Crain surprised by VFW friends with 97th birthday party

Glen Crain, (left) a WWII veteran, showed up to VFW Post 1480 on his 97th birthday and found out a party in his honor had been planned. As he arrived, he met fellow Veteran Col. Bill Lewis (right), who was also celebrating his 97th birthday on the very same day.

A 97-year-old World War II veteran celebrated his birthday last week with a party attended by friends at the VFW Hall on Thompson Drive, and traded stories with other veterans and thanked everyone for their good wishes.

Glen Crain, now of Kerrville, was born April 15, 1924, in a log cabin Crain said his grandfather built when he moved to Fay, Okla., to claim Indian land for farming.

Crain said his grandfather was among new Oklahoma residents who arrived even before the railroad had been extended that far in the southwest.

“My grandfather was a farmer from North Carolina, and he found out about the U.S. government’s offer of 160 acres in Oklahoma,” Crain said. “The Indians who had been living there had chosen sides when the Civil War started. And when that war was over, all the tribes had to pay and lost their land. “The Cherokees chose the Confederate side; and I think it was the Anadarkos who chose the Union side.”

He said his grandfather was required to have a water well and a house and to use the land.

Later, he said, his grandfather saw the lady that would become his grandmother, while she was on a train.

Crain was the eldest of six children, three boys and three girls.

He graduated high school in Oklahoma, and got a job in a glass plant warehouse near his hometown, to earn enough money to attend Northern Oklahoma Junior College.

“After high school, I studied mechanical engineering. I paid a man a couple dollars a week to give me a ride to and from college,” Crain said. “After only one semester, I got a notice to get a physical for the Army.”

He said the Army Air Corps sent him through Fort Sill, to Camp Barkley in Abilene, Texas for training as a medical soldier. He was assigned as Technician 5th grade /corporal. Then he spent four weeks at Fort Sam Houston and 12 more weeks in dental training.

He was next transferred to the 55th General Field Hospital at Camp Robinson near Little Rock, Ark.; and he’d been there three weeks when he heard about a possible transfer to become a high-ranking noncommissioned officer or officer.

“I signed up, and they sent me to Arkansas State University, and after that to the University of Oklahoma, Norman. I was trying to get 27 hours of college in either engineering or medicine.”

Instead he found himself at an Army camp near Gainesville, Texas, in the 411th Regiment, 103rd Infantry in early May 1944.

Overseas duty

Crain was assigned to the 103rd Infantry Division, and shipped out August 1944 for the war in Europe, arriving in October 1944 on France’s south coast.

“They told us the plan was to march north through Dijon and toward Strausburg. We ran into German infantrymen,” he said.

He said the enemy carried rifles and machineguns, and had been trained to shoot multiple shots at pairs of soldiers at waist to hip height, so as to kill or at least wound one or both in places that would require two others to carry them, thereby taking up to four Americans out of the fight at once.

Crain and a buddy named Don were caught that way in late November, and Crain was wounded in his right wrist and left buttock after a bullet went through his canteen and changed direction.

“Our squad took us to a battalion medical station. At the hospital, recuperation was worse because of my wound site,” he said. “We were sent to a regimental Evacuation Hospital for treatment. I got to the war late and was wounded early.”

The next step was another general field hospital, and Crain and his friend were transported on litters, one fastened across the back seat of a jeep, and the other fastened on top of the hood of the vehicle. (There have been scenes like that in the movies.)

Crain said he was treated there a couple weeks, then classified as “walking wounded” and sent by train to Paris.

The benches in the train cars were designed differently for the wounded passengers, and because of the location of his wound, he couldn’t lay down. He spent that trip standing up. He said he finally really rested in the Paris hospital, and the only English the nurse knew was, “Time to bathe the baby.”

After a week, an ambulance took him to LeHavre to go across the English Channel, and the route left Paris through the Arc de Triomph. “I saw it through the back window of the ambulance.”

His next stop was Torquey, England, and that’s where he heard about the start of the “Battle of the Bulge.” He was a patient there until early March 1945, he said; and the first thing he ordered as a treat was a chocolate malt. He wrote his family using his left hand, which made his letter look like a child’s printing.

He said Liberty Ships were taking wounded Americans back to a New Jersey hospital, on trips that took 10-14 days.

Crain said he was discharged from the military Oct. 5, 1945; and went home to Oklahoma and back to work.

Civilian life

He also got married Nov. 11, 1946 during his sophomore year in college to Lillie, who he described as having beautiful auburn hair. She became a registered nurse.

They had met March 1945 in a Longview, Texas hospital. She also played softball for a nurses’ team. She had been promised a “Cadet Nurse’s” slot in the Army, but the war ended and she never became an officer.

Crain said they got to know each other better March-September 1945 when he traveled often to her home in Dallas. “It became my favorite town, and I finally moved there to attend Southern Methodist University.”

Their income wasn’t large. Pre-GI Bill, Glen got $104 per month veterans’ stipend; and Lillie worked as a nurse, for slightly more than he made. They attended movies then that cost 10-50 cents admission.

“I did become the first member of my extended family to graduate college.”

Crain said he studied chemistry and mathematics; and wanted to attend graduate school at University of Texas, but gave that up when Lillie got pregnant. They moved to Houston where he began his career in electro-chemical production; and later moved to Ohio and back to Dallas. He retired there in November 1992; and they stayed there until 2010.

Crain said they moved to Kerrville in February 2010; and now he also has a daughter and son here. His wife is deceased. One of his grandsons became a U.S. Air Force captain and an internal medicine doctor.

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