A hometown newspaper with a local office, local owners & lots of local news

WWII vet shares memories of the war

World War II veteran Dale Crocker has lived by the motto emblazoned on his Navy Seabees cap: "Can Do."

The 97-year-old Cloquet man served his country during World War II and worked at the Johnson Company for 40 years before retiring and embarking on a second career as a bus driver for the next 32 years. He built the Kelly Avenue house he and his wife, Arlene, still live in, some 75 years ago, "pounding every nail in," he said.

Crocker sat at his kitchen table Nov. 5 and recalled his World War II experience. His eyes might not be able to read a newspaper today, but his memory is sharp.

"I can remember everything like it was yesterday," he said.

As a Cloquet High School senior, he and six or seven of his best buddies (including Bob Barr) went to Minneapolis and volunteered for the Navy in February 1944 of their senior year. They graduated on June 2, and on June 3 they boarded a troop train headed for the Farragut Naval Training Station in Idaho on Lake Lake Pend Oreille between Coeur d'Alene and Sandpoint. The Cloquet grads were all put in different camps, he said.

After boot camp, he got to come home for a few days. After he headed back to Idaho, he was shipped to Port Hueneme, California where he was placed in the Seabees, the unit responsible for building much of the temporary and permanent infrastructure at U.S. military locations around the world. Crocker was trained to operate heavy equipment.

In October 1944 Crocker was ordered to Guam, which had been retaken from the Japanese. It was Crocker's job to clear land and make and grade airstrips and roads.

"The Marines would watch for snipers," he said. "The Japanese went way up in the mountains when the Marines took over the island. They were up there for three or four years. They didn't even know the war was over."

Crocker was also sent to Saipan and Tinian of the South Pacific Northern Mariana Islands. He was on Tinian when the Enola Gay took off with the Hiroshima atomic bomb aboard. "MacArthur signed a peace agreement about eight days after that, so I thought I'd be going home pretty quick," Crocker said. "It turned out I had to stay another six months to train the Guamians how to use the equipment to maintain the roads. We left enough for them to keep up the roads and pushed some of it into the ocean."

When he finally got back to the United States in April 1947, he landed in Berkeley, California. He and his fellow sailors were told to just leave their sea bags on the tarmac, and were then taken inside for processing and physicals. After being inside all day, Crocker was finally told he was done and could get his bag and get on a train to Minnesota.

"I went outside and there were sea bags from here to the next street, like a haystack," he said. "There was no way I could find my bag, so I just left without it."

Two years later came a knock on the door. It was a railroad employee delivering his bag, complete with photographs that he feared were lost forever.

It wouldn't be the last delivery related to war. In 1950 - now married with two children - a big thick envelope arrived in the mail. It was from the military, telling him to report to Naval Station Great Lakes within 14 days. The Korean War had started.

Crocker sent his wife and kids to live with her mother in Wrenshall, and reported. It was quite a while, the weeks turning into months, before they announced that they had called up too many machinist's mates. Anyone with two children could go home first.

"I told them I'm going home," he said.

He returned to Cloquet, his wife and kids, and his job at the Johnson Company.

There's a wall in his living room covered with photos and mementos of his military service, and accolades received since then: a flag that flew over an American base in Iraq, letters from elementary school students thanking him for his service, a shiny Navy jacket, even birthday wishes from the White House.

Crocker remains a member of both the American Legion and Veterans of Foreign Wars organizations in Cloquet.

This story was published in a special Veterans Day section in the Pine Knot News. See this week's print issue or the pdf on the home page of the website.