This is the time of year to remember veterans — their service and sacrifices — and a Weston man went to great lengths to ensure his uncle’s experiences in World War II and the Korean and his ultimate sacrifice is not forgotten.
“I decided that if I don’t do it, nobody will,” said George Crockett of the book he compiled to tell the story of his uncle John Crockett. “I thought he needed some recognition. I felt like it was my obligation.”
Over the course of years, George Crockett — himself a Korean War veteran — pieced together the story of a legendary member of his family. With the help of an interested neighbor with a talent for graphic design, he put together a booklet so Johnny, as he was known to his family, can always be remembered.
John Crockett’s story begins with his birth in 1922 near DeKalb, Mo. into a family with a dozen children. In 1943, he both married and was drafted into the Army.
Within a few months, he arrived in England and was attached to the 60th Armored Infantry Battalion, Ninth Armored Division.
Johnny was the only man on his boat to make it to shore during the D-Day invasion of Normandy Beach on June 6, 1944, and he continued the fight through France, the Ardennes and into the Rhineland. During his tour in Europe, Johnny was captured by the Germans twice — once he was freed and once escaped alone when the Germans made the mistake of setting just one inexperienced soldier to guard him.
On June 20, 1944, Johnny was wounded in action, and he later was awarded the Purple Heart. He returned to the U.S. in October 1945 and was discharged with numerous medals and citations, including five Bronze Star medals.
Gary — Johnny’s only son who now resides in Mississippi — was born in 1947 and shortly afterward he re-enlisted, serving until 1950.
According to George Crockett, his uncle was out of the service for only a matter of weeks before North Korean forces, aided by China and the Soviet Union, invaded South Korea on June 25, 1950. Yet again, Johnny re-enlisted and shipped off to Korea at the rank of sergeant first class.
Assigned to the First Platoon of A Company, 38th Regiment of the Second Infantry Division, Johnny was awarded a battlefield promotion to second lieutenant.
On Nov. 28, 1950, their position along the Chongchon River in northwestern North Korea was overrun by the Chinese Army. Crockett was captured and held captive in Un Bong Dong, North Korea, near the border with China.
George Crockett was able to locate the notification sent to Mayme Crockett, Johnny’s wife, on Jan. 15, 1951, which included an apology from the Army for the delay in notification.
“I know that added distress is caused by failure to receive more information or details,” wrote Maj. Gen. Edward Whisell. “I wish to emphasize that every effort is exerted continuously to clear up the status of our personnel. Under battle conditions this is a difficult task as you must readily realize. Experience has shown that a number of persons reported missing in action are subsequently reported as returned to duty or hospitalized for injuries.”
But Johnny was not so lucky, spending the winter in a North Korean prison camp. He did escape, but after starving in the woods for a time was forced to turn himself back in. Once back in Korean custody, Johnny died on July 7, 1951 due to malnutrition, and he was buried in Changsong, North Korea.
Many families live on with uncertainty, and Johnny’s did as well.
George Crockett enlisted into the Army as well and shipped off to Incheon, South Korea in April 1951, and he helped build the first airfield in Osan as an Army engineer. While he knew his uncle had been captured before he left, news from home was as sparse as news on his fate.
According to the United States Department of Defense, there are 83,165 Americans still listed as prisoners of war or missing in action. Almost 8,000 of these are still unaccounted for from the Korean War, although the actual number of those missing is still at doubt, even according to the Department of Defense.
In September 1952, Mayme Crockett received another notice from the Army, notifying her that her husband was officially missing in action. He was also promoted to first lieutenant.
“As you were previously informed, a name believed to be his (John’s) was mentioned on a propaganda broadcast by the opposing forces,” the letter states. “In view of the unofficial and unconfirmed nature of this information, no change can be made in his status unless reliable confirming evidence is received.”
It wasn’t until 1954 that the Crockett family learned of Johnny’s fate, and in 1955, his remains were returned to the United States.
“They brought his body to Rupp’s Funeral Home in St. Joe,” George Crockett said. “They said he was still recognizable and asked my father and uncle if they wanted to see him.”
Although the family declined, it gave them closure to know they received the correct remains — a comfort to this day not extended to all survivors of deceased prisoners of war.
John Oliver Crockett was buried in Turner Cemetery near Wallace, Mo. in Buchanan County.
In addition to the numerous medals and citations Crockett earned in both World War II and Korea, through George Crockett’s efforts, his uncle has been remembered on the American Battle Monuments Commission’s Korean War Honor Roll and at KoreanWar.org. His story was also featured in “The River and the Gauntlet,” by S.L.A. Marshall, a 1982 book chronicling the defeat of the Eighth Army by the Chinese Army in the Battle of Chongchon River.