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Gil Crutchfield cradles a 12-gauge shotgun at his home in Tanner. Sixty-five years ago today Crutchfield held another 12-gauge when he went to war against the Empire of the Rising Sun at Pearl Harbor.
Daily photo by Gary Cosby Jr.
Gil Crutchfield cradles a 12-gauge shotgun at his home in Tanner. Sixty-five years ago today Crutchfield held another 12-gauge when he went to war against the Empire of the Rising Sun at Pearl Harbor.

Armed with shotgun, Tanner man witnessed history at Pearl Harbor

By Ronnie Thomas
rthomas@decaturdaily.com 340-2438

TANNER — It wasn't about patriotism.

It was about a 17-year-old boy stuck in a 50-cent job, about his cousin and a friend joining the Army. And Gil Crutchfield of Tanner deciding to go with them.

He did not realize that June day in 1938 that he had punched a ticket for a belated front row seat to one of America's most demoralizing military defeats.

When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor 65 years ago today in a surprise attack that drew the U.S. into World War II, Cpl. Crutchfield was bivouacked on a high school football field halfway up a mountain at Honolulu. He was armed with a 12-gauge shotgun.

Crutchfield, a Trinity native, celebrates his 86th birthday Dec. 22. Age hasn't blurred his vision of that historical moment or the life events leading to it.

He dropped out of 10th grade at Athens High School and worked in Tootsie Leonard's grocery store with his father, Joseph Crutchfield, making 50 cents a week. He wouldn't get rich on an Army private's pay. He would make $21 a month, minus a $1.25 laundry charge. There was a chance for advancement but what he really wanted was adventure.

After swearing-in ceremonies at Fort McClellan, marking his longest trip ever from home, he went through an infantryman's paces at Fort Benning, Ga. After basic training, he took a "short" discharge.

"The Army would discharge you from your present obligation and allow you to re-enlist for a different assignment. Hearing about those hula skirts in Hawaii got to me. That's where I wanted to go," he said.

Crutchfield boarded the USS Leonard Wood, a mammoth former ocean liner converted to a troop transport. The ship passed through the Panama Canal, then plowed up the Pacific Coast to San Francisco before starting the long journey to Hawaii.

At the start of his stay at Schofield Barracks, Hawaii, Crutchfield was a member of the Hawaiian Division's 27th Regiment, organized in 1901 and dubbed the "Wolfhounds."

Crutchfield said he and fellow soldiers would "go out for three days about every three months in what we called anti-sabotage positions. We'd fan out to different places around the island and be ready to protect them."

Crutchfield's C Company had responsibilities in downtown Honolulu, covering the gasoline supply and the electric and water plants.

"My particular job was a railroad bridge. I was supposed to keep anyone from blowing it up," he said. "The railroad ran from Diamond Head, where we had an ammunition dump under the mountain, into the Navy shipyard at Pearl."

He recalls being on garbage detail Nov. 26, 1941, and reporting back that afternoon.

"My whole regiment was standing on the field, every soldier in full field packs. Our first sergeant said, 'Get your gear and into formation as soon as possible. We're going to our positions now.' But we didn't know what was going on," Crutchfield said.

The soldiers loaded into trucks and for the first time got live ammunition with orders to "lock and load and challenge." But earlier that month, an inspecting officer found a defect in Crutchfield's M-1 rifle and turned it in for repairs.

The truck dropped off Crutchfield and his three-man team at the railroad bridge. On Dec. 1, they trucked up the mountain to join about 40 other soldiers setting up tents and unfolding their cots on the football field at Roosevelt High School.

On a bright Sunday morning on Dec. 7, Crutchfield said they were awoken by an exploding shell on the mountain behind them.

"We had no clue. We jumped up and saw planes flying around," he said. "The (Army Air Forces) never did any practicing on Sunday, so we knew it wasn't our guys. Then we clearly saw the wing of one of the planes and we knew the Japanese were attacking us.

"I went to the supply tent and grabbed a shotgun and five shells. Then our sergeant told us to get on the trucks, that we were returning to our regular positions."

From the railroad bridge, Crutchfield could only watch as enemy dive bombers flew in and around the harbor, ravaging Battleship Row and the U.S. Pacific Fleet.

"One came close enough that I saw the pilot's face," he said. "I was angry. But what could I do with a shotgun?"

The next day, a boxcar arrived off a sidetrack and Crutchfield's crew placed sandbags on top of it, around a .30-caliber machine gun. They found an old mattress at a nearby garbage dump and made a bed in the boxcar.

"It wasn't until Tuesday that they got food and water to us and communications were re-established," Crutchfield said. "That's when we learned that the U.S. was at war."

In February 1942, the Army selected him as one of four soldiers to guard Gen. Thomas H. Green, largely responsible for the day-to-day operations of the military government in the territory of Hawaii.

During the ordeal at Pearl, Crutchfield never fired a shot, but that was about to change. That December, he sailed with the Wolfhounds for Guadalcanal to relieve the battered lst Marine Division. He later saw service on New Georgia and ended up on New Caledonia.

He came home on leave and on Sept. 25, 1944, and married Era Maye Kelly of Tanner. They drove a black Ford convertible that Crutchfield bought for $300 to Nashville for their honeymoon.

But his combat days weren't over as he came ever closer to the true patriot that he had not intended to be. On Dec. 25, 1952, he left for Korea as a second lieutenant and saw action in a rifle company with the 2nd Division on the 38th parallel.

He returned to the states in June 1953 and reported to the ROTC Department at Hillsboro High School in Tampa, Fla. He retired after 20 years in 1958 to Bradenton, Fla., where he earned his general education diploma.

After 12 years, he and his wife relocated to Lawndale, Calif., to be near their daughter, Carolyn Jeffers, and her family, and he became "the city's first 59-year-old parking enforcement officer."

The Crutchfields returned to Tanner in 1983.

World War II dates to remember

Sept. 1, 1939: Germany invades Poland. Two days later, Great Britain and France declared war on Germany. World War II begins.

Dec. 7, 1941: Japanese warplanes attack Pearl Harbor, killing about 2,400 Americans, wounding more than 1,100 and bringing the U.S. into World War II. Ten days later, Germany and Italy declare war on the U.S.

May 7, 1945: Germany unconditionally surrenders.

Sept. 2, 1945: Japan surrenders, ending World War II.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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