Steven J. Newton
Not long ago, I had a few health problems that ultimately landed me in the V.A. Hospital in Fayetteville Arkansas. Needless to say, I was feeling sick and lonely, not to mention more than a little scared of dying. I have been a police officer my whole life, both in and out of the military but I had never been more aware of my own mortality. For those of you who have had a brush with death, you know what I mean. I lay in that hospital bed, not really knowing what was going on or what was going to happen to me. I tried to make my peace with the Big Boss and to make peace with myself.
Late one night as I was walking the halls, I met an elderly, bent-over gentleman. We talked and over a period of a couple of days became friends. My friend’s name is Clarence Craft and I found out that he was eighty years old and had lung cancer.
He had refused any more treatments because they made him sick and he figured he did not have long to live any way so he wanted to live his last days as free of the hospital as he could. He seemed very matter-of-fact about his condition and seemed to accept what was inevitable. I envied him his courage. He told me he had enjoyed a long and eventful life and had so many children and great-grandchildren that he couldn’t remember the exact number.
One morning I was talking with a volunteer worker at the hospital and he said, “Do you know who you’ve been talking to?” I said, “yeah, Mr. Craft. The volunteer said, “Why don’t you walk down to the main lobby of the hospital and look around.”
I found the request a little odd, but I did as he suggested. When I arrived at the lobby I still didn’t know what I was supposed to be doing until I noticed a large display taking up one whole wall.
The display featured a Medal of Honor and next to it a picture of a soldier. Under the picture was the name,
The citation read (in part):
Clarence B. Craft, MOH… He was a rifleman when his platoon spearheaded an attack on Hen Hill, the tactical position on which the entire Naha-Shuri-Yonaburu line of Japanese defense on Okinawa, Ryukyu Islands, was hinged. For twelve days our forces had been stalled, and repeated, heavy assaults by one battalion and then another had been thrown back by the enemy with serious casualties. With five comrades, Pfc Craft was dispatched in advance of Company G to feel out the enemy resistance. The group had proceeded only a short distance up the slope when rifle and machine gun fire, coupled with a terrific barrage of grenades, wounded three and pinned down the others. Against odds that appeared suicidal, Pfc. Craft launched a remarkable one-man attack. He stood up in full view of the enemy and began shooting with deadly marksmanship wherever he saw a hostile movement. He steadily advanced up the hill, killing Japanese soldiers with rapid fire, driving others to cover in their strongly disposed trenches, unhesitatingly facing alone the strength that had previously beaten back attacks in battalion strength. He reached the crest of the hill where he stood silhouetted against the sky while quickly throwing grenades at extremely short range into the enemy positions. His extraordinary assault lifted the pressure from his company for the moment, allowing members of his platoon to comply with his motions to advance and pass him more grenades. With a chain of is comrades supplying him while he stood atop the hill, he furiously hurled a total of two cases of grenades into a main trench and other positions on the reverse slope of Hen Hill, meanwhile directing the aim of his fellow soldiers who threw grenades from the slop below him. He left his position, where grenades from both sides were passing over his head and bursting on either slope, to attack the main enemy trench as confusion and panic seized the defenders. Straddling the excavation, he pumped rifle fire into the Japanese at point blank range, killing many and causing the others to flee down the trench. Pursuing them, he came upon a heavy machine gun which was still creating havoc in the American ranks. With rifle fire and a grenade he wiped out this position. By this time the Japanese were in complete rout and American forces were swarming over the hill….
Mr. Craft passed away a few months laterIt went on from there. As I finished reading the citation, I turned around and walked out the front door, lit a cigarette, and stood looking at the huge American flag flying in front of the hospital.
I felt tears stream down my face that I could not stop. Here was a man so extraordinarily brave, that besides being a hero in his youth, he also carried that bravery to the end of his life. To face death in battle was one thing but to calmly stare death in the face as it slowly steals your life is bravery beyond any medals.
I talked with Mr. Craft again and I also observed him as much as I could. I saw him surrounded by family and friends and I saw him pray. He seemed to derive his strength from God, Country and family. As my own ordeal wore on and I was transferred out, I finally realized that God had given me an example of strength and courage I could emulate. I started to realize that the important things in life really are free and that the things I used to take for granted had suddenly become important.
I survived my brush with death and, like a lot of military friends, I lost track of Mr. Craft. However, I’ll never forget meeting a true American Hero.
©Copyright 2002 by Steven J. Newton