I’ve had my share of heroes over the years. When I was a kid they were mostly movie stars and baseball players, larger than life characters that taught me about winning and losing in broad strokes without a lot of subtlety. I loved what I thought was the biggest and best. I was a huge fan of John Wayne and Gary Cooper. And I lived and died with the Yankees teams that featured Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra and Whitey Ford. If those folks had flaws I didn’t know about them, and I probably wouldn’t have cared. They were my heroes and I wanted to be just like them. Nothing wrong with that I guess, just the way a kid thinks.
Heroes at my age are a trickier thing and I have to say I don’t have many. But my father-in-law Bill was one. Bill was a genuine war hero, who served with valor in both World War II and Korea. But you’d never know it from talking to him. He was humble and hard working, a man who puts his family and country first. Bill passed away this last week at the age of 98, truly a life well lived. Here’s a statement from Jan and me about what he meant to us and our family.
Bill Crenshaw, our father and father-in-law has left us. Our sorrow is tempered by remembering the many happy times we shared with this remarkable, kind, humble and thoughtful man. But before we knew him as a father he was a military man whose career with the United States Army spanned 20 years form 1941 to 1961. Early on, as a front line medic, he proved himself to be not only a fierce warrior but also one who cared for and saved many of our wounded while in the midst of heavy battle. He was involved in the thick of America’s most ferocious battle, Battle of the Bulge, which lasted from mid December 1944 through most of January 1945. During one bombardment he had left the MASH battlefield facility in search of much needed supplies. During his absence the facility was squarely hit by a bomb killing everyone there. That was on Friday the 13th. Thereafter he always looked upon that date as a lucky day. Ironically he passed away the morning of Friday the 13th; the day he went to be with the Lord, so it remains his lucky day.
For his heroic acts during the course of the Battle of the Bulge he received two Purple Hearts and in addition to that was awarded a Bronze Star with clusters and a Silver Star, the Armed Forces third highest medal for valor.
In April 1945 he was among the Soldiers of the 69th infantry division in conjunction with the 89th infantry division who liberated Buchenwald Concentration Camp. He rarely spoke of that triumphant but horrendous day. Soon thereafter having been stationed stateside he became a part of history by being one of the soldiers who were eye witness to the first atomic bomb test at the Trinity test site at the Alamogordo Bombing Range in Central New Mexico in 1945. He described it as standing in a ditch watching through heavily filtered goggles. Suddenly it lit up bright as the sun. As he watched in awe the shock wave rolled over him and he instantly found himself twenty feet out of the ditch flat on his back with a mouthful of dirt. He struggled to his feet and spit out the dirt. No sooner had he gotten back to the ditch when the shock wave from the implosion hit him and he found himself twenty feet on the other side of the ditch face down and again with a mouthful of dirt. It was funny the way he told it and he enjoyed telling it.
Soon the war was over and he was back in both Germany and Japan overseeing the creation of the blood banks and medical test labs. In 1950 the Korean War started and once again he was at war. In 1953 the armistice came and the war was over. From then until the end of his military career he oversaw various medical labs for the Army rising to the rank of Master Sergeant. He was honorably discharged in 1961 ready to begin life as a civilian.
He took on civilian life with the same zeal that he had as a soldier and the second chapter of his life was exciting and rewarding as the first. He accomplished so much.
He operated the Stop and Shop grocery store in Pleasant Hill and everyone knew him as a fair and pleasant grocer. Everyone would agree he was the best meat cutter and sausage maker in the state. People would come from far away just to get some of his sausage. What most didn’t know is that in his quiet and humble way he often provided the needs of those who couldn’t afford it, at his own expense. Sometimes he would even offer money. On one occasion he approached one of Jan’s early boyfriends and said “Here’s five bucks kid, go get a haircut”.
In addition to his many accomplishments, he had a green thumb that was nothing short of miraculous. If Bill planted it in the ground it grew. Unfortunately he did not pass that skill on to his children. He often commented that he thought Jan could kill silk flowers.
Along with his wife, our beloved Kitty, they ran a successful fabric and gift shop. They were also an important part of the founding and operations of our early company, Designs Americana. Everyone loved them and knew that when the doors were open Mr. Bill and Miss Kitty were on the job.
Together they accomplished so much but I think Bill would agree that his greatest achievement was being the Patriarch of a large, loving and unique family consisting of three children, 10 grand children and eighteen great grandchildren and four great-great grandchildren.
Bill was a strict and no-nonsense person but also always loving and caring, funny, humble, generous, godly and kind. He was a unique and remarkable person. We all struggle to be like the great person, father and friend that he was.
He was loved and admired by us all and he will be missed, but his memory will make us stronger.
Jim and Jan Shore