Charles Bracken, Bruce Hamilton, Juan Vega, Merriman Vise, E.J. Crownover

Sharna Johnson

Editor’s note: World War II officially ended Sept. 2, 1945, when the Japanese signed surrender terms. We’re honoring the war’s area veterans over the next several months with these brief profiles.

Charles Bracken
Date of birth: March 25,1914
Dates of service: 1943-1945
Hometown: Friona
Current residence: Clovis
Theater or location of service: Alaska — Bering Straits, Attu Island, France, Germany
Military branch: Army
Rank at time of discharge: Corporal
Unit and specialty: Infantry
After discharge: Friona

Serving in Alaska, Europe and numerous locations in between, Bracken recalls his experiences vividly. During his time in Alaska, Bracken recalls digging a 2-foot deep trench in the frozen ground to serve as a mass grave for the bodies of approximately 1,000 Japanese soldiers who had died in the fighting.

Bracken also tells the story of how his life was saved by a German. He had become separated from his unit and was walking through a small town when he was approached by a German man who was excitedly trying to direct him to a nearby forest.

Skeptically, he followed, surprised, as the man further indicated that he should climb a tree. Not sure why he was following such odd directions, he climbed the tree and sat on a branch waiting to see what was next. Shortly, two Nazi soldiers appeared and approached the man who had led Bracken to the tree. The men started talking as Bracken, above in the tree and unable to understand the quickly flowing German language, watched quietly. Pointing and excited conversation ensued before the soldiers began walking away in a direction the man had pointed out to them.

As the Nazi soldiers left, suddenly Bracken realized the soldiers had been looking for him and that the German man had hidden him from them and more than likely saved his life.

Bruce Hamilton
Born: Nov. 2, 1915
Dates of service: 1935-1963 (career)
Hometown: Summersville, W. Va.
Current residence: Clovis
Theater or location of service: Europe and South Pacific
Unit and specialty: 19th Infantry, supply unit
After discharge: Louisville, Ky.

As the fighting in Germany began to slow, Hamilton and his unit were transferred to the Philippines via the Panama Canal. Hamilton recalls the 39-day trip through the Mediterranean Sea as a long and tedious journey.

When they landed in the Philippines, Hamilton refers to their duties as “cleaning up the mess” or fighting the Japanese that were there.

It wasn’t long after this trip to the Philippines the war came to an end, a fact Hamilton feels fortunate about because the next stop for his unit would have been Japan. After the end of the war, Hamilton’s unit rode in an 11-ship victory convoy back to San Francisco.

Juan Vega
Date of birth: Sept. 29,1920
Dates of service: 1942-1946
Hometown: Corpus Christi, Texas
Current residence: Clovis
Theater or location of service: Europe
Military branch: Army
Rank at time of discharge: Private 1st Class
Unit and specialty: 414th armored field artillery battalion, supply
After discharge: Corpus Christi, Texas

Vega was assigned to a supply unit serving in Europe. Every morning the colonel in command would select men from the unit to send to the front; somehow Vega was never sent, a fact for which he feels most fortunate.

Vega remembers that on the train as he was returning home, he ran into an old buddy that he hadn’t seen since the beginning of his enlistment. The man exclaimed “ you’re alive” as soon as he saw him.

As they talked Vega learned a rumor had circulated he had been killed by a mortar round. He was shocked to discover he had been thought dead by many of his friends.

Of his experiences in the war, Vega simply stated “I was a very lucky man.”

Merriman Vise
Born: 1923
Dates of service: 1943-1945
Hometown: Lazbuddie, Texas
Current residence: Clovis
Theater or location of service: European
Branch: Army
Rank: Infantry sergeant
Unit and Specialty: Infantry, 63rd Infantry Division, 254th Battalion Company D, machine gunner
After discharge: Phoenix
Veteran organizations: VFW, Muleshoe

Vice describes himself as “one of the few who were crazy enough to like it,” referring to his war-time military service. He believes he was too young at the time to realize the severity of the situation but instead felt invincible.

“I wouldn’t do it again for a million dollars, but I enjoyed every minute in the Army,” he said.

E.J. Crownover
Born: April 6, 1912
Dates of Service: 1942-1944
Hometown: Fort Sumner
Current residence: Clovis
Theater or location of service: Germany
Branch: Army
Unit and Specialty: 17th Airborne, first scout of the platoon
After discharge: Fort Sumner
Veteran organizations: Fort Sumner American Legion member until post was closed.

Crownover and his unit were involved in heavy combat on numerous occasions; the time that stands out for him was when his airborne unit jumped over the Rhine River on March 23, 1945, and partnered with a British glider division. They landed behind enemy lines and then fought their way through to Berlin.

According to Crownover, the war ended shortly thereafter.

World War II profiles are compiled by CNJ staff writer Sharna Johnson. Contact her at 763-6991 or by e-mail:
sharna_johnson@link.freedom.com