A Son’s Memories of Tom Cronin

These comments about Clarence T. (Tom) Cronin are from his son, Ed Cronin.

“My father, like many of the survivors of WW II and prisoners of war, never talked much about his experience. What I can tell you about his is that he had full-blown PTSD but in those days it just was not recognized. He was a man with a good heart underneath it all but he had an explosive temper through most of his life. He was typical in that he would jump out of bed in the middle of the night and get under his bed to cover himself from “attack.”

“He was street kid from Brooklyn, New York, who literally grew up on the streets. He worked in the Brooklyn Navy yard for a while before his service in the military. He actually had two stints in the army—one in the ’30s, and then again during WWII. He was a really good boxer when he was in the military.

“I recently made contact with a guy who was in his outfit when they landed at Oran in Algeria. This gentleman tells me that he and my father were in the third regiment (1st Infantry Division, Big Red One) and were actually in the same company but different platoons. He told me that when the troops landed in Oran they landed on three different beaches, and he and my father landed on Arzew beach.

“You asked about my father’s experience when he got out. I can give you bits and pieces of what he told me. Again, I was young and it is hard to grab context but this is my best memory.

“He was captured in North Africa and as I remember he may have been taken to Sicily first. He told me that he was in more than one prison camp and that he had made several escape attempts during his period of confinement.

“One escape occurred when he was in a boxcar on a moving train. He and some other guys went out through a ventilation hole in the roof of the car. He said he jumped from the train and landed on his face and split his nose open. He had a fairly nasty scar on his face as a souvenir of the event. Whether or not he ended up escaping from Camp 59 at the time when the big break out came I do not know.

“I do know that my father was an incorrigible character in many ways and no one was ever going to dominate him—thus the reason why he tried to escape many times. Some of things he told me need be taken in the context of his attitude. He told me that he did not have much use for the British. Evidently he wasn’t into their style of discipline, so he never thought much of them. His mom was from Ireland and felt British persecution before she came to America, so he always felt this bitterness that was passed down from his mother.

“He spoke of his time on the run in Italy, and I remember him saying that he ‘walked the length of the boot up and down two times’ while he was on the run.

“He also said that he was on the run for several months before he made it back to the lines.

“Another story my father told me was that the use of olive oil when he was in Italy saved his feet. He stated that he used to rub his feet constantly with olive oil and always extolled its benefit in that even the Germans used it to run their tanks.

“He never mentioned any kindness that was given to him by the Italians, but there must have been or he would not have survived. He did mention that a Catholic priest turned in some of his buddies that were on the run and he was always bitter about that.

“I don’t have any documents or other photos of my father’s experience. I wrote to St. Louis to get his records and I got the ‘fire letter, destroyed’ back.

“I know that a lot of what I wrote of my dad in this e-mail may not be flattering but despite it all I loved him and he was my hero. I remember when I was deciding whether or not to enlist during Vietnam my father getting very serious with me and saying, ‘You’re not going, I’ve seen war and this is not a war worth fighting.’

“My mother and my father raised eight kids. He was a tough bird and became a big union guy after the war.”

See also the post “Clarence ‘Tom’ Cronin.”