(The following was published in the Caddott (WI) Sentinel/Cornell Courier on May 27/28, 2004. Permission was granted to reprint it here.)

Awarded medal 60 years later;
Getting the Purple Heart but
experiencing war and peace

Copyright 2004

(Part Two of “Purple Heart awarded Crosby 60 years later” continues from last week. The officer that Crosby said was “the finest guy I ever met in the Navy” and who lost his leg was Lt. John Wallace “Gilpin,” not Gilein.)

In 1945 a destroyer’s job was to protect larger ships at almost any cost.

“Your job was to make sure that if there’s an enemy torpedo or anything else,” Roy E. Crosby, long-time resident of Cornell, said, “that you take the torpedo and protect the carrier.”

It was February 23, 1945, at 10 a.m. when Crosby was looking through glasses on the Evans while not on duty in the engine room when he saw what the world would see later at Iwo Jima.

“The first flag they put up was a little one,” Crosby said. “It wasn’t big enough. So, when they put up the second one up, that’s when the photographer took the photograph.

“We could see that with the glasses from our ship. The big flag there – boy, it was beautiful from our ship. We didn’t have that many glasses on board, but you would look, and you could see it.”
What Crosby was watching be¬came the most reproduced photo¬graph in the history of photography – the flag raising on Mt. Suribachi on Iwo Jima as taken by photographer Joe Rosenthal.

In the 36 days of fighting at Iwo Jima, 6,825 Americans had been killed with some 25,851 causalities. Virtually all of the 22,000 Japanese troops had perished.

Crosby had been one sailor aboard a destroyer that was in the largest armada of ships – 880 – to that time in the Pacific War. After the second, larger flag was raised, the fighting continued with Americans and Japanese soldiers continuing to die.

With the loss of 32 persons aboard the Evans May 11, 1945, trying to keep the Evans from sinking became a difficult task. But Crosby and the remaining crew knew the ship because they had built her at the shipyard in Chickasaw, Ala, in 1942-43.

“We had to build the ship originally,” Crosby said. “All of us engineers built the ship. There were only five of us who had ever been to sea.

“It was just like a plate of spaghetti. We had to trace all of the lines and watch others put the parts together. We learned the ship while she was being built.”

After the ship was built, Crosby’s first mission was a “shakedown” to Bermuda, which simply meant the ship would be tested. But such testing didn’t last long.

“We thought we would be going to the Atlantic,” Crosby said, “because we were issued cold weather gear. But, instead, we went to Panama and all the cold weather gear was removed from the ship.”

There was smooth water travel and storms with sea sick sailors who still had to learn how to handle mechanical problems in all circumstances. And there was bad food and good food.

“We got 20 gallons of ice cream mix,” Crosby said, “every time we picked a pilot out of the sea. We did a lot of plane guard detail for the carriers.

“Planes would take off into the wind, but if there was an accident or even the guy getting shot at, we’d have to pick him up after going around in a circle. Sometimes we found the pilot and no gunner, and sometimes the gunner and no pilot.”

Officers were, of course, treated differently than the enlisted men.

“The officers got all the fresh fruit and sometimes they shared that with us,” Crosby said. “And it was mostly the officers who got to see Bob Hope when he performed somewhere. I never got to see him.”

Crosby’s request for the Purple Heart involved getting verification for his injury which no one knew about at the time, not even Crosby.

“I had to get verification that it had happened where it did,” Crosby said referring to the piece of shrapnel that had been lodged in his neck May 11. A chiropractor had found the shrapnel in Crosby’s neck during an examination in 1945 when Crosby was home on survivor’s leave.

“He found it right away,” Crosby said, “but the Navy didn’t believe in chiropractors.”

Crosby was in the regular Navy, not in the reserves, when he returned to active duty on a hospital ship. For the moment, the shrapnel in his neck would be forgotten and remain unreported.

Crosby returned to active duty and became stationed in Japan, sometimes helping the youth he saw to learn how to play baseball.

“The very first time I got to Japan,” Crosby said, “at the naval base there which is underground, I was going to Tokyo. I was alone, in uniform.”

Crosby sold cigarettes to the Japanese for $3 each pack and got used to some of the Japanese ways.

“I went to a park,” Crosby said, “and the kids were playing ball. They had a rubber ball like a baseball. So, I motioned to them and took a bat and we played baseball.

“The Stars and Stripes (military newspaper) happened to be there and took some photos of us playing baseball. Every time I wanted to quit, the kids would bow and plead with me to continue.”

Earlier, Crosby had helped organize a Navy baseball team before leaving for the Pacific.

Crosby bought candy bars at the Naval base to give out and learned, at least, not to hate the Japanese children and have some respect for the culture although, he said, it was difficult not to hate the Japanese adults so soon after the war.

Crosby had about 30 men under him by the time he was assigned to witness the atomic blast at Bikini Island June 30, 1946.

World War II had ended quickly following the atomic bombs that were dropped on Hiroshima, Japan, August 6, 1945, and on Nagasaki, Japan, August 9, 1945, which forced the unconditional surrender of Japan August 14, 1945, with papers signed Sept. 2, 1945.

But now, almost a year later, preparations had been made to test an atomic bomb with about the same intensity as what had been dropped on Japan.

At 11 p.m., three hours and 10 minutes after the Super Fortress carrying the atomic bomb had taken off from Kwajalein 200 miles away, the bomb was dropped in the Bikini atoll.

Some 84 ships and small crafts had been put in the target area. About 40 were anchored within one mile of the blast and 20 within one-half mile.

‘When the blast happened I could see the bones in my arms like an x-ray. But I never said anything until later because I didn’t want people to think I was nuts. But that’s how bright the light was. You could see the bones in your fingers too.’

– Roy E. Crosby

"The first blast on Bikini Island was in the air," Crosby said. “That was the bright one that you had to cover up. The battleship Negatta was in the center of the target area painted orange on the 10-mile-across lagoon in Bikini.

“A German cruiser was also in the target area. That was one of the foreign ships. There were five foreign ships and all the rest were American ships – battle ships, submarines, cruisers, all this stuff.

"You would be surprised as to what happened when the atomic bomb went off. There would be a little tugboat floating and beside it was a battleship, sunk.”

Crosby was stationed on the deck of the hospital ship when the blast happened. He covered his eyes and face with his hands and arms.

“When the blast happened I could see the bones in my arms like an x-ray.,” Crosby said. “But I never said anything until later because I didn’t want people to think I was nuts. But that’s how bright the light was. You could see the bones in your fingers too.

“The light came and then the sound and then the concussion came that almost took the clothes off you. We were only about six miles away from it.”

The mushroom mass of the fire burst reached 24,000 feet in nine minutes. Said to be a “pillar of crimson smoke, slowly settling into a lofty column of gray, white smoke,” the explosion was reported to have damaged radio equipment inside a super fortress plane high over the target area with reporters on board.

‘And boy did the fish bite later. I had to rent fishing equipment from the Red Cross. But when you put the fish under the Geiger Counter, it sounded like a popcorn machine, they were so radioactive. So, you didn’t dare keep them or eat them.’

– Roy E. Crosby

It was officially reported that the “wave of heat” could be felt on observer ships 10 miles away.

In files originally marked “confidential,” the Joint Chiefs of Staff Evaluation reported that:

“Measurements of radiation intensity and a study of animals exposed in ships show that the initial flash of principal lethal radiations, which are gamma-rays and neutrons, would have killed almost all personnel normally stationed aboard the ships centered around the air burst and many others at greater distances. Personnel protected by steel, water, or other dense materials would have been relatively safe in the outlying target vessels.”

But Crosby had only his clothes and arm over his eyes for protection.

Crosby also witnessed the second atomic bomb test which was under water.

“When they set that one off,” Crosby said, “we could look right at that one. It looked like the whole lagoon just lifted up, spread out and dropped.

“And boy did the fish bite later. I had to rent fishing equipment from the Red Cross. But when you put the fish under the Geiger Counter, it sounded like a popcorn machine, they were so radioactive. So, you didn’t dare keep them or eat them.”

Reports state that the 26,000 ton battleship Arkansas was lifted “for a brief interval before the vessel plunged to the bottom of the lagoon.” A column of water had risen to a height of 5,500 feet and was estimated to contain 10 million tons of water.

Official reports say that the explosion produced “intense radioactivity in the waters of the lagoon.”

When Crosby’s ship returned to San Francisco later, there were problems.

“We were told that we couldn’t come ashore because we were all radioactive,” Crosby said. “We had to burn all our clothes and wash the ship down. Then we could come ashore.”

To date, Crosby has experienced nine operations relating to skin cancer. Does Crosby’s skin cancer of today relate to witnessing the two atomic bomb tests?

“It’s still under review for the skin cancer,” Crosby said about the paperwork now in progress relating to his present day problems with skin cancer. “A month ago they sent me a letter saying that there was more radioactivity than what had been previously thought.”

Crosby knows others who were on the ship witnessing the atomic bomb blast who also have skin cancer.

“ My buddy who was on the hospital ship with me now lives in Green Valley, Arizona,” Crosby said. “He’s had skin cancer, too.”

Crosby went into active duty Jan. 8, 1942, and returned Christmas 1946. He then re-enlisted and got another discharge for eight years in the reserve forces. But he got called back for active duty in 1951 for Korea.

" I was packed, ready to go," Crosby said. "They said, 'Go to sick bay.' I went there and the officer said I was going home. 'We don't want anyone in the Navy with a neck like yours,’ he said.

“ Oh, I could have kissed him right there.

“ Home I went. They shipped me to Milwaukee and wanted to operate. I was then told I would be sent home with a service connected disability but with no money.

“ And I never pursued it. In my day that (disability) didn’t mean that much, but it sure does today.... The Purple Heart means a lot now, because I can go to the Veteran's Hospital and they will take me."

What had happened on the Evans was well established by the time Crosby was honorably discharged in 1951. X-rays in Minneapolis further helped establish his injury.

But the paperwork had yet to be completed and decades passed.

To be awarded the Purple Heart medal Crosby had to determine when, where and how his injury happened. The veteran’s service officer at the Chippewa County Courthouse helped Crosby to fill out the needed forms.

“If I had felt that I didn’t deserve the Purple Heart,” Crosby said, “I would never have tried to get it. But I felt that I earned it as well as being the luckiest guy on the ship May 11. I tell others that when I go to the reunions, too.

“Anytime a bomb blows 15 feet from you, you’re lucky if you survive.”

The Purple Heart medal awarded March 30, 2004, with certificate for the action Crosby experienced May 11, means that Crosby now has top priority (from Priority 7 to Priority 1) to be treated by the VA including medication.

And Crosby now gets $104 each month for disability.

Today, neither Crosby or his wife, who is 61, is in the best of health.

“Her age changes everything,” Crosby said. “If she was four years older she could get medical help from the VA, with the Purple Heart and all. But she’s too young.”

Insurance became too expensive to keep for the Crosbys.

‘Well, you don’t get married to get divorced.’

– Roy E. Crosby

“ All I have is my social security and my $42.55 pension from the mill for 30 years,” Crosby said. “But every time we went for help, we’re always $2 over the amount, so we didn’t qualify. Well, you don’t get married to get divorced.”

Crosby has now been married for 11 years, and knew his wife four years before that.

Crosby knows of couples who have divorced in order to survive with one woman having an $108,000 neck operation.

Crosby lost his first wife to breast cancer. Crosby considers himself lucky to have reasonably good health despite the skin cancer. He also donates time for Cornell school activities including 50 years as an announcer.

“I have to do the track meet tomorrow,” Crosby said. “They need an announcer.”

Crosby worked long hours for alumni tournaments and has spent 58 years with the American Legion and also spent time with the VFW.

The 58th Anniversary of the USS Evans took place in Philadelphia May 8-11, 2003, with a memorial service aboard the USS New Jersey. And Roy Edward Crosby gave the “Roll Call of Shipmates Who Followed.”

It’s now every two years that the Evans has a reunion.

“We have them every two years,” Crosby said, “because so many have died.” Crosby is not sure how many of the survivors remain today, but puts the number at about 20.

Crosby’s family has had a tradition with the Navy.

“My dad and my uncle were in World War I,” Crosby said. “They were Navy guys. My cousins and four brothers all were in the service. Ted was 10 years younger and was in the air corps.”
Crosby was also awarded other medals including the Good Conduct medal, two Presidential Unit Citations, Asiatic Pacific medals and others.

That’s the way it was and is.