Serving Denton, NC & Surrounding Communities

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Front Page

By Buddy Sexton
While so many other veterans of the second World War recount gripping stories of front-line confrontations with the enemy and such, 83-year-old Mack Cranford of Denton considers himself “lucky” to have received an assignment in our homeland rather than overseas. Though he humbly exalts those who “experienced the horrors of battle,” as he put it, Mack’s contribution to the war effort was no less honorable.

Mack Cranford, a member of the Denton Lions Club for more than 50 years, entered military service in 1943 with an induction at Fort Jackson, SC. He was sent to Miami Beach, FL for basic training, where performed calisthenics on the beach and practiced drills on a converted golf course. Upon completion of basic training, Mack was transferred to Gulfport Army/Air Force Aircraft Mechanic School in Gulfport, MS, and later to Curtis Wright Factory School in Buffalo, NY. Once his education at Factory School was complete, Mack was assigned to RAAB – Reno Army Air Base – in Reno, NV.

RAAB held the task of training pilots to fight in WWII, as well as to keep planes in good running order and air worthy. Cranford’s job at RAAB included the latter. And while he took his job seriously, the old saying rang true: “All work and no play makes Mack a dull boy.”

“One of the most enjoyable things I remember about being in service was my involvement in sports,” he said. “RAAB had a basketball team and a baseball team that I played on throughout the southwestern section of the US. I remember playing the famous Harlem Globetrotters, and I remember the antics they pulled on us! I remember that we (RAAB) had a good baseball team too – the Reno Flyers…”

So good, in fact, that Cranford appeared in a 1944 issue of the Reno Times just after he made Nevada’s All State team. Reno Flyers coach spoke highly of Mack’s ability. “He is another natural ballplayer,” the coach said. “He is a slow moving big boy that can really move when the chips are down. He patrols his section of the daisies like a bird dog after a brace of grouse on a cool autumn morning.

“Mack excels at the plate and now carries one of the highest batting averages on the Flyer roster,” Coach continued. “He is never excited, never ruffled and never bothered by the antics of the opponent, nor by the way a ball game progresses. Few of the fans in the stand even know that he is on the field. Cranford makes every play look easy.”

While stationed at RAAB, Cranford not only enjoyed the support he received from his coaches and peers, but he also appreciated the support shown by citizens for service men in general. He recalled a particular train terminal that was especially welcoming to soldiers.

“About all of the traveling was done by rail in the States,” he explained. “The early rail system of our nation was set up to ship cattle into and out of Chicago, IL.
Therefore, most veterans went through Chicago several times during their tour of duty. Train transportation in the 1940s was not as comfortable as it is today. It was rather strenuous…”

“However, at North Platte, NE, which is about 400 miles west of Chicago, there’s a place where cars were switched to different rail lines for different destinations,” he continued. “That terminal had a special section for military men. The ladies of that community – mothers, sisters, and perhaps wives of service men – hosted a special area for us. They provided great snacks, or in some cases meals, and oftentimes there was some local entertainment to help us pass the time during our lay over.

“What was especially nice was that, if you had a birthday, the ladies hosting this would present you with your own birthday cake. They would lead everyone in singing, ‘Happy Birthday to You!’ Oftentimes this was done by someone who had a son in service. That made it more special for the service men, and for the mothers of the service men. It was not as good as being home with you own mother, but it helped!”

Cranford said that particular community was wonderfully supportive in the effort to welcome the soldiers, with all area churches and civic organizations participating. “It was a tremendous morale-booster for all of the service men who had a lay over there,” he said. “Though most towns had a USO (United Service Organization), the effort the community of North Platte, NE, put into their USO was memorable.”

Hearing Mack’s account of the North Platte USO brings home who the service men really were; most of the time, they were not thought of as “service men” or “military men” – they were referred to as “our boys.” In fact, the support shown to the fighting men during WWII is what many people believe won the war.

As many recall, Victory Gardens were planted in an effort to support our military, the notion being that “an Army marches on its stomach – our boys must be fed!”

Additionally, War Bonds were sold to help finance the war, and citizens at home made sacrifices through gas and sugar rationing as well as tire allocation. Blood drives were held often for troops. And women went to work…

During the 1940s, women became skilled workers in shipyards, doing jobs previously performed only by men.
Riveting Rosy was a patriotic concept promoted for the war effort, and she became the face of countless wives, girlfriends, and family members who were making the unspoken sacrifice of working in the place of their men.
But working wasn’t the only thing these fine ladies were doing back home. Because the draft of all the young men into service complicated courtship and marriage, many of their “girls” spent a good deal of time waiting…

• • •

Hilda’s story

“Mack came in on furlough a few times,” said Hilda Cranford, Mack’s wife for nearly 62 years. “The last time he came back to Denton we planned to get married, but my mother talked me out of it. Mother said, ‘Hilda, wait until he gets his military orders and base assignment! Then you can get married. Right now, you have a job and a place to stay. If Mack gets orders for overseas, you could end up back in Denton with no job!’

“I took her advice,” Hilda continued, “and then, when Mack was assigned to the RAAB, we decided to get married.”

Her parents still wanted Hilda to wait, as war conditions and military restrictions prevented them from knowing if Mack was being transferred to another base or not. That disappointment had already happened to several would-be wives, Hilda recalled. Her parents were afraid that she would travel out to Reno but Mack wouldn’t be there. He could have been shipped out at anytime and would have been unable to call her. Furthermore, they were not keen on the idea of their daughter traveling alone to Reno from Denton. Her father insisted that he should go with her if she was to make the trip.

“There was no way I was going to go out there to get married and have my Daddy tagging along after me every minute!” Hilda laughed.

Because she had been working at a local furniture company, Biltwell, long enough to accumulate a two-week vacation, Hilda decided to use her time to travel out to Reno and, if possible, marry Mack. As she boarded the train in Greensboro, heavy thoughts loomed of her arriving in Reno to find he had been transferred; still, she knew she had to take that chance. Hilda was seated in a car reserved only for women. This “luxury” allowed her a little more comfort and an opportunity to make some friends along the way.

After three days and three nights of riding the rails, she arrived in Nevada at 10 p.m. – exhausted but relieved. Her Mack was right where she had hoped he would be.

Straightaway, they executed a plan to get married, and with her “vacation” time slipping away, they used their time wisely. Mack and Hilda had befriended another Air Force couple, Carl and Frances Ashby from Madisonville, Kentucky. It was Frances who helped Hilda find a job at a dry cleaner in the area, and once they had gotten an apartment, they were ready to “set up housekeeping,” Hilda said.

“On the day I was to return to work at the Biltwell Chair & Furniture Company in Denton – July 8, 1944 – I called them and said, ‘I will not be coming to work today because I am getting married TODAY!’” Hilda said with joy.

Out of sheer luck, Mack and Hilda had made friends with a Rodeo photographer who was originally from Winston-Salem.
The gentleman photographed their wedding as a gift – a token they cherish to this day.

“Frances, whom I had known for less than two weeks, became my Maid of Honor, and Carl was Mack’s Best Man in our wedding,” she said as she pondered over their wedding day photo.

The photograph and relating story are reminiscent of the Biblical account of Ruth and her commitment to Naomi, as she said, “Wherever thou goest, I will go, and your people shall be my people.”

That concept is still true today, as military wives – both then and now – must have that kindred commitment.

The friendship that blossomed that summer of 1944 has thrived over the years, as Mack and Hilda continue to visit the Ashbys often (the couple’s children live in Greensboro.) “Frances was like a big sister to me when I needed one,” said Hilda. “Reno was hot, we were poor, and 2,500 miles away from our friends and parents, but it was fine because I had him (Mack)!

“In looking back, those days were some of the happiest times of our lives,” continued Hilda. “Being off by ourselves was a good way to start our marriage – or any marriage. We learned to enjoy one day at a time, and to be happy with what time we had together. It was a time in our country when uncertainty was the norm. We lived together with the fear and anxiety that Mack could be transferred at any time to anywhere in the world.”

Still, in spite of their fear of the unknown, the newlyweds made some wonderful memories in Reno. Hilda recounted one of Mack’s baseball games, “He had made a good hit that really helped his team,” she said, “and so I jumped up and shouted, ‘That’s my husband!’ It kind of embarrassed me at the time, but I was so proud of him.”

• • •

He was her knight in shining armor and eight feet tall in her eyes (although, to look at his RAAB Flyers bastketball photo from 1944, Mack really does look as if he’s eight feet tall in comparison to the 11-foot bastketball rim behind him.) He was her new husband, and she was proud to be his wife.

In the fall of 1945, Hilda returned to Denton, as she and Mack were expecting the arrival of their first child the following February. In due course, Mack was ordered to Fort Bragg for discharge. Their daughter Sharon was born February 14, 1946, in High Point, and Mack recalled the trip home from the hospital with his wife and newborn daughter.

“I remember when Hilda, our newborn daughter Sharon and I left the High Point Hospital and traveled to Denton,” he said. “It was the same day that I was discharged from the service – February 24, 1946. We felt extremely blessed that I could hold our newborn daughter in my arms.”

Mack expressed agreement with fellow veteran and Lions Club member Ozzie Freund, who commented in last week’s article, “My hat goes off to those men who had to experience the horrors of battle.”

“When I look down the street from my front yard, I can see the house of the late Hiram Ward,” said Mack. “I am reminded that his airplane was shot down behind the Japanese lines and he was wounded. Hiram Ward was very lucky to finally get back to the Allied lines and later back home to Denton.

“Another neighbor of mine and also a Lion, Elwood Dockham, was a replacement pilot in the Japanese theater where 30 to 40% of the pilots were lost from various squadrons,” he continued. “And Lions member (John) Lomax was a part of Patton’s 3rd Army. Patton’s 3rd Army pushed the German Army back from France to Germany; Lomax was a part of the detachment that liberated the infamous Ohrdruf Concentration Camp in April 1945.

“I am glad that I was not given the orders to participate in any of those missions,” Cranford said with reverence. “There are several men in this community who still carry WWII scars from where they were wounded. Many husbands and fathers died before they ever had the opportunity to see or hold their child in their arms. I can name several citizens from this community that I entered the service with, but who did not come back home. Hilda and I have traveled overseas and we have seen the huge graveyards on foreign soil where service men are buried. YES! Hilda and I felt extremely lucky! I have and will continue to have an abiding respect and appreciation for those service men that experienced the horrors of war first hand!”

Today, the Cranfords continue to be active in their church, in civic endeavors, and in our community. In addition to their daughter, Sharon, Mack and Hilda have been blessed with three grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

They were also blessed with a son, Rodney, in 1951. Sadly, Rodney died from injuries received in an auto accident in December 1985, but they continue to honor his memory by working in conjunction with the NC Adopt-A-Highway program through the adoption of Highway 47 East. They also volunteer with a group for bereaved parents, Compassionate Friends, which meets monthly at Lexington Memorial Hospital.

Additionally, Mack and Hilda volunteer with Meals on Wheels and assist with BINGO at Mountain Vista Health Park. They have been recognized many times over the years and given numerous civic and church awards. And as was mentioned in the beginning of this article, Mack has given more than 50 years of service to the Denton Lions Club.

It is a tribute to Cranford that the very first piece of memorabilia that he brought out to show during the interview was a New Testament Bible, given to him from Central United Methodist Church in Denton and dated February 1943. Cranford is still a member there today. He has kept this New Testament Bible all these years as a mark of respect to his church and to the people of this community who prayed for him and his wife during a very difficult time in his life and in the life of our country.

Our community – our nation – owes a debt of gratitude to all of the people who had a positive impact on the outcome of WWII. It was truly a heroic effort by every American. That is why these WWII veterans, and their wives, are called “the Greatest Generation.”


Local woman charged with selling beer to minors
A local woman has been charged with selling beer to minors at her home on Jim Elliot Road south of Denton.

At approximately 1 a.m. on the morning of Saturday, June 17, Davidson County Sheriff’s Deputies responded to a tip that the woman, identified as 44-year-old Alice O’Conner Deaton, was selling beer from a keg to underage persons at $5.00 a head for all they could drink. When deputies arrived at the home, they found several people “standing around with cups and bottles of beer in their hands, consuming the beer,” reports said. Aside from the homeowner, all persons present ranged in age from 16 to 20 years old.

The minors were transported to the Davidson County Sheriff’s Office, where they were cited for Underage Consumption of Alcohol and released to their parents.

Deaton was taken into custody at her home and arrested on 16 counts of Sell/Give Malt Beverage to Persons Under the Age of 21. She was placed in the Davidson County Jail under $10,000 secured bond.