On this day in 1999, a hero passes away. Medal of Honor recipient John R. Crews hadn’t wanted to talk about his experiences after World War II. “I didn’t care whether anyone knew,” he told a journalist from The Daily Oklahoman. “It was difficult to talk about. It just left such an emotional load.”
He later changed his mind and began opening up. In the final years of his life, he made a point of attending Memorial Day ceremonies and other events honoring Medal recipients. He wanted “to be a part of the expression of what had to take place in order to survive,” he explained.
Crews’ heroism had come on April 8, 1945, mere weeks before the Germans finally surrendered. Staff Sergeant Crews was then a squad leader, advancing with his company toward the German village of Lobenbacherhof.
Suddenly, two enemy nests opened fire from a hill on their right flank. Crews’ platoon commander was wounded. Seemingly without hesitation, Crews and two other soldiers leapt into action, rushing towards the concealed German positions. The other two were hit, but Crews plowed forward.
“Storming the well dug-in position singlehandedly,” his Medal citation summarizes, “he killed two of the crew of the machine gun at point-blank range with his M1 rifle and wrested the gun from the hands of a German whom he had already wounded.”
Crews used that seized rifle to storm a second enemy position. He was wounded by then, but “he kept on and silenced the entire position with his accurate and deadly rifle fire,” his citation concludes.
The Germans were stunned. Seven surrendered to the wounded Crews while the rest fled.
In the meantime, Crews’ action had provided cover for the rest of his platoon to continue their advance toward Lobenbacherhof. Now medics came to his aid, but they were having trouble controlling the prisoners. Crews was on a stretcher by this point, but he sat up, wielding his rifle.
Let’s just say that the prisoners were subdued after that.
Three years later, Crews received a Medal of Honor from Harry S Truman. “Where did you get the courage to fight like you did?” the President asked. “I learned at home that you do everything you’re told,” Crews shrugged. “I saw no difference in my military orders.”
Crews returned home and resumed his civilian life. At the time of his passing, he had 18 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren. He’d remained humble about his bravery, to the very end.
“It was something someone had to do, and I did it. I didn’t expect to live,” he concluded.
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11 Sooners Have Earned Nation’s Highest Award (Lawton Constitution; Feb. 10, 1963) (p. 7)
Ann DeFrange, World War II Vets Fading Into History: Survivors Open Up About War (Daily Oklahoman; May 27, 1999) (second half of story HERE)
Bill filed to name OKC bridge after Medal of Honor recipient (Oklahoma Senate website; Jan. 16, 2020)
Charles Etheridge, Actions Talk, City Veteran to get Top Medal (Daily Oklahoman; June 23, 1948)
Frederick Weber, The Home of the Brave (Lancaster Eagle-Gazette; Sept. 9, 2001) (p. 4A)
Medal of Honor citation (John R. Crews; WWII)
Richard Goldstein, John R. Crews Is Dead at 76; Winner of the Medal of Honor (NY Times; Sept. 30, 1999)