Since I lost my father in 1960 when I was 12 years old, this letter is one of my most prized possessions. It tells me as much, if not more, about the man I try to honor and emulate every day.
A little background on the letter is probably in order. My father, born in 1923 and raised in Meridian, MS was a student at the University of Mississippi when the war broke out. He was very devoted to his family and friends and maintained a steady flow of letters back home while in the ETO. I also have the original diary he kept for three months beginning the 1st of March 1945 until after VE day. But, from about the last week of February 1945 until the letter below, his mother and father back home in Mississippi had not heard from their son, and feared the worse…
May 6, 1945
My dearest Dad:
I received a swell letter from you yesterday, just like they always are. I hope all of you are still fine and as happy as ever. I’m feeling great and living a very lazy life now. We’re still sitting here in the same town. Once in a while we fire, but not too much — just harassing fire to keep the Heinies off our doughs up front.
Well, Daddy, I want you to keep this letter between you and me, and if you feel like Mama should know it (and, I think she should now) then you can just explain it to her. I know you can much better than I.
In your letter, Daddy, you said that you felt I was holding something back from you, and you wanted it straight. So here it is, the whole deal. I should have known that you would have sensed more than the “fib” I told you about getting only a few scratches when I stayed in the hospital and convalescence so long, but I hoped you wouldn’t mention it later. I’ll give it to you just the way it happened, and then you can understand why I haven’t told you. It’s more of a personal feeling within myself.
There’s a little town named Ormont back west of the Rhine. It wasn’t an important battle, just a routine attack like the rest that I had been lucky enough to get through. This night [27 Feb 1945] we were approaching the main road into Ormont. Well, the same thing happened that usually does — the leading elements were fired on and pinned down by mortars and MGs. Our battalion was lined back on the road alongside some tanks of the 4th Armored Division, when the fight really started. We (Co. G) were told to dig in on the road banks while the tanks moved up. Well, it was pitch black dark and those tanks make a heck of a noise. Soon, the 88s and mortars starting coming in on the road. About 40 yards from where my buddy and I were digging in (and we were digging), a tank was hit and started flaming. Here’s where “I stuck my neck out” as Steve would say. My buddy and I left our position to get the tankers out. We got two out, both pretty badly burned. One died later. We couldn’t reach the third one ’cause the tank was burning pretty bad. Well, Daddy, the next one that came in got Bauman and me (he’s from Penn. and we were together in England). I don’t know exactly what happened then. I can only guess that it was a tree burst (unless two came in at once). I was knocked on my can; something hit me on the side of the face — I must have been knocked cold by concussion, bleeding pretty bad from my nose and mouth, and I couldn’t move from my waist down. When the medics finally came up I could hear them say that Bauman was dead, and one of them said, “I guess he’s dead, too.” All I could do (I couldn’t speak) was to beat my hand on the ground ’till they heard me. I know Almighty God gave me the strength to do that.
Daddy, Bauman and I were both awarded the Bronze Star, his posthumously. I guess you’ll feel proud of me, and maybe I should be, but I can’t. I lost so much more than I gained. I lost a friend, and no recognition, no medals, can make up for that. I haven’t mentioned this even to Steve [one of my father’s closest friends] because being here in this he has seen the same things happen. And, I avoided telling you because I don’t feel any too good about it. It just isn’t done, that’s all, and I think you see why…Daddy, I’ve always said and will continue to do so, that I’m the luckiest guy on the face of the earth. Our prayers, that we have prayed together, have certainly been answered, and I’ll never forget the thanks we all owe to the Lord. He has given me strength, and courage, and confidence. I’m sorry that sometimes my fear was stronger than my faith. At times like that, I prayed that I wouldn’t be so scared. God gave us courage and strength that night to save that fellow’s life. But, if we had never left our holes, Bauman would probably be here today. Why wasn’t it me? Why is it he was killed and I wasn’t? I don’t know the answer to that. The Lord does, and it was His will that I live, and I can’t question that.
I can’t see the reasons why you folks think I have done my share in this war. No one’s effort, to win this war, is rationed. All our “share” will be when the whole mess is over. The fellows that won’t come home are the ones who have done their share. No more can be asked of them than their lives. I know God has a place for each of them in heaven.
I’ll sign off now. I hope I haven’t said anything to upset you. You’ve put up with me for 22 years — ha ha. Give the girl my Dad married a big hug and kiss for me. I miss all of you so much. Keep ’em smilin’. God bless you all.
Following his release from the hospital, my father was assigned to the 912th Field Artillery Battalion, from which he was honorably discharged in December 1945.
— Robert W. Crook, Jr.