- Birth Date: 1923
- Place of Birth: Otwell, IN
- State of Residence: Arizona
- Years of Service: 1943-1946
- Branch of Military: Army
- Rank: Captain
- Wars Involved In: WWII
- Theater(s) of Operation: European Theater
John Craig Was born in Otwell, Indiana on November 5th 1923. While he was attending Indiana University in 1943, he was in Advanced Military in the Infantry ROTC. That year, all members of the infantry ROTC were called in to active duty. Since he was a junior at the time, he was not given an officer’s commission and as a result, he spent one year as an enlisted man. He was sent to Camp Wolters Texas for basic training. He was not sent to the same basic training camp as his friends because he contracted the measles and was in the hospital when his friends from ROTC shipped out. At the time, though they did not know it, they were waiting for an opening in the Officers Candidate School (OCS) in Ft. Benning Georgia. He was then given orders to ship out to Indiana University but did not know why. A few days later, all of his friends were sent back to Indiana University. They were to be in ASTP (Army Specialized Training Program) while they waited for an opening in OCS. While there, he decided to marry his wife MaryAnn before he went overseas. Two weeks before he was to get married, he received orders to go to Ft. Benning Georgia to go to OCS. They had to have a military wedding in Georgia two weeks into Officers Candidate School. Out of 180 people at OCS only 66 graduated. When he received his commission as a second lieutenant in 1944, he was transferred to Camp Hood Texas and was put in charge of training recruits. After training one group of recruits, he was sent to Ft. Leonard Wood in Missouri to join the 70th Infantry division. They were preparing for overseas combat. His wife went with him to Ft. Leonard Wood. In December of 1944 he went overseas. At first only three of the 4 infantry regiments in the division were shipped out. These were the 273rd the 274th and the 275th. He was a member of the 275th and was the first platoon leader in F Company. He was responsible for 40 men in the rifle platoon.
He was sent over on the USS West Point and landed in Marseilles France. As his ship was traveling through the Mediterranean, he and the others aboard the ship knew that there were German U-Boats in those waters. Fortunately, he says, his ship could outrun any German submarine. After 5or 6 days in Marseilles, on his first wedding anniversary, he was ordered to ship north to Strasbourg for combat. 5 days later on Christmas day, he was occupying a German or French foxhole. The ground was frozen and so hard that they could not dig their own foxholes. They were occupying the land right across from the Rhine River and could see the German pillboxes. He says that periodically, the Germans would hang their clothes out on a clothesline and when the Germans would come out of the pillboxes to retrieve their clothes, a favorite sport amongst his men was to take pot shots at the Germans. The Germans, however, were a mile away.
After occupying this position, he was sent to the Alsace-Lorraine region, specifically the Argonne, where most of the combat he was involved in took place. He was involved in the Battle of the Bulge. He hand his men were in the Colmar Pocket in the southern part of the battle. He says that during this time he was involved in some of the fiercest combat that he experienced during the war. He says that in those first 3 or 4 weeks he lost 5 men. He has revisited their graves many times. He remarked that their parents came over after the war to see where their sons had been buried and said that since they came to fight to free Europe that is where they should remain buried.
One of his jobs as platoon leader was to censor mail. He distinctly remembers reading the letters of a Catholic soldier in his platoon who would tell his dad not to worry because God would look after him. That soldier was the first member of his platoon to be killed. He had to write to the man’s father to tell him how his son died. He remembers that the soldier was very young, only 17.
Craig and his men were on the front lines for 89 straight days battling both the Germans and one of the coldest winters that Europe has ever had. He says that he can still remember everything that happened as if it were yesterday. Fortunately he was not shot, but he had his hearing affected by a German Potato Masher grenade that exploded 8 feet from his head.
By V-E Day (Victory in Europe) he and his men had made their way from the Alsace-Lorraine region to Frankfurt, Germany. While in Frankfurt, the 63rd Division moved to the east and created a pocket and surrounding a large number of German soldiers. He says that the 70th Division captured thousands of German soldiers. At this point the Germans did not put up much of a fight because their ranks had been depleted and they were on the run.
He says that his time in combat was the most difficult time for him. His platoon sergeant was hit by shrapnel and fortunately survived and he lost 5 or 6 men. He says that his surviving combat was the most vivid example of God answering a prayer.
After the war, he was asked to set up a school in Germany and to prepare 89 GI’s, who did not have a high school diploma, to take a high school equivalency test. They took over a German high school and the GI’s were billeted in German homes. This was going well, but in the middle of this, he was given orders to go to Reims, France. By this time he was a First Lieutenant. When he arrived in Reims, he reported to a labor supervision center. This center was responsible for the 10 or 12 POW camps in the Reims area. These camps were named after U.S. cities. Each camp was attached to a division that was set up to process U.S. Divisions to go back to the United States. The POW camps were attached in order to have men to work in the Kitchens and provide other services for the divisions returning home. He was chosen to be the Executive officer of the POW camp, Camp New Orleans. Eventually, he became a company commander and was put in charge of the 3500 German Wehrmacht prisoners in the camp. He says that the Germans in the American POW camps were treated very well. On occasion, while he was in charge of the POW camp, he was able to go into Paris and enjoy the city.
One of the prisoners that he was in charge of was a famous artist named Fritz Kaufmann. He helped Kaufmann get art supplies. Kaufmann painted two portraits of Craig. In 1986, he discovered that Fritz Kaufmann had a daughter who lived in Seattle, Washington. He contacted her and went to Washington with his family to meet her, and has visited her many times since. He says that he enjoyed being the commandant of the camp. In the summer of 1946, Craig earned enough points to go home.
He says that he felt no animosity towards the German prisoners that he was in charge of in the POW camp and that they had no animosity towards him. He remarked that one of the incentives that ensured discipline in the camp was the fact that every night, his company would get a new movie from the U.S. He then allowed 12 POWs to join them and watch the movie. The Germans all behaved very well in order to get the opportunity to see the movie.
After he got out of the service in 1946, he went back to college to complete his degree. He graduated from Indiana University in 1948 with a degree in chemistry. He went to work in Indiana for International Minerals and Chemicals and continued to work for them for 41 years.
In 1954, Mr. and Mrs. Craig adopted their first son because their doctor did not believe that they would be able to have children. 26 months later, his wife became pregnant and they had their second son.
He and his wife moved to Phoenix in 2014.
He says, “I would not take my experience back for anything, I have no regrets. I grew up very quickly, I am proud that I was able to serve in the way that I was able to serve.”
“I respect any one who aspires to be in the military today” he said, “I think it would be a good way for [that person] to grow up.”