The 58th Bomb Wing Memorial has a page about him here.
My family asked me to write the eulogy for his funeral service, and I thought I’d share it with you, as follows:
A few years ago, at the age of 89, my grandfather woke up one morning and decided to go deer hunting. He got his rifle out of the gun case, dressed warm and went outside to the shed behind the house. He took a seat and stuck the barrel of his gun out the window until a deer came along. And then he shot it. When I asked him later if he preferred that method instead walking miles and miles through the cold woods for hours on end, he leaned close and whispered, “Brian, I just can’t get out there and walk those mountains like I used to.” After a pause, he added, “But I still brought it down with one shot.”
When I was eight years old, my grandparents took my sister and I swimming in the Greenbrier River one day, and my grandfather found this rock for me. It’s a fossil. Consider for a moment—after this fossil was created, it lay there on the bottom of that river for thousands and thousand of years until my Grandfather found it. For decades, it has filled both me and my sons with wonder and delight. I’ve never had much luck holding on to things in my life, but I’ve always held on to this rock. When times got tough – and there have been times that were exceedingly tough – I could always look to this rock for hope.
In many ways, my grandfather was like this rock.
Born September 6, 1919, Ward William Crowley was one of 8 children. They lived in Greenbank. His father, Russell, was the town Sheriff, but that didn’t stop Ward from getting into mischief. When he was five, he was playing in his father’s new Chevy touring car along with his brother Clyde (who was 7) and Jarrett (who was 3). The car had been parked on top of a hill overlooking the family’s chicken house. Somehow, they disengaged the parking brake, and the car started rolling down the hill. My grandfather and Clyde jumped free, but little Jarrett clung to the wheel and steered the car away from the chicken house. For his valiant efforts, Jarrett got bread, butter and brown sugar. My grandfather and his brother, meanwhile, got spanked with the razor strap.
This seemed to be a common theme. Another time, the two older boys became jealous of Jarrett’s bright new balloon. They tried cajoling him into popping it, but he refused. They offered him candy (which they didn’t have) and other bribes, but still he refused. Eventually, Grandpa and Clyde decided to make Jarrett eat a cow patty as punishment. Their mother stepped in before the deed could be done and once again, Jarrett got bread, butter and brown sugar while Grandpa and Clyde became further acquainted with the razor strap.
Despite sibling rivalries, Ward was always someone his brothers and sisters could look to for hope and strength. He was their rock.
Eventually, he grew up and joined the Army Air Corps. He became a radioman on a B-29, and he flew countless missions all over the world, including numerous bombing raids over Japan. He flew throughout World War II, from the beginning of that terrible conflict until the very end of the war. He saw men die in the most horrible ways imaginable, but it never shook his faith. A few years ago, I had the opportunity to speak on the phone with Ace Hall, one of my grandfather’s fellow crewmembers. Ace told me that my Grandfather was the guy who always gave them hope. He was their rock.
Grandpa came home on leave, after being stationed in Panama and Galapagos for 20 months, and while he was home, he met a young woman named Anna Ruth Lyall. They had one date before he had to ship back out, but they wrote to each other nearly every day. Seven months later, they were married.
They had two children, Mark and Shannon. Sadly, Mark lost his life in an automobile accident at the age of sixteen. During this tragedy, my grandmother and my mother and the rest of the family clung to two things to see them through that terrible time: the first was their faith. The second was my grandfather. He was their rock.
He retired from the Air Force in 1964 and after a stint working at Fort Deitrich, retired from Civil Service in 1975. After that, he and my Grandmother moved back here and they’ve lived here ever since. My grandfather was active in this community. He volunteered his time, money, blood and sweat to this very church we are gathered in. He helped build the community center in Renick. He was always available to lend a hand to his friends and neighbors. And just like he was for his children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nephews, and nieces, he was a playmate, mentor and advisor for several generations of youngsters.
He was this community’s rock.
My grandfather lived a full and varied life – one marked by love and hope, tragedy and heartbreak, faith and charity. When things got tough, he never shirked, never backed down, never once asked for the cup to be taken from his lips. He accepted all of life’s triumphs and tragedies with strength and faith and a steadfast belief that good will always triumph over evil and that love and kindness will always prevail. He was a rock, and while he is no longer with us, his memory is. Just as my sons and I have looked at this fossil with a continued sense of amazement and wonder, we can all look back on and consider my grandfather’s example in the years to come, and in doing so, we will find peace and wisdom and an inner strength of our own.
After flying thousands of miles, he’s taken one final flight. He passed away on the first day of squirrel season, and I’d like to think that maybe it’s the first day of squirrel season in Heaven, too, and that he’s with his son, Mark, and his friends Matthew and Billy and Frank, and other loved ones who arrived there before him, and that he’s still bringing them down with just one shot.
I’d like to close with the words of Lt. Colonel Theodore Danielson, US Army Airborne: “Well done, faithful soldier. Be thou at peace.”