News: Widow of World War II Medal of Honor recipient presented with 'Deadeye' coin
Story by 1st Lt. Sherrain Reber
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. - U.S. Army Reserve soldier, Lt. Col. Alexa O’Leary, commander of the 96th Sustainment Brigade’s special troops battalion, presented a brigade coin to the widow of World War II Medal of Honor recipient at a Veteran’s Day event here, Nov. 11.
O’Leary, in civilian life a Senior Military Recruiter with Tyson Foods, read an article by fellow employee Joji McCleland, in which McCleland stated that her grandfather, Pfc. Clarence Craft, had received the Medal of Honor at age 23 while serving with the 96th Infantry Division in World War II.
“As I read the article, I immediately thought about my current Reserve unit in Salt Lake City, which is a part of the 96th Sustainment Brigade, originally the 96th Infantry Division,” O’Leary said.
O’Leary contacted McCleland, eager to show her the brigade coin, which features five stars and five names, each representing a 96th Infantry Division Medal of Honor recipient.
"Deadeye" refers to the division’s nickname, given to its soldiers during World War II, thanks to their excellent marksmanship.
A rifleman with Company G of the 382nd Infantry, Pfc. Craft earned the Medal of Honor for his actions against the Japanese on Okinawa, May 31, 1945.
Craft was credited with single-handedly defying rifle and machine-gun fire and a torrent of grenades in a location where battalion-sized elements had been stalled for 12 days.
Craft and five other soldiers were sent ahead to get a feel for the enemy. They were quickly pinned down.
Craft launched a one-man attack, standing in full view of the Japanese, shooting with the 96th’s renowned "deadeye" accuracy. He advanced while killing the enemy with rapid fire, and drove other combatants to retreat.
"Reaching the summit, silhouetted against the sky," Craft cast grenades onto the reverse slope, attacking the enemy’s main trenches. His platoon advanced, and Craft instructed them to throw grenades over the crest of Hen Hill. As described by his fellow soldiers, grenades crossed from both sides as Craft stood atop the hill. The explosives passed over his head before bursting on each slope.
He then pursued enemy soldiers into a cave and tossed an explosive device into it. When the charge failed to explode, he recovered it, relit it and demolished the cavern. On Nov. 1, 1945, Craft was awarded the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman.
Knowing that Craft had been a part of the 96th all those years ago, O’Leary came up with a plan. “I was excited to show Joji what a hero her grandfather was to me and everyone who has ever worn the 96th ‘Deadeye’ patch,” O’Leary said. “When I found out her grandmother, Tamae Craft, lived right here in Fayetteville I knew I had to find a way to give her my coin in honor of her husband.”
Attending the event was a challenge for Tamae Craft, 87, who had broken her back in a car accident.
“I couldn't commit to Alexa that she’d be there,” McCleland said. “If she doesn’t want go do something, she doesn’t go. I had to coax her and told her that if she didn’t go, I was going look like a schmuck.”
Craft responded by asking McCleland what a schmuck was, and if there was going to be any lunch.
“She’s very low-key,” McCleland added, “but she knows how much I love my job and she’s proud that I work for Tyson because she thinks a lot of the company.”
McCleland said the event was very moving for her grandmother. When a film played recounting the events of the day Pfc. Craft earned his medal, Tamae Craft’s eyes began to water.
“I’ve rarely seen her cry or shed a tear,” McCleland said.
“I felt honored for my grandmother because she has participated in so many past events that honored my grandfather and it was nice for her to be a part of this,” McCleland said. “I didn't expect it [the coin presentation] to be such an honor.”
The coin, designed by 1st Lt. Casey Nelson under the former 96th brigade commander, Brig. Gen. Phillip Jolly, has engraved upon it the names of each Medal of Honor recipient from within the 96th.
Maj. Pat O’Leary, husband of Alexa O’Leary and fellow member of the 96th, read the history of the 96th Infantry Division and Pfc. Craft’s Medal of Honor citation.
“The ceremony was very moving and rewarding for me,” said Pat O’Leary, “in the sense that I was able to attend the reunion of the 96th Infantry Division a couple of years back and listen to first-hand accounts from some of the guys that were there when Pfc. Craft did what he did that day.”
“It was really interesting to learn that he performed those acts on his first day in combat,” he added.
“He was a remarkable man, very humble, just loved kids,” McCleland said of her grandfather. “He was the patriarch that kept the family together. He volunteered over 10,000 hours at the Veterans Administration and was very active in volunteering before they even knew of his medal.”
“He never wore his hearing aids because it made his [post-traumatic stress disorder] go crazy,” she said. “The family had to speak very loudly to be heard.”
“He was a laborer and spent a lot time with the [American] Legion and played cards at the local biker bar,” she added.
Before leaving the Army, Craft served in the Korean War and attained the rank of sergeant first class. After his death at the age of 80, Craft was interred at Fayetteville National Cemetery.