By DAVID GREEN
Bill Craft’s story is a familiar one to many World War II veterans.
Pearl Harbor was bombed. War was declared. A military draft started up and eventually the letter arrived in the mail.
Craft spoke Nov. 8 to a packed room at Morenci’s Stair Public Library Annex. The name of his program is “Bringing a World War II Combat Infantryman’s Experience to Life.”
Now 83 years old, Craft recalled walking out of Detroit’s Fox Theatre with a friend and seeing the newspaper headlines “Japs Bomb Pearl Harbor.”
“My friend and I said, ’Where’s Pearl Harbor?‘”
Soon, every American knew.
One of Craft’s brothers was the first family member to receive a draft induction notice.
“I remember standing in the kitchen before he left,” Craft recalled. “My dad was very silent and my mother was sad that her son was leaving.”
Craft wasn’t happy about it either, but then his brother gave him the keys to his Model A Ford with a rumble seat and he found a bright side to the conflict—one that didn’t last long.
“That night about 10 o’clock my brother came in the house after he was declared 4-F because of his vision. I said to him, ‘I suppose you want your car back.’”
Heading for Europe
In 1942 after he graduated from high school, Craft received his own letter in the mail: “Greetings! Your friends and neighbors have selected you.”
“I wondered who those friends and neighbors were,” Craft said, with his induction date looming.
He traveled first to Ft. Custer near Battle Creek and joined the infantry. He was shipped to California for training, then to Alabama, North Carolina and West Virginia.
Finally, he sailed in a convoy to England and then on to France, about three weeks after D-Day. The front of the landing craft dropped down and the troops walked right onto the sand, never getting their feet wet.
“We were very brave,” Craft said. “I could hardly wait to get into combat.”
As they marched inland, they passed veteran troops heading to the rear for relief.
“Let us at ’em,’ we said. ‘You’ll be sorry,’ the other troops told us.”
It was only a day later that Craft was wondering how to get out of this situation.
“I’d already seen many of my buddies killed and wounded and I was scared,” he said. “When you’re on the front, there’s nothing between you and the enemy, so you start digging.”
During one battle, wave after wave of U.S., British and Canadian bombers attacked the German troops, and eventually the orders were given for the ground troops to move forward.
“I saw so many Germans killed and badly wounded and some shell-shocked,” Craft said. “I didn’t have much sympathy at the time, but later I thought what a horrible thing that they were there, but they were trying to kill us. They were as dedicated to their cause as we were to our own.”
In October 1944, Craft was serving as the captain’s runner—he went wherever he was ordered.
“We took over a German command post,” he said. “It was just a covered hole, but I had been cold and hungry for so long. I changed out of wet socks. I was in hog’s heaven. I was so comfortable.”
And then the captain ordered him out to splice a broken communication wire.
He made the splice, looked up and saw three Germans coming at him yelling, “Comrade! Comrade!”
He radioed back to the captain and was chewed out for taking prisoners.
“I didn’t capture them,” Craft explained. “They surrendered to me.”
The prisoners were soon on their way to the rear—for showers, hot meals, dry clothing, no one shooting at them. It made Craft wonder if he were going about things the wrong way.
Craft was later wounded in a barrage of shooting and ended up recovering in England. Within a few weeks, he was sent back for more action.
Of the major European campaigns, he missed only the Battle of the Bulge, and he’s not sorry he was unavailable. About 20,000 U.S. troops were lost either from fighting or exposure to harsh, winter weather.
When the war ended, he returned home to Detroit to face his relieved but shocked mother.
“Billy, what did they do to you?” she asked.
Entering the Army as a scrawny 118-pound 18-year-old, he returned a grown man.
Craft believes it’s important to tell the tales of the battlefield and to keep the memories of the sacrifice alive.
“Some people believe there was no Holocaust,” he said. “Yes, there was a Holocaust. There were millions of people slaughtered.”
When Craft speaks to students at school presentations, he leaves them with a statement they probably aren’t expecting from a battlefield veteran.
“I’m often asked by kids, ‘Did you ever kill a German?’” he said. “I answer that I shot at a number of Germans and I hope I missed them all.”- Nov. 15, 2006