Donia Caspersen Crouch
The Port Arthur News
Some say it’s our duty. Others declare it a privilege. Whatever you call it, casting a ballot next Tuesday is the single best way to get your voice heard. The people of our great nation will decide who will be the next president of the United States of America. Whether Democratic, Republican or Independent, we have one thing in common. It’s our responsibility to vote. Our soldiers have preserved that right for us. Thanks to them, we still live in the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Peace and freedom come with a price. Young men and women pay with their lives. Every family has heroes. Perhaps it’s a niece serving in Afghanistan or a grandfather who fought in Vietnam in the sixties. Some return from the battlefield, but others are not so lucky. My father-in-law was a POW for 22 months. Here is his story.
James William Crouch Jr. was a bombardier pilot in the United States Air Force. Stationed in London, he and his unit flew air raids over Germany. On April 4th of 1943 he was shot down over Antwerp, Belgium, upon returning from a mission to bomb an aircraft assembly plant. Seconds before it crashed, he buckled his parachute and ejected from his B-17. With a leg full of shrapnel, he sought help from a sympathetic Belgian woman who bandaged his wounds and gave him clean clothes. He temporarily eluded the Germans who were searching every house in the vicinity for “the American pilot”. When the compassionate woman’s husband, a Nazi sympathizer, found James in his house, he immediately turned him in. Following his capture, the Nazi soldiers forced a doctor to dig the shrapnel out of James’ leg. Subsequently, they relocated him to Stalag Luft 3 where he stayed for almost two years.
He was liberated by General Patton and flown to his hometown of Port Arthur where he met and married the love of his life. His story has a happy ending, but memories of war and imprisonment haunted him for years. For a long time, he wouldn’t share the experience with anyone. It was his grandson, Will, who finally got him talking when his 5th grade history class studied WWII. “Will you come to my school and tell us about it, Papaw?”
I grabbed the video camera and drove my father-in-law to Valley View Elementary school. He stood in that elementary schoolroom, reliving his war story and fielding questions for almost an hour. His pain and suffering was evident to everyone. He cleared his throat so many times I thought he was having an allergic reaction. In fact, I was about to turn off the camera and get him a glass of water when I realized he was choking back tears. “After all these years”, he told me, “I still get emotional about my fellow crew members. Especially the ones who didn’t make it back.”
The kids listened wide eyed to the detailed description but they weren’t the only ones. Will’s teacher and I used up a whole box of tissues. We may have seen the movie, The Great Escape, but James had actually lived it.
My own father, Charles Anthony Caspersen Jr. also served in WWII. A naval lieutenant, his duties were carried out on an aircraft carrier in the Pacific. My uncle, C.M. Phelan Jr., flew B-17s over the Himilayas and later served as a flight commander in Cuero, Texas. My older brother remained stateside during his tour of duty, but he would have gone wherever his superiors sent him. Real soldiers are like that. They sacrifice. They serve.
It’s important that we vote this Tuesday, Nov. 6, because it’s our duty, our privilege and our right, but mostly because over the decades so many of our fellow Americans have given their lives to defend that right. It’s as simple as that.
My father in law died in 1994, just two years after recording that VHS tape. We honor him and all soldiers when we clap for them in airports and other public places, but we honor them even more when we cast our vote.
Donia Caspersen Crouch was raised in Southeast Texas and lives in Austin. Contact her at email@example.com.