Family honors WWII veteran Vernon Craft
Fairfield resident and World War II veteran Vernon Craft received a surprise honor when he attended a church service a few months ago.
Craft had been told he was going to a service just like any other at Suburban Heights Baptist Church in Fairfield. When he arrived, he realized he would be more than just a parishioner that day.
His son Gary Craft asked him to come to the front of the church. Baptist International Ministries Inc. had awarded Vernon a plaque for his service during the Second World War, and Gary wanted to be the one to present the award to his dad.
Gary and his wife, Karen, are ministers to military personnel and live in Okinawa, Japan.
Vernon’s wife, Mary Lou, said Baptist International Ministries honors World War II veterans for being part of “The Greatest Generation,” which is also inscribed on Vernon’s plaque.
James V. Kennard of Baptist International Ministries wrote to Craft to say “We are grateful for the honor given to us to recognize you and your service and sacrifice for God, our country and our families. May God richly bless you throughout your life.”
The honor came as a surprise to Vernon. However, it was certainly not the first time a family member has done something special for the 91-year-old veteran of the European Theater. In 1995, Vernon’s grandson Thomas “Tommy” Craft wrote a report for a class on Vernon’s experiences in the war and on one mission in particular – the crossing of the Ruhr River in western Germany.
Vernon was a rifleman in the Army’s 102nd Infantry Division. He crossed the Ruhr River during a major battle in February 1945. The Allies had been bombing the city of Jülich, which lay on the eastern side of the river, and by the time of the land invasion the city was nearly obliterated. Jülich was an important city to the Germans because of its coal mines and manufacturing plants.
Vernon crossed the river in an assault boat, along with four companies of soldiers. He recalls Germans shooting at the assault boats and then having to navigate through mine fields once the boats reached the shore.
Vernon remembers another close call in which he was nearly killed. He and 14 other soldiers were sent to destroy two buildings on a riverbank behind German lines. To arrive at their destination, Vernon and his crew had to crawl through beet fields. Unfortunately, German soldiers spotted them before their arrival and opened fire on the men.
Nine of the 15 men in the unit perished, but Vernon was among those able to crawl back to safety. This and other missions undertaken by the 102nd Infantry are chronicled in the book With the 102nd Infantry Division Through Germany, published in 1947. Vernon was interviewed for and quoted in the book.
In 2003, Vernon returned to Germany and visited the cities and landmarks he had seen decades earlier and in a much different context. He said the cities were so different from what he remembered he didn’t even recognize them. The only thing that remained the same were the names.