Spirit of '45 touches Lubbock veterans
By JENNIFER LOESCH | Lubbock Avalanche-Journal, Texas | Published: August 12, 2013
LUBBOCK, Texas — In 1942, a 17-year-old Chuck Cromwell tried to enlist in the military — all branches of the military. He was rejected because of his eyesight, but the military became more accepting of him the following year.
When asked why he wanted to serve so badly his answer was simple.
“It was war,” Cromwell said. “It was 1942.”
On Dec. 4, 1943, Cromwell got his wish. He was drafted into the Navy just three months after signing up for the draft. Cromwell, 87, was one of several area veterans who gathered at Silent Wings Museum Sunday, Aug. 11, to celebrate the Spirit of ’45, a day of national recognition for World War II veterans.
The war ended on Aug. 11, 1945.
American Legion Post 500 member Terry Parten, who participated in Sunday’s flag-folding ceremony and volunteers with the honor guard, said it hurts him to see World War II-era veterans pass away because they are men he grew up around.
The day holds special significance for Parten, who served in the Army from 1968-73.
“I guess it’s a day when all veterans of all wars can get together — laugh together, cry together, tell stories to one another and relive what we did in our lives, which no one can take from us,” Parten said.
Collaborative efforts between the museum and South Plains Honor Flight made the afternoon possible. Honor Flight is a non-profit group that raises money to send World War II and Korean War veterans to Washington D.C. to experience the country’s monuments dedicated to military personnel.
“It was fantastic,” said Cromwell, who was selected for the trip last year. “It was so well organized.”
Eighty-four veterans from the Lubbock area made the trek to D.C. last year on a chartered Southwest Airlines plane, said Honor Flight volunteer Myron Hargrove.
The three-day trip is physically taxing for some veterans, so they are allowed to take a “guardian” with them to help them get around. Hargrove said the guardians pay their own way, but all accommodations for veterans are taken care of by the group.
The trip gives veterans a chance to be honored again and to have their sacrifices recognized.
Navy veteran Fred Harvey, 77, was selected for the trip last year and attended the Spirit of’ ’45 recognition. He said he was moved by many of the experiences.
“I’m a teacher, originally,” Harvey said. “I had student of mine who was shot down in Vietnam and he’s on the wall and I found his name. Very impressive.”
Harvey served on the aircraft carrier, the USS Hornet CV-12, from 1954-58 after the Korean conflict, and some of that time was spent near Korea.
His wife Debbie said the trip gives veterans a chance to connect with others who understand what they went through.
“It’s a lot of memories and a lot of men who had never talked very much about their experience over there met with other men who had been there,” she said. “The tears flowed.”
Harvey added that he saw family members connect with the veteran family member in new ways.
“These guys would walk up full of tears ... 80-, 90-year-old people would hobble up on their cane,” Harvey said. “Some of the guardians were children and some of them said, ‘I never heard Dad talk about anything like that before.’”
He recalled visiting the Mount Suribachi Memorial during the Honor Flight and the emotions it evoked in the three of four men on the trip who had been in Iwo Jima. The US flag was raised on Mount Suribachi after the battle of Iwo Jima.
“You could just see the remembrance in their eyes,” Harvey said. “They didn’t say a whole lot.”
Harvey said he hopes every World War II veteran gets to take an Honor Flight. Not only were trip participants given a send off at Preston Smith International Airport, but they received a heroes’ welcome when they returned.
“One of the things I remember that really tears me up a little bit,” Harvey said. “They had the concourse — everything — lined with uniforms. Police. Sheriffs. Military. ROTC programs.”
Cromwell, like Fred, found a special name on the World War II Memorial wall. A friend he can’t forget.
Charles Stivers was Cromwell’s good friend who was drafted a few months before Cromwell. The pair planned to attend Pepperdine University in California together.
“He would not touch a gun,” Cromwell said.
Stivers, a conscientious objector, went through boot camp and medic school in the Navy. He was killed on the beach during the second day of the battle for Iwo Jima, Cromwell said.
The Honor Flight trip last fall gave Cromwell the chance to find his old friend’s name on the memorial wall.
“And so that was very special to me in Washington,” Cromwell said.
Stivers received a commendation for his actions during the first day of battle at Iwo Jima, according to Cromwell.
“I can’t forget him while I’m alive,” Cromwell said. “He didn’t last long.”
Cromwell served from 1943-1946 and spent most of his time in the Pacific Theater in places such as Majuro in the Marshall Islands. By the end of the war, Cromwell was ready to start college and begin a new life.
“I actually sent Japanese prisoners home before I could go,” Cromwell said.
He said the Navy tried to get him to extend his service by six months, but he would have missed a whole semester of college. What Cromwell didn’t know at the time was his extended service would have sent him to Bikini Island to prepare the site for atomic bomb testing.
“A lot of stories I could tell, but they wouldn’t be fit for publication,” Cromwell joked.