Clarence Byrle Craft (1921–2002)
Clarence Byrle Craft, a native of California, received the Medal of Honor for his actions on Hen Hill during the Battle of Okinawa in 1945. He moved to Arkansas after World War II and died in Fayetteville (Washington County).
Clarence B. Craft was born on September 23, 1921, in San Bernardino, California, the son Louis E. Craft and Pearl Collins Craft. His father, a railroad engineer, died in an accident in 1929 or 1930. His mother worked as a cook in the Harvey House restaurant chain, which led her and her children to move frequently. When World War II began, Craft joined the U.S. Army at Santa Ana, California, and shipped out as a private first class in Company G, 382nd Infantry Regiment, Ninety-Sixth Infantry Division.
U.S. troops invaded Okinawa on April 1, 1945, and began a bloody advance against Japanese forces holding a series of defensive lines in a last-ditch effort to defend their homeland. By the end of May, elements of the Ninety-Sixth had been held for twelve days before Hen Hill northeast of Shuri—the key to the Japanese Naha-Shuri-Yonabaru line—suffering heavy casualties.
On May 31, 1945, Craft and five others from Company G were sent as an advance to another attack on the Japanese defenders. Japanese rifle and machinegun fire and grenade attacks quickly wounded three of the men and pinned down the others. Craft then attacked on his own, standing exposed and shooting at any available targets. According to the Medal of Honor citation, he advanced “unhesitatingly facing alone the strength that had previously beaten back attacks in battalion strength.” Craft reached the summit of Hen Hill and stood silhouetted, throwing grenades into the Japanese trenches. His stand allowed other American soldiers to advance and hand him additional grenades; he hurled a total of two cases at the Japanese defenders.
As Craft stood atop the hill, American and Japanese troops threw grenades over him toward each other. He then attacked the main Japanese trench “as confusion and panic seized the defenders.” His point-blank fire killed many Japanese soldiers while others fled. Continuing to advance, he destroyed a heavy machinegun position with rifle fire and grenades. Pursuing the fleeing Japanese to a cave, Craft hurled a satchel charge after them. When it failed to explode, he went into the cave, retrieved the explosives, relit the fuse, and tossed the satchel back in, collapsing the mouth of the cave.
President Harry Truman presented Craft with the Medal of Honor in a ceremony on the White House lawn on November 1, 1945. The medal citation concluded: “In the local action, against tremendously superior forces heavily armed with rifles, machineguns, mortars, and grenades, Pfc. Craft killed at least 25 of the enemy [about 70 Japanese soldiers were killed in all], but his contribution to the campaign on Okinawa was of much more far-reaching consequence for Hen Hill was the key to the entire defense line, which rapidly crumbled after his utterly fearless and heroic attack.”
Following the fighting at Okinawa, Craft was brought back to the United States to train troops at Fort Ord, California. His term of service ended in 1946, but he reenlisted the next year, serving with the occupation forces in Japan before going into the Korean War with the Second Infantry Division from 1950 to 1953. He mustered out at Barstow, California.
Craft married Betty Jane Morgan, and they had a son, Ray. After their divorce, he married Tamae Ban, adopting her four sons from a previous marriage; they had a daughter, Sally Ann, together.
Craft moved to Arkansas around 1963 to be near his mother, brother, and sister, who resided in Rogers (Benton County). He worked in the construction industry and was a member of the Laborers’ International Union of North America in addition to the Veterans of Foreign Wars, Disabled American Veterans, and American Legion. After his retirement, he was a volunteer orderly at the Fayetteville veterans’ hospital. In 1995, the City of Fayetteville acquired a 4.75-acre park in the Hidden Lake Subdivision; it was named Clarence Craft Park in 1999.
Clarence Craft died of complications from cancer on March 28, 2002, at the Fayetteville Veterans Administration Medical Center and is buried in the Fayetteville National Cemetery.
For additional information:
Appleton, Roy E., James M. Burns, Russell A. Gugeler, and John Stephens. Okinawa: The Last Battle. Washington DC: Center of Military History, United States Army, 2005.
“Clarence B. Craft (Obituary).” Northwest Arkansas Times, March 31, 2002, p. 2.
“Clarence B. Craft.” Congressional Medal of Honor Society. http://www.cmohs.org/recipient-detail/2691/craft-clarence-b.php (accessed November 21, 2017).
Newhouse, Keith, ed. “Clarence Craft: Medal of Honor Winner.” Flashback 45 (February 1995): 1–6.
“PFC Clarence B. Craft, Medal of Honor: Hastened the End Campaign on Okinawa.” Voice of OC. https://voiceofoc.org/2016/11/pfc-clarence-b-craft-medal-of-honor-hastened-the-end-of-the-campaign-on-okinawa/ (accessed November 21, 2017).
Rice, Maylon. “Clarence Craft’s Military Exploits on Hen Hill Well Documented.” Northwest Arkansas Times, March 31, 2017, p. 2.
Mark K. Christ
Little Rock, Arkansas
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