“I don’t know whether he thought it wasn’t right to tell us kids. He didn’t really share much of those stories,” his son, Frank Jr., told FOX 8.
But as life in peacetime rolled on, the former MP opened up more about his time stationed in France and Germany. Since then, “he has always loved to tell stories about himself,” said Frank Jr.’s wife Cindy.
Frank Sr. is known as a hard worker — he often juggled multiple jobs in a day — as well as “a gentle soul,” Cindy said. He’s a former state wrestling champ and titanic weightlifter who partially deadlifted 600 pounds at 80 years young. To this day, he remains a picture of physical health, his son said — “it’s just unbelievable,” his son said.
But as his age mounted and his hearing began to leave him, Frank Sr., now in a Wadsworth nursing home, became quieter. “He has good and bad days,” Frank Jr. said.
His family and caregivers wanted to make sure Frank Sr.’s story was told when he turned 100 years old on Saturday — and they got a bit of help from the office of U.S. Rep. Anthony Gonzalez of Rocky River, R-16th.
Though the U.S. government was only supposed to discharge a few hundred thousand service members after the war’s end, about 6 million ended up going home, Gonzalez’ veterans liaison Bryan Bowman told FOX 8. But at that time, medal production had yet to begin, he said.
To this day, “well over half of all World War II veterans have never received their medals,” Bowman said — including Frank McCrork Sr.
That changed at a ceremony Saturday at his nursing home, where Bowman presented him with all the military honors he earned but never officially received:
- The World War II Victory Medal, given out to all who served in the war
- A Good Conduct Medal for his honorable service
- The American Campaign Medal, signifying his service in one American theater of operations
- The European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, for his two campaigns in France, including a Bronze Star accompaniment
- An Honorable Service Lapel Button, colloquially known as the “Ruptured Duck pin”
Four members of an honor guard saluted Frank Sr. and spoke about his service. Frank Jr. and his daughter Robin draped their father in a quilt representing his service, gifted by Quilts of Valor.
“He did enjoy himself. He was very proud,” said Cindy. “He got choked up a couple times.”
Frank Sr. was also one of several brothers and stepbrothers, all of whom served simultaneously in World War II, Frank Jr. said. “That was before the time you weren’t allowed to do that,” he said. All returned home safely.
There’s also more to Frank Sr.’s record than meets the eye, Bowman said.
In Bowman’s 10 years of presenting military honors, Frank McCrork Sr. is the first veteran he’s seen who was qualified to use an M1982A1 Thompson submachine gun, colloquially called a “Tommy” gun, which had a drum canister for ammunition. It’s a weapon few carried or were trained to use during the war, outside of “select MPs,” he said.
“Most World War II soldiers used the M1 or M1A1 that were modified. … He must have qualified on the original,” Bowman said.
‘A good provider’
After returning to civilian life, Frank Sr. became a machinist. He worked for Babcock & Wilcox in Barberton for nearly 40 years. But that was just the first shift. He also detailed cars on several sales lots and moonlighted as a janitor, Frank Jr. said.
He had two children, a son, Frank Jr., and daughter, Robin. Later came five grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
“He just tried to be a good provider,” Frank Jr. said. “If I ever wanted to see him, I had to ride my bicycle to go see him at his second job. … If he didn’t do that, he was mowing somebody’s lawn.”
Frank Sr. is an avid fisherman and often took any spare moment on the water. It was his “solitude time,” Cindy said. He stayed in shape, even into his golden years, lifting weights at home. After turning 80, he partially deadlifted 600 pounds, Frank Jr. said.
He also walked five miles a day until he was nearly 90 — “big walks” where he often stopped to interact with his Wadsworth neighbors, his son said.
It’s only been in the last few years that Frank Sr. got quieter, his son said. He’s hard of hearing, which causes him to become detached from conversations — “unless he’s the one doing the talking,” Frank Jr. said coyly.
‘My hundred years’
The stories from wartime that Frank Sr. eventually shared with his children were difficult to hear, his family said.
He talked of the “deplorable” conditions during his initial deployment, time spent on a cramped and unhygienic ship wracked with sickness. There were times where lack of food caused he and other service members to consider foraging from gardens in the native countryside.
He’s also recounted his experiences for his caregivers at his nursing home.
Brooklyn Crist is the activities director who coordinated an open house for Frank Sr. on Friday at the nursing home, Sanctuary of Wadsworth. She listened to his stories to prepare a trivia game about his life and service. He told her about the time he used his coat to shelter German children from the cold, she said.
“He had tears in his eyes when he would remember,” she said. “It grew my gratitude for him and every other veteran who has served. It really opened my eyes to that, to say the least.”
Active servicemen often couldn’t tell their relatives where they were stationed, she said. Crist’s own great-grandfather, in letters to his wife back home, would often changed his middle initial, creating a series of coded letters she could use to spell out his deployment. That was how she knew he was safe, she said.
Her great-grandfather, too, never talked about his service, Crist recalled.
“But when it comes to Frank, Frank has always been so open about it. When it comes back it all comes back at once,” she said. “He just sits there and says, ‘I’ve been through a lot in my hundred years and I say, ‘Frank, yes you have.’
“I think that just goes with the healing and the coping process. Frank is just one who wants to share all these stories as much as possible.”
At Friday’s open house, Frank Sr. received an official proclamation from Wadsworth Mayor Robin Laubaugh, among several other honors, and “chowed down” on his favorite homemade ice cream, made by his nephew, and cake.
“All my friends were saluting him,” Cindy said. “Everyone made him feel important.
“He took pictures with all his grandkids. He was happy.”
She thanked the Sanctuary at Wadsworth staff “for the lovely party they planned for Frank,” giving him the honor he deserves and telling his story one more time.
“The courage that he had to go through what he did — go through the deplorable conditions — it makes you have the utmost respect,” Cindy said.