Editor's note: This is the first of two parts.
Medals and Awards: Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal, Philippine Independence Medal, World War II Victory Medal, Expert M1 Rifle marksmanship badge
Elmer N. Crowell was born Aug. 31, 1926, at home in Forestville. He was the son of Leigh and Clara (Naegle) Crowell, who were farmers. Elmer was raised with his two brothers, Ralph and Arthur. In those days, with home births, parents had seven days to register the birth of their child with the town clerk's office. This led to confusion for Crowell over his actual date of birth, but his parents assured him he was born on Aug. 31, even though his birth certificate was registered on a later date.
Elmer N. Crowell, U.S. Army
Crowell's father's profession was one of the hardest manual labor jobs of the era. Days on the farm started at 5 a.m., feeding and watering the livestock. Next came the milking of the cows, making sure the milk was ready by 7 a.m. for pickup by the South Dayton milkman. After breakfast, it was out to the fields, then weeding, fertilizing and picking. The most work came between the planting and picking, when the crops had to be carefully looked after to ensure their health. No one can control the weather, so it was difficult to pinpoint the exact harvesting dates.
This posed a challenge: When the crop was ready, it had to be picked right then and there. No farmer left crops to rot in the field, or to be eaten by hungry wild animals that would surely return again and again if they knew where a good meal waited. If crops weren't picked when ready, that farmer was looking at financial ruin. Farmers met this challenge by forming communities of neighboring farmers and by making friends. If one farmer's crop was ready and needed to be harvested right away, friends and neighbors would pitch in and get the job done. They could always count on each other. If a farmer couldn't lend a hand to a neighbor, that man better find a new profession. Farming was a community effort.
The Crowell farm consisted of vegetables and fruit crops and six to eight dairy cows. Rising so early to take care of the farm wasn't so bad in June; January in Western New York was a different story! Crowell would get up, put on at least three layers of clothing and hurry out to the barns. Many days, he had to break the ice layer on the cows' drinking water.
Crowell's father wasn't only a farmer. He also worked at the local canning factory. His mother was a homemaker and after seeing her husband off to work, she made sure that her three boys were fed and ready to start their days. She was a hard worker too, and a homemaker's job is never done.
The Crowell boys had their fun, too. On the farm, there were fields to run in, a clean creek nearby to swim in, and wildlife to watch. Crowell still remembers taking the top of a washing machine (shaped like a bowl) and sledding down the road for over two miles, starting at his farm's hill and ending up on Main Street in Forestville. Crowell remembers also that hard work had its rewards and satisfactions. Splitting wood for the potbellied stove meant you and your family would be warm through the winter. Milking cows meant having milk and cream for the breakfast table. Picking vegetables meant eating fresh salads and always having something to chomp on. These are things city-raised children couldn't understand.
When school time came, Crowell was off to get the aspects of his education the farm couldn't teach him. Hanover School 13 was out on a country road named Hurlburt Road. Like most elementary schools back then, Crowell's school consisted of one room and one teacher, with all ages of students sitting together and working at their respective grade levels and paces. Crowell remembers two classmates in particular, Edith Hills and Roy Congdon. The three would play on the playground together, which helped break up the school day. Crowell only had a quarter mile to walk to school in the mornings, which meant he didn't have to leave the house until 8 a.m. Many children walked much farther than that.
In his high school days at Forestville High School, Crowell played basketball, badminton and baseball. In the winter months, he would join friends for informal games of ice hockey. With no refs and no adults around, the boys had a great time on the ice, playing fast and having fun. When he wasn't playing sports or working on the farm, Crowell participated in the FFA, or Future Farmers of America. He enjoyed the time he spent doing FFA activities, learning more about farming and agriculture. He was also a member of the Hi-Y Club, the name for the high school YMCA. He met many friends while attending club events, including Norm Dix, Neil Bradigan, Bill Farnham, Bob Tylock, Charles Vecchio and Charles Falcone. The boys got together often to play sports, and later formed games against different clubs from Clymer, Panama, French Creek, Silver Creek and Brocton.
Graduation was scheduled for the spring 1944, a year when our country was at war with no end in sight. Crowell wanted to finish high school and then do his duty for his country, but he had a setback. His father Leigh had an accident, which resulted in losing his foot. With his father disabled and the farm needing someone to run it, Crowell had to make a tough decision. With the cooperation of the school, Crowell arranged to only attend classes Tuesdays and Thursdays, with the other days dedicated to keeping the farm running and supporting his family. After he would finish each day's labor, he'd hit the books and study, trying hard not to fall behind his peers. With no teacher around to clarify or explain complex concepts, Crowell was largely on his own.
One Thursday, Crowell decided to blow off some steam by cutting class and going deer hunting. He figured with all the hard work he was doing and all the pressure he was under, one day out in the woods would do him some good. But when Tuesday rolled around and he went back to school, he was summoned to Principal Regal's office. He was informed that due to the nature of his school schedule, and because the school had been generous in compromising with him so that he could run his farm, Crowell's day of hooky meant that he would not graduate. Crowell was crushed. To add insult to injury, he hadn't even gotten a deer that day.
But Crowell wasn't a quitter, and he wasn't ready to accept this decision without trying to change the principal's mind. So he went back to the principal's office and requested a meeting. He said, his voice clear and reasonable, "Mr. Regal. Let me take the final exam right now. If I pass it, I get to graduate. If I don't, I'll enlist as a drop out."
Principal Regal agreed and with no time to prepare or study, Crowell sat down to take the test. It took 90 minutes followed by a handshake from the principal. He had passed! He would be allowed to stand with his friends on graduation day and receive his official high school diploma.
The night before his 18th birthday, Crowell knew he was about to make the most important decision of his life. When he awoke the next morning, he did so with a clear conscience. He would enlist in the U.S. Army. His father was doing better and was ready to take back some of the farm duties. Crowell's brothers would also help. With his family's blessing, Crowell went to a recruiter and signed his name, promising loyalty and dedication to his country, and because of war's dangers, his life too.
A letter came shortly after that said Crowell was to report to the Fredonia Village Hall, from there he would take a bus to Buffalo for his induction into the Army. Next he was off to Camp Croft in South Carolina for eight weeks of training, where he would learn the skills and be put through the steps that transformed eager civilians into war-ready soldiers.
NEXT WEEK: Part two.