Joe Crilley, An American Warrior, An American Artist
A few years ago I obtained the phone number of the ranking surviving officer of my Dad’s old Army unit, the 326th Airborne Engineer Battalion. So I call Captain Joe Crilley at his Carversville, PA home when his wife Sue answered my call. After I inquired about her husband, she asked who was calling. Doug Wilber, from Schenectady, NY I answered. Schenectady, NY she said rather matter of factually. Oh you heard of it, I said since many people haven’t heard of my hometown. Yeah! I was born there at Ellis Hospital, (the same place as myself).
Well after a while Joe comes to the phone and he tells me a war story. The tale is about an unlucky paratrooper of the 101st who parachuted into Normandy in the morning darkness of June 6, 1944. This particular trooper had the long odds of landing right in a hole meant for a Rommel Asparagus, a wooden pole that was to be sunk in the ground to rip apart Allied gliders destined to land on the Cotentin Peninsula. This trooper is stuck.
Well, the unfortunate paratrooper can’t get to his clicker that the Screaming Eagles used to signal to other troopers-one click was to be responded with two clicks. He also forgot the verbal challenge of “Flash” , which was to be answered by “Thunder”. So here he is, troopers clicking around him and asking “Flash0 with no response. Finally the paratrooper unleashes a barrage of insults to his buddies around, so they came and pulled him out of this hole. Why did they do that I asked Joe. “No German talks like that!” answered Captain Crilley.
Lt. Crilley was second in command of Charlie Company when he parachuted into Normandy. A few days later his commanding officer, Captain Francis Liberatori of Springfield, MA, would be shot in the spine, paralyzing him for life. “Crilley your in charge” Liberatori said as he was carried away. Lt Crilley was promoted to Captain on July 9, 1944.
Crilley would lead Charlie Company for the remaining 33 days that the Eagles spent in Normandy, surviving a gun shot that hit the side of his helmet, causing him to pretend he was dead. After the longest of time the German finally rose only to be cut down by Crilley’s M-1 Garand at 25 yards distance.
Joe Crilley would parachute again in Operation Market-Garden on September 17, 1944, and be part of the heroic stand at Bastogne for 25 days. Later he would fight in Germany, surviving a night in the frigid waters of the Rhine after a hisboat overturned carrying Major Hugh Mozley, commander of the 326th, Lt. Ray “Ike” Eisenhauer and Lt. George “Birdlegs” Dickson.
When the war ended, Joe Crilley would become an excellent oil painter and draw etchings of his pictures that he took during the conflict with his use d Leica 35 mm camera which appears on this website.
The following pages contain the recollections and drawings of Captain Joesph Crilley