Born Leonard John Crandell, the second child of Elsie May Day and William Woodlawn Crandell, on September 3, 1918, his nickname was “Len.” He had five brothers and one sister.
My father loved athletics. When he was ten, he became a caddy at the Country Club of Peoria, and his brother told me he created a miniature golf course in the family back yard that was very popular with the neighborhood kids. I have copies of local newspaper stories about his sporting adventures, and two vintage silver trophies he won for golf while he was in high school. He attended and graduated from Kingman High School in 1937, the last high school class of that school. While there, he boxed in the Golden Gloves matches and won tournaments in golf and bowling.
LaVerne and Leonard were married on May 27, 1943, in Waukesha, Wisconsin, four months after he enlisted in the Army. I was born on February 23, 1944.
He was 12 when his oldest brother died, 16 when his father died, and 20 when his younger brother died. Those losses had to be a part of who he was, who he became. I realize now that everyone in the family must have shared deeply in that grief, and that makes it even more amazing to think that, at the beginning of World War II, all three of the remaining brothers who were eligible did not hesitate to volunteer for the armed forces, one to the Air Corps, one to the Marines, and one to the Army. Of those three brothers, only one, Floyd, serving with the Marine Corps in the Pacific, returned home.
His brother Ralph was a tank commander in Patton’s Third Army. He was killed on March 16, 1945, the last to die in the 778th Tank Battalion. He left a young wife and an infant son. My father died eight days later, on March 24. The war in Europe ended just a few months later. Mercifully, the two brothers who did not return never knew the fate of each other.
In November of 1944, hundreds of well-trained, battle ready fellow airmen joined my father on his journey to the real war. With silver wings pinned on his chest, he sailed for Europe on the Ile de France, a luxury ship converted to a troop transport. I was nine months old. He was now, in the words printed in one of his flight yearbooks, “Ready to join the victory parade of U.S. aircraft over Axis lands.”
Leonard arrived in Glasgow, Scotland, and after a few days was sent to Shipdham, on the east coast of England in East Anglia, one of many British airfields used primarily by the American 8th Air Force, who called themselves the “Flying Eight Balls.”
And then my father flew, from December of 1944 to March of 1945, twenty-one missions while stationed in England. Leonard’s final flight was a low level mission called Operation Varsity, the largest airborne operation of World War II, in support of Field Marshall Montgomery’s thrust across the Rhine, dropping supplies to British paratroopers. His plane, “Kay Bar,” was hit by anti-aircraft fire from the ground, crashed and exploded on impact.
Reading through some of the letters sent to my mother during the first weeks and months following my father’s death by the families of his crew members, I was struck by several things. The courage, even in the face of unspeakable fear and loss, came through, along with the anxiety of the waiting, always the waiting. The waiting for good news, waiting for terrible news, waiting for any news. Here was a group of men who had shared a brief, intense, and intimate part of their lives together as a flight crew, and who eventually died together, yet the wives and mothers they left behind were strangers to each other, scattered about the country.
After my father’s death, a sort of lost and unspoken link in memory and in time followed. Mom remarried in June of 1947, two years after my father’s death.
My father left this world on wings, and his life and story will forever give wings to me, keeping me uplifted, and reminding me that sometimes you just have to let go and see if you can fly.
– Janice Crandell Powers –
For a favorite story by WWII Journalist, Ernie Pyle, Click Here.
© 2019 • by Janice Crandell Powers and the sons and daughters of AWON • All rights reserved.