Kansas MemoryKansas Memory

Kansas Historical SocietyKansas Historical Society

Interview on experiences in World War II

Item Description Bookbag Share




This is a Flint Hill Oral History Project, World War II Veterans Series interview with Mr


This is a Flint Hill Oral History Project World War II Veterans Series interview with Mr. Walter Hobson Crockett, who resides at 1400 Lilac Lane, Apartment 202, in Lawrence, Kansas. The interviewer is Loren Pennington, Emeritus Professor of History at Emporia State University. Today's date is April 30, 2006, and the interview is taking place at Mr. Crockett's home.

This is tape 1, side A.

Loren Pennington: Mr. Crockett, I should note for the record that you and I were not acquainted until a few days ago when we arranged this interview. Nevertheless we shall try to make this interview as informal as possible. I would like to have you begin by telling us about your life before you joined Company B of the 137th Infantry: when and where you were born, who your parents were, what they did for a living, where you went to grade school and high school, and how your family fared during the Great Depression.

Walter Hobson Crockett: My father was Harry Crockett and my mother was Onta Hughes Crockett. I was born April 8, 1921, in Strawn, Kansas, where my grandparents lived. My parents at the time lived in Burlington. My dad was working as a housepainter. He had been in World War I and came back and because he had some sort of service connected disability, a woman, a doctor's wife in Burlington, told him about a program by which people like him could go to college. And so he did. He went to Emporia. It was then called Kansas State Teachers College at Emporia. I was alive by the time he got into college. He went there and he played football there. He was All-State actually on the football team. He graduated I think in 1926 with a degree in education. The first year out he had a job as assistant coach at Ottawa University, where we lived for a year. Then he got a job as head coach at Great Bend High School, and we lived in Great Bend for three years. Every summer we would come back to Burlington, and so we lived in a different house each year we were in Great Bend.

LP: Was this the house of your grandparents that you came back to?

WHC: No; [my parents] would rent a house in Burlington.

LP: I see.

WHC: In 1929 [my father] apparently had a misunderstanding with a school board member about whether the member's son would get to play football enough, and he was let go. That was a bad time to be let go because it was during very hard times in the Great Depression. We went back to Burlington and lived in Burlington for seven or eight months. He was unemployed at the time and it must have been very, very stressful for them. The interesting thing is that we childrenI have a younger brother and a younger sisterdid not really know how stressful it was for [my parents]. We were always well enough fed; we never missed a meal. We had clothes that were worn but they were satisfactory. Finally along about January of that year my father's older brother, who had a collection agency in Emporia, brought us up there and gave my father a job. So we moved to Emporia and I did the last half of the fifth grade in the Teachers College training school. I then went to the sixth grade. Because all of the people in my neighborhood were going to the public school I went to the sixth grade at Walnut Street School in Emporia. About that time my dad got a job with Prudential Insurance Company as an agent. From that time until he retired he worked for Prudential. I went through junior high school and high school in Emporia. The year I graduated from high school in 1938 my dad was promoted to become an assistant manager in Topeka, so we moved to Topeka then. After I laid out the first semester of `38-'39 school year I went to Emporia the second semester, and went back there again the following year. I majored more in social activities than in studying and my grades did not do well, but meanwhile I had joined the National Guard. In fact I joined the National Guard in 1937 when I was sixteen.

LP: Before we go on with your military service, let me ask you this: what was your impression of the city of Emporia during the years you were growing up?

WHC: I think Emporia was not a bad place to grow up. I, like many people, thought it was constraining, and I thought that maybe it was a little hidebound.

LP: Was that because of your social activities?

WHC: Well, that and also I think it had to do with being an adolescent looking out at the big world and seeing Emporia as a small town. Maybe that. I don't know.

LP: Did you think of yourself, as we do today, as rebellious?

WHC: I was rebellious. I was reasonably rebellious, not violently rebellious, but rebellious enough. At the same time I liked Emporia. I liked the fact that the colleges were there. Do they still have a music contest every spring?

LP: I believe they do.

WHC: In those days the music contest was a big part of everybody's life and I enjoyed that very much.

LP: Were you yourself a musician?

WHC: I was a singer. I stopped that when I got out of the Army, but I used to sing a lot.

LP: In the 1930s obviously the world was falling apart. There was the Depression we've already talked about that. How about foreign affairs? Did your family pay much attention to what was going on in Europe and the Far East?

WHC: We did. My father was very intelligent; he was in the honor society at Emporia when he was an undergraduate, and he followed both national and international events very much. His father was a dyed-in-the-wool follower of William Jennings Bryan; he named my father Jennings. My dad was a Democrat all his life. We were very much partial to Franklin Roosevelt and dad followed national affairs. As we began to approach World War II, I can remember listening to Edward R. Murrow, for instance, broadcasting from London. We were very much involved in listening to foreign affairs.

LP: You already indicated that you went to college. Was your father able to send you or did you go on your own?

WHC: He sent me. I had a job, a part time job that took care of my meals, but he was able [to send me].

LP: Did you live at home?

WHC: No, by that time we were living in Topeka. I joined a fraternity at Emporia and I served meals. I was a waiter at the fraternity tables so that took care of my meals.

LP: You talked about joining Company B at the age of sixteen. Why did you do that?

WHC: My dad had been a member of the National Guard in Burlington, Kansas. He was mobilized with the National Guard in 1917 and went to France and fought there. So the National Guard was sort of in our heritage, and besides, I could use the money. It was $1.25 a week and it was $18.75 for two weeks in the summer, which doesn't seem like a lot but it was a lot then. So that's why I joined.

LP: The purchasing power of the dollar was considerably higher than it is today. How would you describe the make up of Company B when you joined?

WHC: About half of us were college students; most of whom joined for the same reason I did. The non-commissioned officers were all blue collar workers, I suppose in Emporia. One of our lieutenants, Tommy O'Connell, was a section foreman on the railroad and it was that kind of a background.

LP: Blue collar non-coms and officers and college student privates. How did you all get along?

WHC: Oh we got along very well. None of us came from affluent families and all of us knew people of that background. When we were mobilized we had twenty or thirty people who were from what you would call the poorer section of town. I don't think most of them belonged to the company before we mobilized. There was a big push to build the company's size up. A number of them joined at that time thinking, I suppose, that they were going to have an adventure and get paid by the government at the same time.

LP: Nobody thought they really would be in battle.

WHC: No; we thought we were going to be in the Army for a year and then get back out again.

LP: ``So long dear, I'll be back in a year,'' as the National Guard movie had it.

WHC: That's right.

LP: Now you yourself went in at sixteen; how did you get away with that?

WHC: I just told them I was eighteen and they didn't ask any questions.

LP: Were there many more like you?

WHC: I think maybe I was the youngest at sixteen, but there were some seventeen-year- olds I'm sure.

LP: You were still in high school?

WHC: I was a junior in high school.

LP: And you did graduate from Emporia High School and go on to Emporia State. Speaking of the training you had before you were actually mobilized, what is your opinion of it?

WHC: One night a week we could come down to the armory and we would go outside and do close order drill and that sort of thing. We would learn how to take the rifles apart and put them back together again.

LP: Springfield `03?

WHC: Right. And then we would go out to Fort Riley, usually to Fort Riley, for maneuvers for two weeks in the summer. I don't think I really learned anything particularly valuable about military life then, but it was not an uninteresting kind of experience. It was very hot in Fort Riley in August, but then that is understandable.

LP: You went with them on the Minnesota maneuvers, too, did you not?

WHC: Yes, the summer before we mobilized we went on maneuvers in Minnesota and that was an interesting experience.

LP: Anything in particular that you remember?

WHC: I remember the mosquitoes; that's most of what I remember. I really don't have many memories of Minnesota at all. We were out in the rural areas. I suppose it was pretty, but it didn't register with me.

LP: Any other incidents that you recall of this pre-mobilization period?

WHC: I really can't think of anything unusual.

LP: We'll go on then. When did you learn that you were going to be called into the federal service?

WHC: It became clear along in June or May that we were going to be mobilized.

LP: This was in 1940. This is about the time that selective service is passed.

WHC: They were going to mobilize us at about the same time. So I got a job in a drug store as a soda jerk and simply stayed down there until we were mobilized.

LP: What did you think about being called up at that time?

WHC: It seemed as though it would be sort of an adventure.

LP: You're not the only one who has said that. As long as you were not actually in the war it was kind of fun.

WHC: Right, right. After all it was Depression time and nobody was doing very much of anything anyway.

LP: You said in a talk you gave that 135 men were called up.

WHC: I thought that there were that many.

LP: It's varied from one 112 to 160, and I have a [Company B] roster that has 116 on it. In that 135 or so, and this is something that is hardly mentioned, there was a band called up at the same time. Can you tell me anything at all about that band?

WHC: Sure. That was the 161st Field Artillery Band. Most of those people were college students and musicians. Jack Frost, who was a good friend of mine, was in the band; he was a drummer, and once we were mobilized and were down at Camp Robinson, he transferred into Company B.

LP: The reason I ask that is that Company B had both a Jack Frost and a Jack Snow and people frequently mix them up.

WHC: Jack Snow was a tall basketball player who played basketball for Emporia High and also for Emporia State.

LP: And I believe that he was killed.

WHC: Yes. He was a navigator-bombardier in the a B25 stationed in Alaska. Their plane got shot up, I assume by a Japanese Zero, and he was in the front of the plane and he was killed.

LP: Jack Frost came back to become a pharmacist in Emporia.

WHC: Jack [Frost] got a battlefield commission.

LP: Do you know anything more about the band? I have had a great deal of difficulty finding anybody who could tell me anything about the band.

WHC: As I said, I think that most of them were college students or had been. All of them were musicians who had played in bands. The leader of the Emporia Teachers College dance band was in that company along with a number of band members.

LP: Was Tom Tholen a member of that band?

WHC: No, Tom Tholen was a member of the dance band, but. . . .

LP: He was actually in Company B.

WHC: I don't know what happened to them, but I assume that they stayed with the Division. The 161st Field Artillery was part of the 35th Division, which was our division. But whether or not they were somehow assimilated into the Field Artillery I don't know.

LP: Well, you are off to Camp Robinsonwhat did you find when you got there?

WHC: We found no barracks, [but] eight men lived in canvas tents with a space heater in the middle. The only erected buildings were the mess halls; otherwise we all lived in tents, one squad to a tent, and so we built considerable camaraderie among the people in the squad because we were together all of the time. Actually when we were mobilized I was a cook but I didn't stay a cook more than three or four months and then I transferred first into a rifle platoon and then into a machine gun platoon.

LP: So you were in heavy weapons?

WHC: Well, they were light machine guns.

LP: .30 caliber?

WHC: Yes, air cooled.

LP: Okay. What do you think the quality was of the training you got at Fort Robinson?

WHC: It was pretty good. We did a lot of marching and a lot of maneuvering.

LP: What about the actual use of weapons?

WHC: We had bolt action rifles and we didn't have live ammunition. We went out and fired on the rifle range and qualified.

LP: But you had to have live ammunition for that.

WHC: You had to have live ammunition to do that. We didn't have any ammunition for our machine guns all the time I was in that machine gun platoon. In fact we didn't have any machine guns. Yes, we did. We got them later on, but I never fired a machine gun.

LP: How was the discipline at Robinson?

WHC: Discipline was something that most of us rebelled against. We wanted to get away with as much as we could. I don't know, I always liked very much Tommy O'Connell and our commissioned officers. By and large I liked our non-commissioned officers. Jack Snow for instance was the sergeant in charge of the weapons platoon and he had been my friend before the war and I got along very well with him. We had a First Sergeant named Fenner, Shorty Fenner, whom I never did care for; many people did not. One or two of the non-commissioned officers were rather hardnosed, but we had known each other before the war and we were pretty sure we would know each other after the war, and so it was not an altogether hostile relationship.

LP: I get the impression from reading your memoir however that there were sometimes that perhaps I could best describe your daily activities as something that Beetle Bailey would have loved.

WHC: That's right. The interesting thing is that the non-commissioned officers went along with this. On days when we were on company maneuvers we would march out of camp into the backwoods of Arkansas and separate into platoons and then once we got into the platoon areas, we would just sit around and play cards or talk.

LP: You were having a bridge game out there in the woods?

WHC: We were having a bridge game; we took a deck of cards along and played bridge.

LP: I can't remember Army training like that myself.

WHC: And then when it was time to go back, we would put things away and march back in. It may have been because we were college students, many of whom who had been athletes, that we were much more oriented toward athletics than we were toward the military.

LP: I don't know how to ask you this exactly, but if we were to go back to slavery days what used to be called ``putting on old massa''that you were great for ribbing your officers and this sort of thing about things they thought were serious and that you thought were a joke.

WHC: It depended. The corporal in charge of the squad I was in was Orly Deputy. I had known him in high school and liked him a lot. We wouldn't pull any of that with him. We had an incident with a lieutenant which Bob Corbett started, and it was really amusing. Corbett went on and on to the lieutenant about how he (Corbett) could improve the lieutenant's social life by introducing him to some women because he didn't seem to know any. We all joined in.

LP: And you made the women up?

WHC: Oh yes. It was down in the Louisiana maneuvers and we hadn't had any contact with any women for months.

LP: You did bring up sports. You must have had considerable time for recreation. Tell us what you did.

WHC: I was part of a quartet; Tom Tholen was one of the three other people. One of them was from the Dodge City company. We used to sing around in Camp Robinson, and once or twice out in Arkansas itself. We did that sort of thing. There was a lot of poker playing and gambling, mostly on credit.

LP: Waiting for payday.

WHC: Right; and then on payday we'd get a weekend pass and we'd go into town.

LP: How about sports?

WHC: Our company had a basketball team that won the Division championship. They were very good.

LP: That was pretty much the Kansas State Teachers College basketball team.

WHC: Yes.

LP: Vernon Buck, whom you know, made a very interesting comment about the sports: ``We were a tough bunch and I'd like to think that we were something special.'' What do you think of that statement?

WHC: I had a lot of affection and loyalty to that company. I thought so too.

LP: Do you still have that affection and loyalty?

WHC: Oh yes, very much so.

LP: I was struck by your comment in the manuscript copy that you gave me of the talk that Camp Robinson was a democratizing experience. What did you mean by that?

WHC: I had grown up in essentially a middle class environment with a bunch of people who expected to go to college and when they grew up they expected to make a lot of money, I suppose.

LP: If they weren't of the elite, they expected to be.

WHC: Or at least move toward it. And what we had in the Company were many people who came from totally different backgrounds. There was John Cooper.

LP: John Cooper was probably an outstanding example of this.

WHC: Yes, he was a poor boy who dropped out of school and worked in a shoe repair shop. There was Howard Hillis whose father scraped by driving a broken-down truck delivering groceries. There were just a lot of people of that background. We were in the same outfit and we were thrown together and I got to know them very well. We talked a lot about what life was like. I don't know whether it changed my opinion, but it certainly broadened my experience.

This is tape 1, side B.

LP: Anything further you have to say about that democratizing? I remember once you said something that you thought you wondered what would have happened to John Cooper had he gotten home? Of course he didn't, he was killed, and I wonder if I could use your exact words, ``Everybody would have dumped on him.'' What did you mean by that?

WHC: This is what Sammy McComb said. He was a draftee who came in after we were mobilized. He was a very nice fellow but sort of an acerbic kind of person. The first reunion after the warI went down to Emporia for the reunionand Sammy was there. Sammy had been in the company in the same squad as John Cooper and he told me that he thought it was better that Cooper was killed in the war. He said if he had come back here Emporia would have rejected him; he said ``dumped'' on him. Emporia would never have given him a chance; it would have rejected him. So he thought it was better that Cooper had died before he faced that kind of rejection. And I [have] really wondered whether there was some truth in what he said. Maybe. I don't know about Emporia doing that, but I know that every member of Company B liked John Cooper and none of them would have rejected him. Actually he was raised, I think, by a Mrs. King, whom he called Mom King.

LP: Would this have been the wife of Al King or it could also have been Al King's mother, because he did live at least for a while with his grandmother? We know that Al King was his uncle and King's wife might have been the one he called Mom King.

WHC: I don't know if it was the wife or an older grandmother. I do know that the company sort of adopted Mrs. King; she would come to every one of the reunion memorial services until she died.

LP: I suspect if that was the case this was probably Al King's wife, because the grandmother would have been too old for that sort of thing.

WHC: Yes.

LP: You've already mentioned one thing I wanted to ask you about. Probably the biggest thing that happened from the nation's viewpoint while you were at Camp Robinson were those Louisiana maneuvers of 1941 in which you were involved. What did you think of them?

WHC: I remember camping out; I remember standing guard over a crossroads, and I remember when we started marching at twilight and marched all night long, and walked on Barksdale Field the next morning, having marched twenty miles or so. The soles of our feet felt as though somebody had been pounding on them. I remember Barksdale Field was a very good place to stand guard over; it was outside Shreveport. Other than that I really don't have any memories about [the maneuvers].

LP: Which side were you on?

WHC: I don't remember whether I was on the blue or the red. I do remember that once we were advancing across a field and somebody on the other side from New York fired off a blank gun right in front of a friend of mine and jumped up and said, ``I got you, Mack.'' That's one of the few things I remember; it scared the living daylights out of my friend.

LP: I talked to people about the Louisiana maneuvers who were at the bottom as you were, and I've asked them if they had heard anything about General Eisenhower at that time. Of course the Louisiana maneuvers made his military reputation.

WHC: I learned that later.

LP: That wasn't something that you learned at the time?

WHC: The only officer higher than the colonel in our regiment that I ever heard of was General Ben Lear.

LP: General Ben Lear who put you to walking.

WHC: I think some soldiers were marching past where he was playing golf and they jeered them.

LP: The story is that they whistled at some women who were wearing shorts playing golf and that made General Lear angry, so that's why he ordered them to walk. There are a couple of things that I would like to ask you. On occasion people came down from Emporia to Fort Robinson to visit. Did your parents ever come down to visit?

WHC: Oh yes; my parents came down two or three times.

LP: Were these joyful occasions?

WHC: Yes. One time my father's father had a sister who lived in Arkansas, and I actually got a weekend pass when they [my parents] were there. We went up into the hills in Arkansas and spent the night with them. It was the first time I had seen them. But yes, but there were frequent visits from relatives and friends.

LP: I rather get the impression from talking to your fellow members of Company B that Camp Robinson was kind of a good time.

WHC: Yes we had a good time.

LP: It was the sort of adventure that you expected.

WHC: And then when Pearl Harbor happened and they sent us to California, that was an adventure too.

LP: Let's stop there just a moment. Do you remember [Pearl Harbor] day? What were your thoughts?

WHC: Friends of mine, Henry Babinsky and Chester Patton, had managed to make a couple of dates when they were in Little Rock, and there was an extra woman so they asked me along. We were out at some place dancing and all of a sudden the MPs came in and told us to get back to the base. We didn't really pay attention to them. They told us that Pearl Harbor had been bombed, but we decided that we weren't going back until we had to get back for 10 o'clock bed check so we just stayed out. Then we went back, and then the next thing we knew in a week or so we were on a troop train going to California.

LP: How was the trip?

WHC: Well, we were in railroad cars that must have been resurrected from early, early times. Somebody said they saw a sign in one of those cars that said, ``No shooting buffalo from the train,'' but I don't really believe they saw that. But they were very old train cars. It was like a two or three day trip; I don't remember how long it took, but it was not unpleasant. And then once we got out there, for a week or two we were in Fort Ord, California, and then we went up and spent about a month at the Presidio in San Francisco. That was really an adventure because none, or almost none of us, had been in CaliforniaI had never and San Francisco was a really exciting place to be. That was great and we enjoyed that very much.

LP: Did you continue to train up there?

WHC: Mostly we guarded, we guarded the Golden Gate Bridge.

LP: This was when we were worried about possible Japanese attacks?

WHC: Right. We had an outpost where we sat around in the night and guarded the Fort. We still continued to treat it as a good time.

LP: That's what I wanted to ask you. In other words, you didn't treat it all that seriously. They may have expected a Japanese attack but did you really expect one?

WHC: Not really, I suppose, no. The people of San Francisco were very nice to us. There were a couple of women who used to bring coffee and cookies over to the people who were standing guard at the gates of the Presidio. If you went into a bar, [people] would buy you drinks. They were very glad to see the military out there. Then after we went up to Benicia, California, where there was an arsenal, and we stood guard at the Benicia Arsenal. I left the company at Benicia. After I left they went down to Los Angeles; what they did down there I don't know.

LP: Let me ask you this: in the time you were with Company B what did you think of the food?

WHC: I never had much complaint with that; it was good enough.

LP: You mentioned your parents coming to visit you. Did you regularly communicate with them and [with] your brother and sister?

WHC: Well, my brother and sister were five or six years younger than I. I wrote to themI'd like to say every week, but that's asking quite a bit for a nineteen or twenty year old kid.

LP: Did they write to you?

WHC: Yes.

LP: Both of them?

WHC: Mostly my mother.

LP: At this point you leave. In fact in California there is a pretty good exodus from Company B. Would you like to talk about that?

WHC: Yes. We began to think about the fact that we were privates or even maybe corporals in an infantry company and we were going to be that for the rest of our life if we didn't watch out. And so we began transferring out. A number of us went to Officer Candidate School and became commissioned officers in the infantry or some other branch. I transferred into Air Force pilot training.

LP: Let me ask something. I'm trying to figure out when this exodus occurred because it seems to me that a lot of them did transfer out but it also seems to me that a lot of them had put in for their transfers almost before Pearl Harbor. This leads me to a question: when did you guys know that you weren't going to go home in a year?

WHC: I think it was in the summer or fall of 1941.

LP: In other words it wasn't the result of Pearl Harbor.

WHC: Oh, no.

LP: Some of them said they thought right up until the time of Pearl Harbor they were going to go home in a year.

WHC: Congress passed a law extending indefinitely all the people who had been drafted and also the National Guards that had been mobilized.

LP: So long before you went to California, you knew that you weren't going to get out in a year. So Pearl Harbor didn't really affect that. The transfers were all in the mill even before Pearl Harbor.

WHC: No. Actually I think I transferred when we were in the Presidio. When we were in Benicia I was given a physical exam and a mental exam (I guess), and then by February [1942], I was accepted into the Air Force and given a thirty-day furlough to come home.

LP: I'd like to come back to Company B, but for now I'd like you to talk about your military career from the time you transferred out, however you wish to relate that. I'll try to interrupt you as little a possible.

WHC: I got this thirty-day furlough and came back to Topeka where my parents were living and stayed there. They sent me a paycheck at the end of the month and told me that my furlough was being extended another month, and they kept doing that because there were so many applications to go into the Air Force and there were so few Air Force bases and planes that they couldn't accept everybody. Therefore I wasn't called up until June; I was home for four monthsFebruary, March, April, and May. In June I went down to Kelly Field in San Antonio and became an aviation cadet. We did pre-flight training there and then went to Muskogee, Oklahoma, for primary school, which lasted for thirteen weeks, and then to Winfield, Kansas, for basic flying training.

LP: Winfield, Kansas? What was there?

WHC: There was a little field, Strother Field halfway between Winfield and Ark City. We were there for another thirteen weeks and then down to Altus, Oklahoma for advanced twin-engine training, and I graduated there in May of 1943. When we were in primary training the family of a good friend of mine came up from Memphis for a visit and brought their daughter along and my friend got me a date with her; that was in September. And in December I went to their place at Christmas on a leave and proposed and we were married in April.

LP: Your wife's name is?

WHC: Helen.

LP: And her maiden name?

WHC: Cheairs, Helen Cheairs. We were married sixty-three years ago.

LP: How many children do you have?

WHC: Three, a daughter who was born in 1944 and is now in Portland, Oregon, and a son born in 1946 who is now in Worcester, Massachusetts, and another son who was born in 1951 and who is living here in Lawrence.

LP: To go back to your flying career, where did this lead you to?

WHC: I was newly married so I asked my flying instructor to recommend me for an instructor and he did and I went down to Randolph Field for a month to train as an instructor in twin engine [planes]. I had an interesting experience there. The orders that we had to go to San Antonio said dependents were not authorized. But of course my wife and I had just been married and she went along. She took a room in San Antonio and they put us trainees in a barracks at Randolph Field. The first day, they put up a poster saying that anybody who wants [his] wife to get a pass to come on the post to sign below. So all of us who had brought our wives signed below and then received a notice the following day saying ``The following officers are restricted to the post for the duration of their tour.'' This created such a furor that they rescinded it the following day.

LP: You were an officer then?

WHC: Yes, a 2nd lieutenant. Then I went back to Altus, Oklahoma, as an instructor and stayed there until September and then transferred into the Air Transport Command.

LP: Are we still in '43?

WHC: Yes, '43. We went up to Milwaukee for a month of additional training and then back to Dallas to Love Field and ferried airplanes across the country.

LP: Now what type of planes are we talking about?

WHC: I ferried C-47s and advanced trainers and then I went down and checked out in fighters; I ferried lots of P-51s because there was a P-51 factory in Fort Worth.

LP: So you were flying all kinds of aircraft; you were not flying heavy bombers or even light bombers?

WHC: No, no.

LP: Transport planes, fighters, trainers and so forth.

WHC: That lasted nine months, and meantime our daughter was born in Dallas in March of '44. In June [of `44] I was sent to India.

LP: You are in the CBI. What are you doing?

WHC: Flying C-47s and 46s. Our base was north of Calcutta a hundred miles or so, and we would fly from there over to Karachi and pick up a load of things and most of the time we would fly from Karachi to the ``hump'' stations up in Assam. Sometimes we'd pick up something in Assam and fly it to Calcutta. We went into Bombay once and Calcutta often and Karachi a number of times. Then for a while, for about a month, they were building an oil pipeline across Burma and we ferried pipe into various bases in Burma.

LP: You say you flew up to the hump but you did not actually fly over.

WHC: We did not fly over the hump, no.

LP: How did you find this?

WHC: Mostly like driving a truck. Monotonous.

LP: Was it stressful?

WHC: Only if you got into a thunderstorm and then it was quite stressful. The first flight I took as a co-pilotwhat happened is that first you were a co-pilot then after a while, after you got some experience, you became a pilot. I was flying co-pilot for the first flight and we went into Calcutta when there was a thunderstorm right over the field. The pilot made three passes over the field. Lightening would flash and you couldn't see anything and we'd get down next to the ground and a big gust of wind would hit us and we would bounce up in the air. It was a really amazing experience and was very stressful. Finally he gave up and we went back to our base. As we were leaving the planewe had a load of passengers this timeone of the passengers said to the radio operator ``That was some kind of an experience.'' The radio operator said, ``You should have been here during the monsoon.'' I thought to myself, ``I don't know if I'm going to be able to stand this or not.'' Well, I had that same radio operator on my crew several months later and I reminded him of that. He said he was scared to death. He said the pilot told him to get in touch with another base to see if we could land there and he intentionally got on the wrong frequency so that he could tell that pilot that he couldn't raise that base, and we came back to our base. Obviously he was frightened, as I certainly was. But other than that I flew through several thunderstorms, which is always an interesting experience. Another time we got off track a little bit in Burma. [Other than those two flights] I didn't have anything that was really stressful.

LP: You must have had some contact with Indian civilization and culture. What was your impression or attitude toward that?

WHC: You have to realize that I was recently married with a young child and it really was culture shock. It was my first experience with a third world country and it was dirty, the people were dirty, they were hungry, and I did not react favorably. We hired a fellow who took care of us and he invited us to his little shack out in the country, and I liked him very much.

LP: When you say us, you mean you and the crew members?

WHC: The people who were living in the barracks with me. But I still had minimal contacts with Indian civilization and culture and not much respect for it, to tell the truth. Just before we got there they had had such a severe famine that they were throwing dead people in trucks and carting them off to the burning pits. It was just abject poverty people coming up to you on the street holding out their hands asking for baksheesh, this sort of thing.

LP: Have you been to India since then?

WHC: Never have. I have not had any interest in it to tell the truth.

LP: Did you conceive any opinion of the British Raj government there?

WHC: Only since I left. I have read any number of books about the Raj and the Indian government. We didn't have any contact with the British forces there, so I really can't say I had much of an opinion at all.

LP: When did your stint in India run out?

WHC: After the war in Europe was over in May of '45, they were discharging people. By virtue of having been in the Army for four and a half years, I had a lot of points. I was brought back to this country in July of '45.

LP: So you were home when. . . .

WHC: I was home when the war ended.

LP: What did you think about the use of the bomb?

WHC: I feel ambivalent about it. I have one or two close friends who were poised to go into Japan in the invading army and they were all for it. I also know people who are appalled that we dropped the bomb.

LP: Did you know anybody at the time who was appalled?

WHC: No

LP: Are you speaking about your colleagues here at the University of Kansas?

WHC: Yes, and elsewhere. I suppose our government could have dropped a demonstration bomb to show what they could do, but I don't think any reasonable person thinks [the Japanese] would [have been affected]. I'm not sorry that they did it.

LP: If you had been President would you have done the same thing?

WHC: I don't think there is any question I would have.

LP: This is a good place for us to stop this tape.

This is tape 2, side A.

LP: Mr. Crockett, you were talking about the Indian people and we talked about the bomb, which you felt was justified, and I take it that you still feel that way today. How did you think of the Japanese enemy during the war?

WHC: I suppose I had a generally stereotypical view of them.

LP: Which was?

WHC: Generally I thought they were probably barbaric, since I was already oriented more toward Europe, and then by the time we got to India the Japanese had been driven out of Burma so I didn't have that much contact with them.

LP: What was your attitude toward them compared with your attitude toward the Germans?

WHC: Well I thought the Germans were barbaric, too.

LP: The Germans or the Nazis?

WHC: The Nazis. I had never known a Japanese person. It's easy to accept a stereotype when you don't know anything about the people.

LP: Before we actually leave this did you at all consider staying in the reserves? You took your discharge when it came and that was it?

WHC: Yes. I was not a hot pilot and furthermore I never really cared for the military; in fact I disliked the military. The kind of thing I disliked was typified after the war in 1954 or `55 when I was teaching at Kansas State. I had a contract that summer to do a study over at the Forbes Air Force Base in Topeka and I went down one time to the transportation office to get tickets for a trip we were going to make. There was a lieutenant there who was absolutely berating a poor GI, just tearing into him something fierce right in front of a whole crew of other officers and me, a civilian. There was nothing that poor kid could do but sit there and listen to him. If you had a good officer, fine; but if you ran across somebody who was not, it was just miserable and there was nothing you could do about it.

LP: What was the highest rank you held?

WHC: First Lieutenant.

LP: Were you awarded any medals or any special commendations?

WHC: No. I had the Air Medal, but everyone got that so I never picked it up.

LP: What did you do the first few days or weeks after you got out of the service?

WHC: When I came back I knew I was going to come back to college and I decided to come to KU, so I arranged to do that. I came up to Lawrence and got a job in a dry- cleaning plant pressing clothes. Actually I was working in that dry-cleaning plant when the Japanese war ended. I worked there for the first year of college at KU.

LP: Did you get much of your education up through the PhD through the GI Bill?

WHC: Yes. I got four years worth of the GI Bill. I actually got more than that because they counted by the month. That is, I got 48 months of support, which, in academic time, amounts to more than four calendar years.

LP: What's your attitude towards the GI Bill?

WHC: I think it was one of the greatest things that ever happened and I regret that it hasn't become a standard thing.

LP: Do you think it was a good thing for the nation as well as for you?

WHC: Oh, yes. My friend, Bill Tuttle in the History Department, you know him.

LP: Yes, I do.

WHC: Bill Tuttle has a record of how many millions, billions, of dollars have been added to the American economy by virtue of the fact that so many people were able to get advanced degrees and advanced training.

LP: I have had one of our interviewees say he thought it was a bad idea because it got too many people trained for the job opportunities. This is kind of surprising because this fellow himself is an MD.

WHC: Well, he didn't get over-trained, did he?

LP: You went back to school and what course of study did you pursue?

WHC: Well what happenedI thought that I was going to go to law school and be a lawyer. I went up to the counseling bureau and took some aptitude tests, and they said social science high school teacher. I didn't particularly care about being a social science high school teacher, but I started taking sociology courses and I sort of liked them so I got an undergraduate and masters here and then went to the University of Michigan and got a doctorate in social psychology.

LP: I'm from the University of Michigan also.

WHC: Is that so? I was there from '49 to `53.

LP: I was not there until 1955. How did you like the University of Michigan?

WHC: I liked Michigan a lot and [it[ was a very exciting academic experience, very, very stimulating.

LP: Was your degree in sociology?

WHC: Social psychology; it was a program that spanned sociology and psychology.

LP: Where have you been employed?

WHC: After I got out it was a tight job market in 1953, and I got a job in the Psychology Department at Kansas State. We had been living in Kansas and we wanted to go elsewhere so after about three and a half years, in 1957, I got a job at Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. We went back there and were there eleven years and got a little tired of the East Coast. In 1968 I came back out here in a joint program in the Psychology Department and the Communication Studies Department.

LP: That seems a little peculiar to me, or am I wrong?

WHC: For some reason a program they called the Human Relations Program wound up in Communication Studies. This had to do with internal KU politics I think. The Psychology Department didn't want to expand, so they were looking for a place to put that Human Relations Program and Bill Conboy who was the head of [the Communications Department] said, ``We'll take it.''

LP: Do you think you have had a successful career here?

WHC: A satisfactory career.

LP: You've chosen to retire here.

WHC: We like Lawrence here very much.

LP: I do too, it's a nice town. I don't know exactly which way to go here now. By the way have you used the GI Bill for anything else?

WHC: We bought a house.

LP: How about medical benefits?

WHC: No, I haven't used the veterans benefits, although I think I probably should.

LP: I thought that I should, too, though I haven't done it. [There is] one of the things that I would like to go back to: I know that you have taken some interest in your fellow soldiers in Company B. How much did you follow the careers of the Company B men and of Company B itself?

WHC: Well my parents now and then would send me articles as they appeared in the paper. I didn't know that [John] Cooper, for instance, had been killed until I got back. I learned that Orly Deputy was killed while I was in India. I had met a fellow that had been in Alaska and I told him that I knew Jack Snow had been up there and he told me that Jack Snow had been shot. I kept up with them as I could.

LP: How about Company B as a group? Did you do anything to find out where Company B was involved in the fighting?

WHC: No, I did not.

LP: But you have taken a very great personal interest, have you not, in their annual reunion?

WHC: Oh, yes. I enjoy those reunions, we all get along well together. There is a remarkable diversity in their political opinions and experiences. Everybody likes everybody else quite well.

LP: There is something special about them, as Vernon Buck put it?

WHC: Yes, yes.

LP: I noticed that in your paper that you gave me that you talked about the 1990 reunion minutes and I think you said you were not there.

WHC: I was not there.

LP: I was at that reunion just by chance. I was the principal speaker as Dwight Eisenhower. There were about forty people there for that reunion. I was at the one last year and I think the total attendance was seven, of which four were veterans and the rest were the people who brought them.

WHC: I went the year before last and there were nine or eleven of us. Well, we're dying off.

LP: There are a couple of other things that we need to talk about. You yourself made it very clear in your paper that you were a supporter of the New Deal. I take it that you still number yourself among America's liberals?

WHC: I do.

LP: Are you glad you served in the Army?

WHC: I am. I don't know what would have happened if I hadn't been in the Army. The thing is they took a bunch of late adolescents and gave them responsibilities. I never would have had the responsibility of flying an airplane across India and those kinds of things. You grow up. And they paid you to do it. So you come out of it a different person than when you went in. In many ways I wished my children had not gone to college directly out of high school. In fact each of them went for a year, dropped out, and then the two older ones came back. But the reason is that you come out of high school callow and what happens in the Army or in employment is that you have responsibilities. You have to work, you have to do things, and you just grow up. And I am grateful to the Army for that though I didn't like the Army.

LP: Let me put it to you this way if you were the same age and the circumstances were the same would you be willing to do it again?

WHC: Oh sure.

LP: You would have no hesitation?

WHC: No. On the other hand if I were that age today, I would not join and sign up to go to Iraq.

LP: Your generation has been called America's greatest generation.

WHC: That's going a little far.

LP: You think that's going a little too far?

WHC: We're no different from any other generation. Any other generation, given the same circumstances, would have done the same sort of thing.

LP: Do you think America's younger generation would do it today?

WHC: Yes, I do.

LP: You have some kind of interesting views on what constituted a hero.

WHC: Yes, yes.

LP: What are those views?

WHC: I think that what happens is that you develop a set of principles and a set of loyalties so that when you are put in difficult circumstances you feel there is no honorable thing to do other than, in the case of war, to fight and to act bravely, even though you are scared to death.

LP: So I think that what you are telling me is nobody really goes out there to be a hero.

WHC: There may be some.

LP: There may be a few but they are few and far between. That doesn't make the others any less heroes.

WHC: That's right.

LP: I often like one of the statements of George Patton, ``It isn't your job to die for your country but to make some other poor son-of-a-bitch die for his.''

WHC: Yes.

LP: You more or less answered this but I wonder if you have anything more to say on it? How do you think your experience in World War II has affected your later life? Is there anything further you would like to say on that?

WHC: The main thing is that it helped me grow up and it introduced me to my wife, for which I am very grateful, and it gave me a lot of friends. I probably would not have had as close a set of friendships as I did.

LP: And you still maintain these friendships?

WHC: Yes. Although I live up here and they live down there and I don't see them very often and I won't see most of them ever again, at least not on this earth.

LP: I have one other thing that I would like to ask you. Obviously you lived through the time when America debated assuming a role in world affairs in the 1930s, eventually did assume that role, and has taken that role ever since. From your experience and what you have seen and heard and done, what do you think should be America's role in the world today?

WHC: At the present time we are the world's remaining superpower. China and India are coming on.

LP: We are the hegemonic power in the world.

WHC: Yes. I wish we would behave with more wisdom and less audacity or arrogance. I didn't really approve of the first Iraq war, although I could see why you couldn't allow them to take over Kuwait. I didn't think we should have stayed in Vietnam as long as we did, and I really disapprove of the present Iraq war. Our role ought to be one of concern and assistance and wisdom and not one of forcing our will on people. But apparently we are [doing that and] I disapprove of that very strongly.

LP: Let me ask one other thing. Have you taken much interest in veteran affairs?

WHC: No, I haven't.

LP: I anticipated that was the answer but I thought I had better ask the question.

WHC: I never joined the American Legion. I expect if I had moved back to Emporia I would have, but up here I didn't know anybody in the American Legion so I just didn't.

LP: Or the VFW?

WHC: Or the VFW.

ILP: Is there anything we haven't talked about that you would like to say something about?

WHC: Not that I can think of.

LP: Do you think we have covered pretty much everything you can think of?

WHC: I think we have. Do you think we have?

LP: Well, I think we have covered everything I can think of. I want to thank you very much, Mr. Crockett, for your interview today, and we'll get it back to you one of these days.

WHC: Fine.

[Interview ends tape 2, side A, count 273.]

Item Description

Copyright © 2007-2021 - Kansas Historical Society - Contact Us
This website was developed in part with funding provided by the Information Network of Kansas.