Last-surviving WWII chaplain's assistant returns from honor flight

By BLAKE URSCH | Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Texas | Published: October 20, 2013

LUBBOCK, Texas — Over shrimp and raw vegetables, Phil Crenshaw delivers a one-of-a-kind account of the Second World War.

At 91, Crenshaw is the last living chaplain’s assistant from World War II, as determined by Army Sgt. Maj. Stephen Stott. Crenshaw recently served as chaplain on last week’s South Plains Honor Flight.

Crenshaw was called to active duty in 1943. He shipped out to Okinawa to assist Louis Wunneburger, the chaplain there.

“I had grown up with my mother teaching me from the Bible and memorizing Scripture,” Crenshaw told the A-J in 2012. “I could still quote a good many chapters with just a little bit of review.”

As chaplain aide, it was Crenshaw’s responsibility to type up notes for Wunneberger “on a manual typewriter, if you can believe that,” he says. He drove a Jeep around the camp and played the field organ during services.

The field organ sounded like a giant accordion, he says. Crenshaw had been playing piano since he was 8 years old.

His musical abilities, he says, led to his one claim to fame during the war. At one point during his time on Okinawa, the soldiers put on a talent show, attended by the Japanese prisoners-of-war.

“I jokingly say that I played for 4,000 POWs as my claim to fame,” he says.

In 2012, Crenshaw told the A-J of another notable experience from his time in Okinawa.

One day, a merchant vessel unexpectedly delivered several boxes to Wunneberger. No one knew where they came from or who sent them.

They contained 1,000 New Testaments — all printed in Japanese.

Wunneberger preached to the POWs, and one Japanese prisoner asked to be baptized.

Crenshaw has served as chaplain on the South Plains Honor Flight for both years of its existence.

According to Dave King, chairman of the honor flight, the chaplain provides spiritual leadership to the veterans and their guardians on the flight. He leads them in prayer before meals and provides them with counsel during the trip.

“Phil is a very unique individual,” King says. “(If you’ve met him) then you know how articulate and passionate he is.”

On this year’s flight, Crenshaw was honored at a special ceremony as the last living chaplain's aide from World War II. He’s requested his three sons, one of whom is a Navy veteran, also be present.


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