WW2 Pilot Died That His Crew Might Live: Belated heroism recounted graveside

By Chaplain John Hatfield, Rhode Island Army National Guard

John 15:13 “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”

These days it seems the word “hero” has lost some of its original uniqueness. We use it to  describe sports figures or media celebrities. This past quarter, however, I was blessed to officiate a graveside memorial service for a real hero. His name was 1LT John Crouchley from Providence Rhode Island. During the Second World War, 1LT Crouchley served as a pilot of a B-24 Bomber with the 828th Bombardment Squadron 485th Bombardment group – 15th Air Force out of Venosa, Italy.

In June of 1944, after completing a mission over Bulgaria, Crouchley’s Bomber was critically hit by attacking German planes. His bomber lost engines on one side and lost the function of the autopilot. All nine fellow crew members were able to bail out of the plane while Crouchley held the plane steady. Moments after the last crew members parachuted out, the bomber crashed on a remote hillside in Bulgaria. All nine crew became POWs but eventually returned home safely. This story of heroism only became known recently. While Crouchley’s wife and son were no longer living and never knew of his heroism, his grandchildren and many of the descendants of the nine crew members were on hand to pay tribute to this remarkable man.

In my funeral remarks I noted that biblical love involves more than just feelings. It primarily involves sacrifice – “laying down your life.” This sacrificial love was expressed through actions of 1LT Crouchley who died that others may live. I noted that this is the central message of the Christian faith – that Christ laid down His life that others may live.

The funeral gained some attention in small Rhode Island. By God’s grace the local news covered  the funeral and even quoted John 15:13 in their opening remarks on the evening news (see link below). In what some have found as one of the “least bible minded” states in the country, I was rejoicing that God’s Word was being proclaimed by the news. This man gave his life for his friends and was a true hero. May the LORD use his sacrifice to point others to the ultimate sacrifice and bring more into his heavenly kingdom.

Links to article and news story:

https://youtu.be/Vk3_sxQ33JY  (No Greater Love)

For more stories by and about CBAmerica’s 200 chaplains – civilian and military – visit our webpage at http://cbamerica.org/category/chaplaincy/.  To learn more about endorsement for chaplaincy, email Andy Meverden at chapandy@cbamerica.org.