A SAFE LANDING
ABOUT THE BLOGGER: Tania Ortega-Cowan is a photo-journalist who grew up in Indian River County and spent many summers all along Indian River Drive in Sebastian. She remembers Capt. Hiram’s early beginnings and witnessed its soulful evolution into the resort destination it is today. Tania says, “I have focused my entire career covering positive human-interest stories and community heroes, so when my friend and Capt. Hiram’s marketing director Kimball Stadler asked if I wanted to profile some of the Veterans from the Space Coast Honor Flight’s monthly luncheons held at Capt. Hiram’s, I jumped at the chance!”
A SAFE LANDING.
Richard “Dick” Crawford was born in Rochester, New York, went to high school in Cincinnati and was studying at Purdue, when, at age 18, he joined the US Army Air Corps.
I ask him what inspired him to serve.
“It was World War II,” he says. “It was what you did.”
While in high school, Crawford heard that the Navy had a program for future fighter pilots. “We had to take a day long exam and if you got enough credits, you could graduate early and go into the Navy,” he says.
The first time, he got all the way to the end, but an eye test that produced dilated pupils foiled his chances! He tried again and got through, only to be told they didn’t need pilots anymore and instead he was to be a gunner.
“The next thing you know I am in Yuma, Arizona, training to be a gunner,” he says. “Then we get all the way to Pacific, and they say no, you are going to Italy with the 15th Air Force 464th Bomb Group as a gunner on the B-24. I flew 23 missions with this crew, and 24 in total.”
They were shot down twice in Yugoslavia. The first time they had two engines shot out.
“A B-24 can’t make it with 2 engines out and we’re going down and the pilot says – prepare to bail out,” he says.
“I looked down at Yugoslavia and all I could see was snow and mountain tops. Not a road, a forest, nothing.”
They made it to an island in the Adriatic Sea with a little landing strip at the top of a mountain.
“We came in for a landing and we are going DOWN,” he explains. “We are running out of gas and have no controls.”
They hit the runway and then slid down the side of the mountain before landing softly in a cushion of mud.
“Fortunately for us it had been raining for weeks and the mud was thick,” he says. “The Bombay doors were open because we couldn’t get them closed and so the mud came up inside and acted like a big cushion. The plane just stood right up and stopped.”
As it turned out, they were in a resort town and were housed in exquisite hotels for 24 hours to recover before shipping back out again into the war.
“I was put up in a magnificent, empty hotel, in a German officer’s suite. He left all his books. He must have left in a hurry!”
He laughs, then becomes serious again. “The same day a lot of other guys tried to land there and most of them were killed.”
The second time he was shot down occurred just at the end of the war.
“We had one engine shot out, so we could still fly but we had a hole in gas tank, so we are going down,” he says. “Thankfully somebody unknown to me to this day at Pentagon – had to be high up – put together a team of Army, Navy, and Marines and went to some uninhabited islands in upper part of Italy and stole one of those islands right up from underneath German control. They made a landing strip and that is what saved us and at least 10 other planes that emergency landed that day. And you are 19 years old and you think this is just par for the course.”
They only had to wait there a few days and the war was over.
“The Army Air Force had the highest casualty rate during WWII because you could lose 10 at a time. Having flown 24 missions, all my close friends were GONE. They’d been killed. And I didn’t know it then, but I started a process of not making friends. Because you are just going to lose them.”
Crawford went on the Honor Flight in April 2017.
“My oldest son came from New Jersey and was my guardian,” he says. “There was a guy on my flight who had been in the Vietnam war and you know that was bitter. He acknowledged that it was a bitter time for him and said that the Honor Flight wiped the slate clean. That made it for me. Because that cleaned it for him, and that is great for all of us.”
Thank you, Mr. Crawford, for your sacrifice and service.
See you next time when we meet veteran Donna Johnson.