edited: Friday, August 09, 2002
By Sue Crawford
Posted: Sunday, July 28, 2002
Become a Fan
LCDR Charles H. Crawford (Charlie) his life in the U.S. Navy
Let me introduce you to my Charlie. He was born Charles Henry Crawford in Roswell, Chaves County, New Mexico on 13 December 1942. He was the third child born to Jessie P. Crawford and Alta F. Koonce. He never remembered his mother. There are differing stories circulating around about Alta, but none can be verified. He doesn’t remember seeing a picture of his mother and his father refused to discuss her. She is to this day, a mystery.
His father moved the family to the El Paso, Texas area when Charlie was very small, he did not remember the move. The only thing he remembered about his earlier years was a train ride in which he ate macaroni and cheese for the first time. He remembered living in a tent while a block house was being built in the desert. He remembered his father being unable to work and how friends kept the family fed.
Then his father remarried. To hear the tales of this woman’s meanness would break the heart of stone. She was cruel and vindictive. A true step-mother, if there ever was one. Her name was Jean. The only saving grace that she had was the ability to play the piano and apparently, she did this very well. To punish the children, she sometimes made them stand at the foot of her bed all night. Charlie would allow his younger brother to lay on the floor and sleep and only wake him if he thought Jean was waking up. When the children washed dishes, if they left one not to her liking, she made them take everything out of the cabinets and wash them over. Not just the one that didn’t get quite clean. One day, Charlie and his younger brother were hungry and they slipped into the kitchen and ate some peanut butter. She caught them! Then she made them eat a whole can of peanut butter and until he died, Charlie would not touch the stuff. He told of a house that was cold with frost on the inside of windows. Picking up rocks in the boiling sun for hours on end as punishment for some wrong-doing. He talked of beatings that he and his brother suffered and how they were told if they said anything to their father, it would be worse the next time. Jessie drove a big truck and was gone for long periods of time. He apparently didn’t know that this was happening to his children.
One day, however, Charlie was made to stand and hold wet sheets in his arms while Jean took her time hanging them on a line. He was small and the wet sheets heavy. As children will do when made to stand for long periods of time, he shifted his weight from one foot to the other. He didn’t pay close enough attention to the wishes of Jean and when she asked him to hold up another sheet, he was not listening. She hit him and he dropped the sheets. She hit him again and he doubled up his fist and hit her. This time, he would tell his father. He still had bruises to prove that he had been hit and this time his father didn’t believe Jean’s story. He sent her packing that same day.
At some later time, a Mexican woman came into their lives. He called her Pearl. I don’t know what he thought of this woman in the beginning, but I do know that he loved her dearly in the end. She was the closest thing to a real mother that he ever had. He defended her when friends made fun of her. He covered up for her when something went wrong and he knew that his father would be angry. In later years, he slipped her cigarettes, knowing that his father would be angry if he found them.
Charlie was a typical teenager. He liked to drive too fast, drink too much and chase girls. He and his friends slipped across the border into Mexico and bought cheap booze, and they skipped school when they wanted to. He was a smart-ass, he told me. Then one day, when he was seventeen, he decided to join the Navy. After all, he had never seen the sea and he thought it would be fascinating. He would need to have his father sign for him, since he wasn’t of legal age. When he approached his father, he was told, “You’ll never make it!”
He went to San Diego feeling all grown up and free. He had never felt so good. At least he did until he arrived at the Navy base. A D.I. (Drill Instructor) met the bus and started yelling. By the time the D.I. had questioned the parentage of each of the recruits, called them a few choice names, Charlie thought, “Uh Oh!” He said he swallowed hard and feared the worst. Remembering what his father had told him as the only thing that kept him going during boot camp. He would make it! He would show his father.
Since Charlie had not graduated from high school, he had to not only learn the new Navy language, but graduate, which he did. His instructors told him that he could be anything he wanted to be in the Navy. They offered him all types of jobs, but none of them suited him at the time. He simply wanted to go to sea. He was not thinking of making a career in the Navy. He would give them four years of his life and move on.
After boot camp, he returned to Texas and proudly strutted the streets in his uniform before heading for the east coast where he was assigned to his first ship.
He recalled the day he arrived and walked along the pier looking at the ships anchored there. When he asked someone which ship was his, he was surprised and disappointed. The ship he had been assigned to was tiny compared to others. Compared to aircraft carriers, etc., the USS Hazelwood was pitifully small. Once again, he thought he had made a terrible mistake in joining the Navy. This ship was a destroyer!
His first assignment on board was to empty trash cans and wait tables. He hated it! It wasn’t long before he began asking how he could get out of that detail. He had always loved to tinker with motors, so he leaned toward the engine room. He was taught every nut, bolt, line and dials in the engine room. He knew by the sound of the engines what was happening.
He met and married a girl from Philadelphia and by the time his four years were up, they had a couple of children.
He was good at his job and when it was time for him to get out of the Navy, a hefty bonus kept him in. He thought of his tiny family and signed up for four more years.
Some of the higher ranking officers liked Charlie enough to encourage him to go back to school and learn more about the engines he worked on. He kept rising in rank.
One day, his oldest daughter asked him if he had trouble holding a job. This was in response to him being promoted again and this time he would need new uniforms. On 16 April 1968 he was promoted to Warrant Officer. Since he had come up through the ranks, it was disconcerting to the regular officers to have someone who came up through the ranks to be in their Officer’s Mess. Charlie felt their unease. He had not gone through Officer’s Training, he had earned his right to be sitting at their table the hard way. He had worked for it. As an honored guest the first day, sitting at the right of his Captain, he pointed to his mouth. Leaning close, he asked, “See these little marks around my mouth? Those are scars where I learned to eat with a fork.” Everyone laughed. Charlie had defused the tension. The officers respected him and the rank and file looked up to him.
He went from WO-1 to CWO-4 in five years.
Higher-ups pushed him and he climbed through the ranks. He became a Lieutenant JG (Junior Grade) in 1977, Lieutenant in 1978 and Lieutenant Commander in 1980.
He served on such ships as: USS Hazelwood, USS Norris, USS Canisteo, USS Cascade and USS Mount Whitney. He sailed the Atlantic Ocean from one end to the other. He sailed the Mediterranean Sea, visited Malta, Greece, lunched in the palace at Monaco with Princess Grace and Prince Ranier. Escorted Queen Beatrice, of the Netherlands, through his ship, at her request. Survived many storms at sea, the first of which, he said if he ever got back to dry ground, he would never leave again. Of course, he did.
He was called a sailor, swabbie, snipe and other names I won’t mention. He was always pulling pranks on people, including his Captains. As Chief Engineer, he took the blame for things to keep young officers from being demoted or sent home. He was threatened with demotion because of his refusal to follow strict Navy rules and later received a commendation for the same. In total he received six commendations for “Service above and beyond the call of duty”.
He loved his Navy and would have gone back if they would have allowed him to do so, even when he knew he was dying.
One of his favorite jokes was this: Two Generals and an Admiral were bragging about who had the bravest men. The Air Force General said, “I have the bravest men in all the world, come over to the airfield tomorrow and I’ll show you.”
The next day, the Air Force General ordered a young recruit to go up into a plane and at thirty thousand feet, jump out without a parachute. The young man did.
“See, I told you, I had the bravest men in the whole world.”
The Marine General said, “You think that’s brave, I’ll show you brave. Come over to the base tomorrow.”
The next day, the Marine General told one of his men to go out into a field with a grenade, hold it next to his chest and pull the pin. The Marine did, blowing him to bits. “See, I told you the Marines were the bravest,” the General said.
The Navy Admiral said, “You think that’s brave? I’ll show you brave. Come over to the naval base tomorrow and I’ll show you brave.”
The next day they all met at the naval base and the Admiral told a young sailor to climb up to the top of the stack, of a ship docked there, and jump off. The young man looked at the Admiral and said, “Go to hell!” and walked off.
The Admiral turned to his companions and said, “Now men, that’s brave!”