The June Artifacts of the Month are Purple Heart medals awarded to two area residents. One medal was awarded during World War I to Dale A. Crandall of Galesburg. The other Purple Heart belonged to Robert Lee Alexander of Macomb, awarded to him in World War II.
The Purple Heart is a United States military decoration awarded in the name of the President to those wounded or killed while serving. It is one of the most recognized and respected medals and is the nation’s oldest military award. The Purple Heart award is heart-shaped within a gold border, containing a profile of General George Washington. At the top of the heart is the coat of arms of George Washington which is a white shield with two red bars and three red stars in between sprays of green leaves. On the back of the medal are the words FOR MILITARY MERIT. It is hung with a purple and white striped fabric ribbon.
The World War I Purple Heart recipient was Galesburg resident Dale Anthony Crandall (b. July 25, 1888; d. Nov. 1968). He filled out his draft registration card on June 5, 1917, which was the first day of the national registration for all men between the ages of 21 and 31. He listed his occupation as farming on his draft card. He entered military service on April 1, 1918, at the age of 30, and soon after traveled to France on May 21. The museum has a number of letters and postcards from Dale to his mother in Galesburg; one of the postcards is dated April 22, 1918, just after Dale had entered service, and just before he was shipped overseas. The front of the postcard shows a soldier embracing his mother with the caption, “Don’t Worry about me.”
Crandall is listed in the 1920 publication, “Knox County, Illinois, The Honor Roll, 1917-1918-1919,” a record of those who served in those three eventful years. This incredibly detailed 426-page volume lists every single man who served in the war with his photograph and official record. In this book, Crandall’s (spelled Crandell) official record notes he was a Private, Co. I, 138th Inf., 35th Division. It states he was the son of Willard and Bell Crandell and was born July 25, 1890, in Avon, Illinois. He entered service in Monmouth, Illinois, on April 1, 1918, and was sent to Camp Dodge, then to Long Island, New York, before heading overseas to France on May 21, 1918. After spending ten months in France he was wounded at the battle of St. Mihiel and Argonne Forest on September 26, 1918. When the book was published in 1920, he was still in the service.
“The Honor Roll” vividly documents day by day what the 138th Infantry experienced, from their transatlantic voyage and the bad food onboard, to the trip across the English Channel, to riding a French troop train to the front. Readers can imagine what Dale Crandall experienced as his regiment approached the battlefield and prepared to fight. The publication documents exactly what happened on September 26, 1918, the day that Crandall was wounded in combat and earned his Purple Heart. Crandall’s Company was part of Battery A of the 123rd Heavy Field Artillery and was attached to the 91st Division. This division was part of the forces involved in the Battle of the Argonne Forest that fought from September 26, 1918, until the Armistice on November 11, a total of 47 days. From the “Honor Roll” we know exactly what the Knox County soldiers, including Dale Crandall, went up against:
The Germans attempted a big raid on the morning of the 25th of September, but they were repulsed by French troops who remained in the front line trenches until that night. Then the American troops went up into the trenches and prepared for the “kick off” which came on the morning of the 26th. Battery A was attached to the 91st National Army Division for the initial engagement. The battery commenced to fire at 2:10 a.m. on the morning of the 26th and poured a steady stream of shells into the German lines until 10:30 a.m. The concentration of artillery in the Meuse-Argonne offensive was still greater than that at the St. Mihiel. The doughboys of the 91st Division went over the top for the first time at 5 a.m. They were pitted against one of the best German divisions, but they managed to push the enemy back almost ten kilometers before nightfall.
Sometime on this described day, Dale Crandall was wounded in combat. We do not know if it was as he was climbing out of the trenches at 5 a.m., or sometime later during that long day of fighting. Dale Crandall was lucky to survive that day. The Battle of the Argonne Forest was the deadliest battle of WWI for the United States. The battle involved 1.2 million American soldiers, leaving 26,277 of them dead and 95,786 wounded, about half the total American casualties for the entire war. We know Dale Crandall survived the rest of the war and stayed in the service until 1920. Later records show he returned to Galesburg, married, was active in the Knox County VFW, and he passed away in1968, at the age of 80.
Robert Lee Alexander, wounded in combat in WWII, earned the other Purple Heart medal on display at the museum. Alexander was born to Jessie Lee and Edna May Kidwell Alexander on January 20, 1921, in Gardnersville, Pendleton County, Kentucky. The family moved to Illinois when Bob was a baby.
Alexander was a Private First Class in the US Army during WWII. According to the “Electronic Army Serial Number Merged File, ca. 1938 – 1946 (Enlistment Records)” in the National Archives, Robert Alexander enlisted on October 8, 1942, in Peoria. When he enlisted he had two years of high school, and listed his civilian occupation as carpenter. His marital status was indicated as “single.”
Alexander served in the US Army from 1942-1945, Private First class in Company G, 382nd Infantry of the 96th Division. The unit trained at quite a number of camps before heading overseas. One of the first camps the Division trained at was Camp Adair in Oregon. From 1942 to 1944, over 100,000 soldiers trained for combat at Camp Adair. Called the “Deadeye Division,” the 96th received special training in marksmanship and land/water vehicle landings in order to be combat-ready. During his training, Bob wrote often to Marjory E. Curtis back home in Illinois, and she wrote often to him. In March 1943, when Bob was home on leave, he and Marjory decided to get married.
After Bob returned to the Northwest for more training with the 96th Division, Marjory, a new bride, recent high school graduate, and all of 19 years old, decided to get on the train and travel to Camp Adair to be with her new husband. She was, as she says in her own words, “A green country kid who had never been on a train before.” She stayed off base and held a job. As her husband was moved around to numerous training camps, she followed him. Other camps where the 96th Division trained were: Fort Lewis, Washington; Camp Abbott, Oregon; Camp White, Oregon; and Camp San Luis Obispo, California. When the Division left for California in April 1944, all the wives were told to go home, and Marjory took the train to Macomb. Bob was able to come home on leave in June of 1944, just before the unit left the States. The Division eventually departed from San Francisco on July 25, 1944, bound for Hawaii.
The Division led the return to the Philippines, landing on Leyte Island October 20, 1944, and took the island in December. Next, as part of “Operation Iceberg,” Alexander’s unit, the 96th Division, landed on Okinawa on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945. The Battle of Okinawa would be the largest battle of the war in the Pacific. The Division encountered intense resistance and continued ceaseless attacks against heavily defended Japanese positions. After three months of fierce fighting, they eventually took the island on June 20, 1945. On Okinawa today there stands the Army Okinawa Battle Monument, with a plaque for the 96th Infantry Division, which states:
“Deadeyes, Hereabouts the 96th Infantry Division suffered
over 10,000 casualties. Their Sacrifices Testify to an
Unsurpassed Measure of Devotion, Pride and Courage.”
It was during what has been described as hellish fighting on Okinawa that Alexander was wounded and earned his Purple Heart. For its heroic effort in the Battle of Okinawa, the 96th Infantry Division was awarded the Army Presidential Unit Citation.
Marjory Alexander can still vividly recall specific details of her husband’s military career, even remembering to this day, his serial number, rank, unit, company, regiment and division. Marjory remembers her husband telling her of the moment he earned his Purple Heart.
It was Friday, the 13th, April 13, 1945, Bob was in a foxhole with six others.; He was wounded in the right arm between his wrist and his elbow. He looked up and could see who got him sitting up in the tree above him. He wasn’t able to use his arm, but one his buddies in the foxhole got the one that got him. Bob was sent to Saipan for treatment and then to Guam to recuperate. But he was then sent back to his unit.
While Bob was in the South Pacific Marjory had gone home, had a baby in January 1945, and continued to wait for Bob to come home. She distinctly remembered his homecoming.
He was discharged on December 24, 1945. He arrived home on the train at 2:30 am in the morning. I was waiting for him at home, because my parents wouldn’t let me go out that late with the baby. It had snowed and there was a fresh layer of snow on the ground. I was waiting and listening for him. The apartment I was living in was on the second floor and I heard his footsteps on the bottom stair step. I got up to turn on the light so he could see the steps and not fall. He came in and said, “I went from the tropics and came home to snow!” I was holding the baby, she was 11 months old. He had never seen her or held her. He took her and held her in his arms and said “…she’s just like a doll, a big doll.” It was quite something.
Marjory notes that Bob Alexander was a quiet man and did not talk much about his time in the South Pacific. She recalls that after all the moves to numerous training camps and overseas and back again, when Alexander got home to Macomb he said that he did not want to move ever again. And so, they never moved again after settling into their home in Macomb on July 13, 1946. Bob lived the rest of his life there.
In later years, Alexander was a member of the Macomb VFW and American Legion. He served on the American Legion Board for 41 years and was a Past Commander; he also served on the Veterans Administration Commission Board for 40 years. At the age of 87, Alexander, a long-time resident of Macomb, passed away on April 7, 2008.
The Purple Heart medals were on display June 1 through June 30, 2014
Article by Heather Munro