping" campaign that would take strategic Japanese held islands in an effort to keep the Japanese from advancing to Australia and also force the Japanese troops to retreat to Japan.
Their first stop was the island of Fiji. There they disembarked and settled into a regiment of more physical training while they awaited their next orders. When the orders came, they found themselves headed for the Solomon Islands, specifically for Guadalcanal where the Marines had already been in battle for two months, had reached an impasse, and were in dire need of replacements. On the way to the Solomons, the ship was forced to seek refuge in the New Herbrides Islands as the Japanese launched an air and sea attack. After two days, they again set out for Guadalcanal.
Landing at Guadalcanal was difficult as coral reefs prevented the transport ship from getting any closer than two miles to the landing site which was on the Henderson Field side of the island. The men and equipment would have to be transported the two miles from ship to shore on craft called amphibious 6 x 6's. PFC Crane's platoon was assigned the duties of unloading the ship. An air raid signal caused them to pull up anchor and move out to sea, but U.S. planes intercepted the Japanese and the ship never came under attack. They moved back in, completed their tasks, and got men and equipment to shore. It was October, 1942. A year had passed since his induction and PFC Crane had reached his first battle site.
Crane's company was the last to leave the ship and it was dusky dark when they moved into their bivouac area. Their captain had become confused and moved his men ahead of the Marine's basic front lines directly below a ridge held by the Japanese. Immediately, the company came under Japanese machine gun fire. There was no time to dig in and each man had to seek the best protection he could find. Crane fell down behind a coconut tree, pushed himself into the ground, and stayed there through the night. Others in the platoon became disoriented and scared and begain to move about. in the darkness there was no way to tell ally from enemy and some of the confused men were shot by their own ranks. In some cases, best friend had shot best friend. The next morning, the platoon was moved back behind the front lines and American artillery went to work on the ridge. The ridge was eventually taken and the island of Guadalcanal was declared secure February, 1943. PFC Crane was promoted to Sargeant and squad leader.
In April, Sgt. Crane's troops left Guadalcanal and went to British Samoa where they engaged in light conflict over a period of several months. With Samoa secure, they were shipped to the island of Emirau, a part of the Bismarck Archipelago Islands. It had been determined the island was needed for an allied air field. The men experienced very light fighting over their four month stay in Emirau. When the island was secured, the Navy Ceebee's moved in and began to build the airfield. When Crane left Emirau, he had attained the rank of Tech. Sargeant and platoon leader.
Crane's company was then moved to the island of New Caledonia where they were resupplied with men and equipment. Their next orders would take them to Iwo Jima but fate stepped in for Sgt. Crane in the form of a tropical disease called filariases. (Filariasis is caused by filarial worms which are carried by mosquitos. The worms invade lymphatic vessels and lymphoid tissue causing swelling of the lymph nodes.) The only known treatments at the time was change of climate and complete bed rest. By this time Crane had completed 29 months of service in the South Pacific. It was determined that he would return to the United States to make his recovery. So it was that instead of boarding the ship for Iwo jima, he boarded a plane on the first leg of his journey back to the United States.
The first stop on the way home was back in Guadalcanal, the island he had helped to secure many months before. Crane could hardly recognize the island. Roads had been built, as well as an air field and a hospital. After more than a week there, he was put back on a plane bound for Hawaii. After a few hours in Hawaii, he was back on a plane that took him to San Francisco. From there he began a transcontinental trek by air that saw stops in Albequerque, New Mexico; Springfield, Missouri; Nashville, Tennessee; and the final stop was in Gordonsville, Virginia (near Charlottesville). He was transporrted to the Woodrow Wilson Center in Fishersville for a thirty day convelescance. From there Sgt. Crane was transfered to an army hospital in Asheville, North Carolina, wher he convalesced another six months.
When his recovery seemed complete, Sgt. Crane was sent back to Camp Wheeler, Georgia, where he spent the final six months of his active service as acting First Sargeant and was the training officer for new inductees. He had been recommended for permanent promotion to First Sargeant when the army devised a point system whereby it would discharge any individual who met the required number of things, to include length of service, time spent overseas, and rank. Sgt. Crane met the requirement of 85 points and elected to receive his discharge before his promotion came through.
On September 2, 1945, the Japanese signed terms of surrender and on September 29, Sargeant Wentworth Bagley Crane, Jr., was honorably discharged from the United States Army. He returned to Brunswick County with his bride and settled into a life as a tobacco farmer and part-time carpenter. With him he took an American Defense Service Medal, a Good Conduct Medal, and an Asiatic Pacific Service Medal with 2 Bronze Stars. World War II had taken a young boy into its grip, but a man emerged as a survivor of the worst global conflict the world had ever known.
by Pixie Crane Fleshood
February 5, 1994
An Interview with W. B. and Dorothy Crane
On February 5, 1994, my father and mother accompanied my husband and me on a trip to Pennsylvania to visit my son, Eric. The long ride from Mechanicsville provided an excellent opportunity for the four of us to talk about World War II, my parents' experiences, and the way the war affected their lives. The follwing dialogue is from our conversation on February 5.
Question: Where were you living when World War II started?
W. B.: My permanent residence was Edgerton, Virginia. However, I was boarding in Richmond during the week and working on a construction job at Bellwood.
Question: I love the AWOL story. How did you manage to leave Camp Wheeler without being detected?
W. B.: When bedcheck was made that night at midnight, I was in bed with my street clothes on ready to go. As soon as I felt it was clear, I got up and slipped out. I got into my car and drove off the base. The fellow in the bunk next to mine said he would tell everybody that I had gone on sick leave and he did. He told them I had gone on sick leave--"homesick" leave.
Question: Didn't anyone try to stop you at the gate?
W. B.: No one tried to stop me and I just drove right off the base. I guess they were a little lax at the gate.
Question: How do you explain the light K.P. sentence your company commander emted as punishment for going AWOL?
W. B.: When I was in basic training, I tried to do the best I could at everything. I really wanted to prepare myself the best I could for whatever I might face later. Some of the other guys deliberately tried to mess up. I guess they were trying to find a way to get out. The company commander said that because I had such a good record in basic training that he was just going to give me K.P. for going AWOL. I pulled K.P. for so long that some of the boys called me "Mess Sargeant."
Question: How do you explain the long, indirect train route that took you from Indiantown Gap to San Francisco? Why all the secrecy and complete darkness at night?
W. B.: That was done to keep the enemy fromm getting any knowledge about movement of troops, to keep them from knowing where the troops were going. It was done for the safety of the troops and to try to prevent sabotage to the troop trains. Nobody knew what the enemy might do or when they might strike.
Dot: All during the war, we would hear trains going up the tracks at night. There would never be a whistle, just the clickety-clack of the train as it moved. That was a mournful sound and we knew each time it was a troop train taking our boys to war.
Question: Was that same reason for the zig-zag ship route to the Pacific?
W. B.: Yes, the same reason. To keep the Japanese from knowing the destination of the ship. We did not want them to know our battle plans.
Question: What happened to the Santa Lucia after you disembarked?
W. B.: They kept the ship in the Pacific for a while to move more troops. I was never on it again. THey used smaller ships for troop transport between the islands I was on so that if one of the ships got bombed there would be fewer casualties. I guess I was on ship moving between the islands a total of about 90 days. The Santa Lucia never made it back to the states. A Japanese submarine torpedoed it and it sank. But it was close enough to alnd so that most of those aboard it were saved.
Question: What was that first night like on Guadalcanal?
W. B.: I'll tell anybody that I was scared. I did not have time to dig a fox hole. All I could do was fall down behind a coconut tree and try to push myself into the ground. Bullets were bouncing off that tree. I was so scared I could feel the buttons on my fatigues pushing my tail up into the line of fire.
Question: Why were such remote islands such as Guadalcanal such important battle sites?
W. B.: The Japanese were advancing to Australia. they had taken these small islands for bases. We had to stop their advance and retake islands to cut them off from their supplies. Guadalcanal was as close as they got to Australia. We cut them off there and began to push them back to Japan.
Question: What was the climate like in the Pacific and how did it affect the natives and the troops?
W. B.: Guadalcanal was only 22 degrees from the equator. It was hot all the time with jungle conditions. mosquitos were a real problem. There were tropical diseases such as malaria and filariasis to contend with. Many of our boys got sick. There were just as many casualties from disease as there were from the war. Sometimes we would see a native and guess that he'd be about 70 years old. We'd find out that he'd be only 30 or 35. Life expectancy there was very short especially because of the diseases,
Question: Did you take any Japanese prisoners?
W. B.: We took very few prisoners because they would commit hari-kari rather than be captured. I do remember one Japanese lieutenant we captured. The first thing he wanted was to see our "automatic artillery gun." We would fire our guns in battery. Apparently because of the constant fire, he thought it was coming from one automatic gun.
Question: What were your duties while you were in the Pacific?
W. B.: I was in the Ammunition Pioneer Platoon. As squad leader and platoon leader, I supervised the men in our platoon. It was our duty to look after the ammunition supply and then supply the ammunition to the line companies. We also specialized in dynamite or TNT. When an area was declared secure, we would clear right of ways for roads and construction. We would build bridges and could also blow up bridges if needed. When we would move into a new bivouac area, the first thing that had to be done was blow a big hole somewhere for a garbage pit to try to keep things as sanitary as possible.
Question: What was the worst thing about serving in the war?
W. B.: Being away from home and deing separated from my family.
Question: (To Dot) What was the ahrdest part of the war for you?
W. B." Living on $21 a day paid once a month!
Dot: That was what he made. I had to live off what he could send me of that $21. My daddy gave me an acre of tobacco until I went to work in Richmond. I used the proceeds from that which was about $400. I lived at home and so I could save a good portion of that. I went to business school and my course was designed for those people who were affected by the war. After I got my diploma from business school, I wewnt with Rachael Arrington to Richmond and took my civil service. I went tow ork for Richmond Holding and Reconsignment Point. I worked there until your daddy came home from overseas.
W. B.: you got a monthly allotment, too.
Dot: Yes, but I can't remember how much it was now. I believe it was $50. I did go months and months before I got anything. But when your daddy got home, I had saved up $2,300 and that was a pile of money. We took that $2,300 and bought househld furniture for the whole house and paid W. B.'s labor bill for that first farming year.
W. B.: We started off in the black. We did not have to borrow money that first year anyway.
Question: Were you able to keep in touch with folks back home while you were in the Pacific?
W. B.: Yes, we got mail fairly often. Sometimes it would be two or three weeks before we would get any. We did not get any mail while we were on ship and we were on ship approximately 90 days. We would get our mail on the islands. All the mail was censored. We couldn't tell anybody where we were or anything about what we were doing.
Dot: We wrote each other every day. Sometimes I would get a big batch in one day. All air mail was censored. They would make small photocopies of the letters and send the photocopies instead of the letters. I would sit down with them and arrange them in date order and read them. I got so I could visualize what each letter would say because they would all say the same thing. Your daddy could not tell me anything about where he was. But, finally we worked out a plan that he would write a paragraph and he would start with a letter in the name of the island he was on. The first letter I got was when he was on Fiji. That's how I knew his where-abouts. I don't know how we got away with it.
Question: When you became ill with filariasis, how did you fell about going home?
W. B.: When the doctor said, "Sargeant Crane, we think you need to go back," I was glad to hear it. They gave me a choice of coming home by air or ship. I told them I would come home on the first available transportation. I was ready to go home. The first available was a C-47, a two engine job, and when they reved up the engine on that thing it felt like it was goin to fall apart. It kind of scared me but it took me back to Guadalcanal where we stayed about a week or so.
Question: Waht was the rest of the trip back home like?
W. B.: On Guadalcanal, we got on a C-54, which is a four engine job, and it was rigged to carry approximately twenty-six litter patients. We loaded onto the plane, taxied down the runway, turned around and stopped. The captain came back to the rear of the plane, opened the door, called out, and then went back to the cockpit, turned the plane around, went back, we unloaded, and went back to the hospital. We were some disappointed fellows. In another day or two, we loaded back up and this time we took off. We flew to a small island and refueled and took off again for Hawaii. I was the only patient on the plane who could get up and walk about.
Question: I know you eventually made it to Gordonsville, Virginia. Why Gordonsville?
W. B.: I was going to the Woodrow Wilson Hospital in Fishersville. We were supposed to land in Charlottesville, but the field there was under water so they sent us word to land in an emergency field in Gordonsville. There was a plane behind us that got bogged down on that field. That's how wet it was.
Question: What was done for you in the hospital?
W. B.: I was under orders not to do anything. They did not know what to do for filariasis. THey did know that change in climate and rest had been beneficial to the patients they had been treating. After thirty days at Woodrow Wilson, they sent me to a hospital in the mountains near Asheville, North Carolina. That is hwere I got what little medical treatment was available but that, too, was mostly rest. I was there about five or six months, and when they thought I had about recovered, they sent me back to Camp Wheeler, Georgia, where I got my basic training.
Question: Do you remember anything special about Presidents Roosevelt or Truman?
W. B.: Only that Truman gave the orders to make the atom bomb and to drop it on Japan. I believe that Roosevelt was the best president because he brought the country out of the depression.
Question: Who do you think was the best leader in the war effort?
W. B.: i think General Douglas McArthur was the best war leader. He had a good assistant in Westmoreland.
Question: What was the most important thing to happen during the war?
W. B.: I think the making of the atom bomb and the dropping of the bomb was the most important thing that happened. It brought an immediate end to the war and probably saved American lives. But it did a terrible thing to innocent civilians in Japan.
Question: Looking back, do you think anything could have prevented the war?
W. B.: No, I don't.
Question: Looking back, what was the worst mistkae made?
W. B.: The worst mistake was made at Pearl Harbor when Japan bombed it. The Navy lined up its ships in that harbor and they were like sitting ducks waiting for that attack. We lost a lot of our sea power that day. And to make amtters worse, they even got some warning a couple of days before about what the Japanese were going to do and they paid no attention to it.
Question: What do you take for granted today that was unobtainable or hard to get during the era?
W. B.: To be able to buy groceries whenever I want. Things were rationed during the war so that the troops could be supplied with gas, food, and ammunition. I'll have to say they did a good job of seeing that we had what we needed.
Dot: To get any kind of grocery, fill up the car with gas, buy any kind of clothing I want. When your daddy got out of service, you could not buy a new car. You had to be put on a waiting list. So we bought an old A-model Ford. A fellow from South Hill bought it from us and used it for a paint truck.
Question: When the conflict ended, were there any major changes for you?
W. B.: No, I think I would have been a farmer anyway. it's something I have really enjoyed. The only thing that has given me a real problem is my hearing loss. My ear drum burst from the gunfire. Now it is really a problem for me to hear and carry on a conversation.
Question: Did you ever have any bad memories or dreams of the war that cause dyou problems in later years? As a child, I remember that you used to have severe headaches. Do you think they might have been a result of the war?
W. B.: I don't know. The headaches may have been a result. But, I consider myself fortunate because I have been able to put everything out of my mind and not dwell on it. I consider myself fortunate that I survived with good health.
Question: Do you think the USA should get involved today in Bosnia/Serbia, in the MIddle East and in other conflicts outside the boundaries of the USA?
W. B.: No, I don't. I think we get involved with too much that is going on overseas. There are some things we have to get involved in inorder to help ourselves. Maybe I have gotten selfish, but I think there are enough problems here in America for us to solve.
Dot: I don;t think we should engage in any kind of armed conflict. I don't think we can cure all the ills of the world and change some people's lifestyle to agree with our traditions. We have to figure out a way to get past governments that hinder relief efforts. I do think we need to figure out some way to help those people who are suffering.
Thus ended our conversation on February 5, 1994. As we talked it occurred to me that, in all of my 46 years, this was the first time I had talked with my father about World War II and his involvement. I heard things I had never known before and i became very grateful for an opportunity to see a side of his life that might have forever remained a mystery to me. Thank you, Mrs. Thomas, for assigning this project and opening a door for me to learn more about my parents and to record some vital family history for future generations.
The USS Arizona sinks into Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941
W. B. Crane, Jr., age 12.
W. B. and his bride, Dorothy Gibson Crane
Approximation of the troop train route taken by W. B. Crane, Jr. during his deployment to the South Pacific
W.B.'s tour of the South pacific included stops at Fiji (A), Guadalcanal (B), British Samoa (C), Emirau Island (D), and New Caledonia (E).
These are the men who fought alongside Sgt. Crane. Back row (l to r): O.B. Cates, W.B. Crane, Roy Bassford, Merle Daleslager. Front: Gus Gendleson, George Walls, Charles Harbaugh.
W. B. returned to farming in Brunswick County, VA after his honorable discharge from the army.
W. B. and Dorothy Crane.