But Crawford’s modesty only compounds the valor of his service. T. R. Crawford II served in WWII as a pilot in the Pacific. He flew liberated prisoners home to freedom.
“There’s no other country that compare with what we have. This is a wonderful country, a wonderful people, worth the fighting and sacrifice given by our military. It was an honor for me to serve,” Crawford said.
“I was afraid the war was going to be over before I could get in. I’m glad I didn’t miss it,” he recalled.
“I was attending Georgia Tech; my second year there. I had become more interested in what was happening in the war than in my studies. I applied to the Army Air Corps., and while waiting to be accepted I took a job as a welder on a shipyard building Liberty Ships in Panama City, Fla. Just a month later I was accepted to the Air Corps,” Crawford said.
In his training, Crawford traveled throughout the US and learned to “fly just about anything.”
“At first we just had Cadet training, which was a lot of exercise and physical training. But then I got some experience off the ground in a Piper Cub. After that, I learned to make a slow roll in a PT 17, twin engines, etc,” he said.
“Night flying was my favorite. That training was done with BT 13’s. I remember flying up high in to the night sky and facing a full moon. It took my breath away! I thought it was a locomotive coming straight for me. I’ll never forget that,” he said.
Crawford received his pilot wings on Aug. 4, 1944, just two weeks after his 20th birthday.
“After graduation we were given a leave of absence. I remember how proud Daddy was, taking me around, showing me off in my officer’s uniform to all the officials at Southern Bell.”
“Next, I reported in for B-24 training. The first time I walked up beside a B-24 I had never seen anything so big. I wondered how I would ever fly anything so big. But of course we all did,” said Crawford.
“I was so lucky. I got a top grade crew assigned to me. A B-24 had a crew of 10 men — the pilot, co-pilot, navigator bombardier, engineer, radio operator, two side gunners, one tail gunner and one ball turrett gunner. The bombardier was also the nose gunner and the engineer was the top gunner.
“We were really sharp. In fact, if one of my gunners hadn’t been caught getting cigarettes out of uniform we would have won ‘Best Crew on the Field’ while we were in training,” he laughed.
Pilot Crawford and his crew picked up a new B-24 and headed for the Pacific Theater as part of the 90th Bomb group, 400th squadron, 5th Air force. They stopped over at Biak Island and then on to Clark Airfield in Luzon, Philippines.
“A few days later, May 7, 1945, I believe, we got word that the war in Europe was over. But we still had our war to finish,” said Crawford.
Crawford and his crew set off for Nadzab, New Guinea, to be a replacement crew bombing squadron. Their first mission was Mindoro Island, south of Luzon.
“We raided Balikpapan, Borneo. All together the Balikpapan bombing campaign had cost the 5th Air Force: 2 B-24’s, 3 P-38’s, 6-P47’s and countless lives were lost.”
His crew’s next mission was to bomb airfields where the Kamikaze planes were coming from.
“We had many targets. We got some flack but we didn’t get hit. That proved to be our last mission. We were ordered to move to Luzon Island. We were there when we got word that an atomic bomb had been dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, Aug. 6, 1945 and was followed by another bomb on the city of Nagasaki, Aug.t 9, 1945. On August 10, 1945, the Japs surrendered. We were sent to Ie Shima,” he said.
“Our bombing days were over but we were still busy. No one knew for sure if the Japs would live up to their word or not. They sent peace envoys first to Ie Shima where they transferred from their ‘Jap Betty’ medium bombers to C-45s, 4 engine transports, to fly into Clark Field to negotiate peace. We started putting wood planks down to stand on in the bomb bays and we practiced flying slow formation in case paratroopers were to be used to blanket Japan,” he said.
When surrender was certain, the release of prisoners became their final mission.
“We started picking up released prisoners of war from Okinawa and flying them down to Clark Field. Most of the men I flew down were English soldiers that been prisoners for a very long time. They were in bad shape, suffering from beri beri. Their shinbones were soft as rubber and could be pressed in by a little pressure by your fingertips. Some were native Japanese. All were happy to be going home. Our outfit took over an area that had been a communication headquarters until we got orders to go home just before Thanksgiving of 1945,” said Crawford.
“My crew and I flew home on a B-24. We island hopped across the Pacific. The last leg was from Hawaii to San Francisco. It was bad weather most of the way. After being on instruments most of the leg we finally broke out in the clear and as we flew over the Golden Gate Bridge looking down we could see on the beach in big block letters, ‘WELCOME HOME, WELL DONE.’
I’ll never forget it,” Crawford said.
Crawford’s final discharge was on the anniversary of Pearl Harbor, December 7, 1945. After the war, Crawford married, had children and became a hair dresser. “So many pilots were coming out of the Army, I decided to look for something else,” he explained.
He and His wife Sara, also a retired hair dresser, decided to retire to Fairmount more than 20 years ago.
“We love it here. We became a part of the community when we decided to retire here. The people that live here are so wonderful. We enjoy taking care of each other, volunteering and working in the garden,” he said.
Proud to be American and grateful for the life he has led, Crawford offers the following advice;
“Love your country, appreciate the freedom you have been born with and honor those who have served and sacrificed to protect your freedom.”