Keller Lost a Hero

Frank Flanagan sent along the story of a man that lived in his neighborhood.  He is asking for support from the Mayor and Council to somehow honor this mans service to our country.

Crayton Robert Gordon, 89, passed away Tuesday, Jan. 6, 2009, at a local care center.
Funeral: 11:30 a.m. Saturday in Mount Olivet Chapel. Interment: Mount Olivet Cemetery. Visitation: 10 to 11 a.m. Saturday at the funeral home.
Memorials: Meadowbrook United Methodist Church, 3900 Meadowbrook Drive, Fort Worth, Texas 76103; Community Hospice of Texas, 6100 Western Place, Suite 500, Fort Worth, Texas 76107; Wise County Historical Society, Lost Battalion Fund, Box 427, Decatur, Texas 76234; or a charity of choice, in lieu of flowers.
Crayton was born July 8, 1919, in Itasca to Mattie Manor Gordon and Andrew Robert Gordon. He graduated from Itasca High School and attended Texas Tech and TCU. He was a life member of the Ex-POW Association and a 50-year Mason and Shriner. While attending Texas Tech, Crayton and three of his buddies joined the Texas National Guard and in 1940, the Guard was mobilized into the 36th Division, 3rd Army, 131st Field Artillery, 2nd Battalion. The unit was three days at sea out of Pearl Harbor when it was bombed in 1941. The unit was headed to the Philippines but was diverted to Australia and then to Java (now Jakarta). They were captured March 8, 1941, by the Japanese and held prisoner for 42 months, becoming known as the Lost Battalion of Texas. He remained in the National Guard until 1946. Several years later, Crayton returned to Texas and joined his family’s business, Gordon Supply and Salvage Co., on East Lancaster Avenue in Fort Worth.
Crayton married Frankie Mae Gowdy on March 21, 1958, and celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary in 2008. They have been members of Meadowbrook United Methodist Church for 50 years and members of the Upper Room Sunday School Class. After the family sold the business, they retired to Keller in 1990.
Even though Crayton had many health problems, he tried to make the best of life until the end. He was never bitter — he loved his country and knew it was the best country in the world. Crayton always had a large garden and shared the produce with neighbors and friends. He and Frankie became “famous” for their pickled jalapeno green beans and okra as well as their best loved jalapeno jelly.
He was preceded in death by both parents; brother, Sam Manor Gordon; and sister, Frances Gordon Peadon.
Survivors: Wife, Frankie; children, Lurline Gordon Riordan, Ann Gordon and Crayton R. “Bob” Gordon Jr. and wife, Becky; several grandchildren, Sean Riordan, Jonathan Gordon and wife, Erin, and Holly Gordon; niece, Roseann Balik Renfro and husband, Randy; great-niece, Taylor; brother-in-law, Fred Gowdy; and numerous other nieces, nephews and cousins.

Remembering the ‘Lost Battalion’

Texans’ first-hand accounts of ‘Death Railway’ fade with memories, numbers

On a recent Friday afternoon, Crayton Gordon stepped out of his Keller home into the blazing sun to get the mail. Stepping back in, he couldn’t remember dropping some of the pieces on the front lawn.

At 88, despite two heart attacks and other health complications, Gordon, an Army prisoner of war in the 1940s, gets around well but struggles with his memory. Such is the state of the story behind one of the most infamous prisoner of war experiences – construction of the so-called “Death Railway” of World War II.

Though a healthy body of materials about the horrific experiences of Allied soldiers laying the Burma-Thailand railway exists, first-hand accounts like Gordon’s are fading.

“At one time I weighed 93 pounds,” Gordon said. “I can’t remember a lot of that anymore.”

He has told his story before – how 902 American soldiers were taken prisoner when they surrendered to the Japanese in March 1942 on Java, an island in the Dutch East Indies. After capture, his unit, the U.S. Army 2nd Battalion, 131st Field Artillery, spent 42 months with survivors of the U.S.S. Houston, a ship that sank off the coast of Java, and together became to be known as the Texas “Lost Battalion.”

Gordon was one of 668 Americans sent to Burma to build the railway. It was dangerous, deadly work: 133 of those prisoners — one-fifth — died. Fearful of torture and execution, they worked 18-hour days, through starvation, ulcers and outbreaks of malaria, amebic dysentery and cholera.

Hundreds of thousands of POWs and civilian forced laborers died building the nearly 260-mile railway. American survivors were sent to prison camps throughout Southeast Asia, remaining lost to the United States until the end of the war in 1945.

Gordon was liberated from Changi jail in Singapore, but remembers only fleeting details.

“I’ve been trying to forget it all my life,” he now says with a smile.

He has told his story to a number of authors, including Ronald Marcello, former director of the oral history program at the University of North Texas, in 1977. Another, Robert La Forte, compiled stories from 22 prisoners in his 1993 book, Building the Death Railway: The Ordeal of American POWs in Burma, 1942-1945. Of them, Gordon is one of three remaining.

“They didn’t believe the stories that actually happened to me,” Gordon said.

Neither, perhaps, did Hollywood.

“We all laughed,” Gordon’s wife, Frankie, said, recalling the reaction of her husband and other former POWs to the 1957 film about the Death Railway, The Bridge on the River Kwai. “It’s not in the history books.”

But there is a room in the Wise County Heritage Museum in Decatur dedicated to the Lost Battalion, started by Rosalee Greg, a survivor’s widow, that elicits a different reaction from them. Just last month, for example, Arthur B. Clark, 86, of Abilene, saw the room for the first time. He brought his son and grandchildren and left in tears.

It’s an emotional response likely understood only by the survivors themselves. That understanding has formed a strength and a brotherhood between them and their families that’s unexplainable, said Pat Cadenhead, who with her husband is in charge of planning the survivors’ annual reunion this year, which will be in Farmer’s Branch.

“Up until four or five years ago, if one of them passed away, the church was full. And if one was ill, God help the person that said, ‘You’re not family,’ ” Cadenhead said. “Now it’s more difficult because the numbers just aren’t there.”

Fewer than 30 survivors came to last year’s reunion. As the number of Lost Battalion members and other World War II veterans diminishes across the country, their first-hand recollections have become less available.

But what matters most to Gordon and likely the other survivors, “I was fortunate to come home, and life has been good.”

When they were liberated on Sept. 7, 1945, members of the 131st Field Artillery were flown to Calcutta, India, to receive medical care and reunite. There, the allied POWs gathered, and after a long session of shouting, a silence was finally broken by soldiers singing their British, Dutch and American national anthems – expressions of gratitude for their final freedom.

After receiving medical care at Walter Reed Hospital in Washington, D.C., Gordon made his way back to Texas and opened a hardware store in Fort Worth. He sold the business in 1975 and retired, moving to Keller in 1990 with his wife.

“I can’t remembera lot of that anymore … I’ve been trying to forget it all my life”

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One response to “Keller Lost a Hero

  • Frank Flanagan

    Thanks for posting Doug. I know there are many veterans that live in the area and would deserve to be honored but knowing the story behind Mr. Gordon’s survival of the Death Railway in WWII is just an amazing story. I remember watching the movie, “The Bridge on the River Kwai”, and to know someone that actually lived that is special. Mr. Gordon never thought he did anything special and probably wonders what all the fuss is about. That generation is special and there are so few of them still alive. I am thankful for all of their contributions and sacrifices.

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