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WW II Navy veteran headed for D.C. memorials

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POSTED: May 19, 2010 1:02 p.m.
Photo by Denise Etheridge/

Hinesville resident Harold Cross holds a model of the U.S.S. Portland, the battleship he served aboard during World War II. Cross's cousin, Bill Yoder, now deceased, handcrafted the model using actual ship blue prints.

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Hinesville resident Harold Cross, 91, said he joined the U.S. Navy in 1943. Cross said he enlisted in the Navy instead of the Army because he did not want to “fight the war from a foxhole.” The former sailor said his younger brother, Merville, served in the Army.
The Waterloo, Iowa, farm boy manned an anti-aircraft gun aboard the U.S.S. Portland for three years. He saw action in the Philippines and was part of a reconnaissance mission to Kiska, one of the Aleutian Islands about 1,200 miles west of Alaska’s peninsula.
On Friday, Cross will join 13 other World War II veterans for an Honor Flight trip to visit war memorials in Washington, D.C. Honor Flight Savannah will depart from Savannah’s Amtrak train station at 8 p.m. Friday and will return at 6:44 a.m. Sunday.
“This group includes five marines who fought in the Pacific, including the Battle of Iwo Jima, as well as our first-ever female veteran, Gladys F. Harris of Yemassee, S.C.,” Honor Flight Savannah media liaison Carol Megathlin said. “Ms. Harris was a private in the Women’s Army Corps.”
Honor Flight Savannah Chairman Tim Bulick said 11 volunteers, including a registered nurse, will accompany the veterans, most of whom are in their 80s.
“Everyone agrees it is a long trip,” Bulick said of the 12-hour train ride. “But it’s well worth it. We may charter a bus for our next trip.”
Honor Flight chapters traditionally offered aging veterans air transportation to D.C. However, Bulick said plane travel has its disadvantages such as having to depart extremely early in the morning and arrive home late at night.
Cross said he’s excited about the trip. His nephew, Liberty County Development Authority CEO Ron Tolley, said he offered to drive his uncle to D.C., but maintains Cross wasn’t persuaded to make the trip until he was contacted by Honor Flight.
“He feels more comfortable going with other veterans,” Tolley said.
Cross, who now lives with Tolley, said he helped raise his nephew. Tolley’s mother was Cross’s oldest sister.
“There were 11 children in our family,” Cross said. “I had six brothers and five sisters. I was just a poor boy. We had to work hard for a living.”
Cross’s father was a milk man and delivered milk bottles to people’s porches by cart, he said.
When World War II broke out, most young men went into the military to “serve the duration of the war,” Cross said.
The former sailor recalled the time his ship “shot over the head” of his soldier brother, whose unit had landed in the Philippines for one ferocious battle. His brother also survived the war.
“We mostly patrolled the Pacific,” Cross said. His ship also patrolled the Bering Sea.
Cross said the Japanese, who had landed on the island of Kiska, were gone by the time the U.S.S. Portland arrived.
“The weather was so bad the Japanese figured out this was no place to have a war,” he said. “We were there in July and we were wearing all the warm weather clothes — like parkas — we had.”
Cross said when he first arrived on board ship, he was afraid he would get seasick. He had never sailed on the ocean before he joined the Navy, he said.
An older sailor advised him to eat “whatever I had in my pockets, a candy bar or crackers.”
“The ship really rolled,” Cross said. “They called it the ‘rolling pea’ or the ‘sweet pea.’”
After the war, Cross worked at a number of jobs in the Midwest. He was a farmhand in Iowa before moving in with his sister and her minister husband near Mt. Vernon, Ill. There, he worked in a meat packing plant, built railroad cars and was later employed by the Times-Leader newspaper. He worked in the newspaper’s print shop.
“I had (taken) a little printing in high school,” Cross said. “They wanted a man at the paper that could set type. So, I asked for a job. They asked to see my fingers. I guess they were long enough.”
 

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