Hood County Texas Genealogical Society

 

ROY CRITTENDEN

Hood County News On-Line Edition Sept. 8, 1999

 

Granbury's Roy Crittenden, 99, is Hood County's only Living World War I vet and is among only 37 in Texas

Not Forgotten
World War I veteran due France's highest military honor

by Leland Debusk, Assistant Editor

Western Hills Harbor resident Roy J. Crittenden Sr. is 99 years old. But you wouldn't know it by looking at him. He doesn't even look 70. Roy, or Mr. Critt, as they call him, says he plans to live to be 100.

Roy is living with his son, Roy Crittenden Jr., who is 75.

Roy said he vowed to his bosses that he'd live to be 100 to collect his pension after they forced him to retire at age 65 in 1965.

Roy survived World War I and outlived two wives. He has three children, seven granddaughters, one grandson, nine great grandchildren and three great-great grandchildren. And don't forget two stepdaughters.

Roy is in excellent health and on good days, you can find him out walking in Western Hills Harbor.

Roy will receive a great honor Monday for his combat service in France during the Great War. During a special 1 p.m. ceremony at the Granbury Church of Christ, Roy will be awarded France's highest military honor: The Chevalier of the National Order of the Legion of Honor. A deputy consul general from France will make the presentation.

Last year, France decided to mark the 80th anniversary of the end of World War I in 1918 by awarding the medal to American and other allied veterans who fought in France during the war.

Roy came back from France with a back full of shrapnel from a German artillery shell. Eighty-one years later, he still can't talk about his combat experiences. His eyes well up with tears and his voice almost breaks whenever the subject is mentioned. "I'd rather not talk about it," Roy says and he doesn't. One can only imagine what horrific tales Roy could tell. Roy is Hood County's only living World War I veteran and is one of only 37 surviving World War I veterans in Texas.

The life of this remarkable man began on July 30, 1900 in Albany, Ga. Roy's family moved to Texas when he was 4 years old.

When he turned 16, Roy's family was living in Rockdale and he was working as a student chemist at a sugar refinery in Sugarland. Roy joined the Army on July 3, 1917, "just a few months after they declared war on Germany," he said.

Roy traveled by train from Austin to Camp Travis in San Antonio. He was sworn into the Army on July 8. "They had me in a small group of men, about 12 or 15 probably," Roy recalled. His unit was put up in tents behind the camp's chapel. Being that they were also camped near the post's bakery, they were put to work there.

After three weeks, the Army put them in a Pullman car behind the Sunshine Special locomotive and they rolled to New York City. From New York City, the soldiers went to Hoboken and then Fort Jay, N.Y., said Roy.

"In the middle of September, they loaded us on the ferry and took us back to Hoboken and put us aboard a German ship," Roy stated. The ship was the liner Crown Princess Cecilia, later called the Mount Vernon. It had been caught in a U.S. port when America had gone to war with Germany, Roy explained. The ship had been converted to a troop ship to sail American soldiers to France. "I don't know how many thousands of men were on that ship," Roy said. The ship's hold was full of bunks.

Roy originally thought he had been assigned to a chemical warfare unit in the States, but found when arriving in France that he was part of a 260-man ordinance unit that handled ammunition. Upon landing in France, they were transported by rail to Neveres, France, where they loaded ammunition in five boxcars, said Roy. "They loaded a bunch of us in some boxcars and we all went up to the front," he stated. "We stayed there and unloaded all the ammunition. We were there a week to 10 days." The ammunition handled by the men was mostly artillery shells, along with some rifle ammunition, said Roy.

Roy and his fellow soldiers had to pack the artillery shells to the front lines in a backpack that held three shells. Once the pack was on, "there was no way to stop and sit down or anything," he stated. From the train, the men had to pack the shells three miles to the artillery positions. "That was the only time I got to see a German soldier with a rifle in his hand," Roy said. The man was at German fortifications across no-man's land from the American artillery positions. "They'd come out and wash their underwear and hang them in the bushes," he said of the Germans.

Later on, "a whole mess of us got sick," Roy said. "I had the mumps and chicken pox all at the same time. I was put in the French Army hospital in Neveres."

Roy was released on Nov. 2, 1918 and sent to Dijon, France, where he was assigned to a 337th Chemical Warfare Platoon. "I was assigned to work in the laboratory of Base #17 Hospital," he stated. "In a few months, they pulled me out and put me to visiting bakeries and other food-handling places." Roy explained that he did tests on water, flour and yeast to determine if the ingredients had been poisoned by German saboteurs. Some food supplies had been sabotaged in the States before being shipped to France, he stated.

Saboteurs would put borax in the foodstuffs or ground-up glass. They would also put in laxatives like Black Draught to make the soldiers ill who ate the bread, said Roy.

In May 1918, Roy's unit was gathered up and assigned to the 42nd Division, the Rainbow Division. "They loaded us up and took us to the front," Roy said. "We went in support of the 26th Division. We scouted around several villages." It is here that Roy refuses to discuss his experiences any further, saying he doesn't want to talk about it. "That's when we lost most of our___." He breaks off and nothing more is said. Whatever happened after that, Roy was wounded by shrapnel.

Roy came back from the front in August 1918 and was sent to the French Army military school. "I refused to take a commission," said Roy. When asked why he didn't, "I was an 18-year-old giving orders to men 30 and 40 years old," he pointed out.

After the Armistice, Roy was assigned as receptionist to General George Baker in Tours, France because he had a smattering of "French, Spanish and Italian." Roy had picked up the languages when he was a sample boy at the sugar refineries. There were many workers of European origin who worked at the refineries, said Roy. There were also Czechs, Poles and Hungarians, he recalled. "I learned quite a bit of their languages," said Roy.

In June 1919, Roy returned from France to an Army camp at Long Island, N.Y. He was discharged there from the Army.

"I knocked around part of that summer," Roy said. Later he enrolled in then-Houston City College (now the University of Houston) and graduated with a degree in business administration.

Roy went to work as an electrician for Texas Power and Light, but quit after he saw two men burned to death in electrical accidents. "I had a little boy and I wanted to see him grow up," he said. "I saw two of them burn up in less than a week and I just decided I didn't want to burn up."

Roy learned Southwestern Bell Telephone Company was looking for men and got a job there. During his career, Roy's jobs included line foreman, office work and installing special telephone equipment for the Strategic Air Command.

"Forty years later, they booted me out," he said. Employees had to retire at age 65 with a pension. At his retirement party in August 1965, he warned his bosses that they would be paying his pension for a long time. "I told them, just for that, that I was going to live to 100," Roy laughed.

What did he do when he first retired? "I sat on my big fat gab," he laughed again.

Roy's first wife Ida had died four years before he retired. He met his second wife Grace while attending Columbia Avenue Church of Christ in Waco. They dated awhile and then got married. Then they decided to travel, Roy said. "We took my pension and Social Security and her pension," he stated. "We got a real good automobile and we went all over the country." From the car, they graduated to a station wagon, then to a pop-up trailer, a travel trailer, and finally, an RV, Roy stated.

Grace Crittenden was admitted to a Waco nursing home in 1992 for Alzheimer's and passed away in January 1996. After that, Roy moved to Granbury to live with his son and daughter-in-law.

He attends the Granbury Church of Christ and when he can't walk, uses a treadmill and indoor bicycle for exercise. "We're members of Comanche Peak Sams," says Dorothy Crittenden. Whenever they get ready on a trip, he's the first one to pack and the first one to get in the trailer, she laughs. "He outwalks everybody."

Roy, who is in excellent health, has had few health problems. The most major problems came from the shrapnel he got in France, he said. The shrapnel abscessed and began bothering him in 1944. The abscesses made him ill and he developed a terrible body odor, Roy stated. "They finally cut me open to find out what was wrong and found the abscesses in the abdominal cavity," he said. Roy didn't work for almost a year after the surgery.

In spite of his World War I experiences, Roy was no slouch when it came to World War II. He tried to enlist at the age of 40, but recruiters said he didn't weigh enough. He tried eating huge quantities of bananas to gain weight, but that didn't work either.

Roy hasn't been walking lately because of the heat, but looking at him, there's no doubt that he'll live to be 100.

"His mind is alert and he enjoys life to the fullest," Dorothy Crittenden says. "He has been a wonderful role model of Christianity, integrity, love of family and is dearly loved by all of the family."

 

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