George H. Croom Sr. was born on October 25, 1920 in Jenkins, Kentucky. His father and mother, Shep and Frankie Croom, moved to Newark just before the 1930 census.
Newark was home to George. He was 23 years old when he enrolled in the Navy on January 23, 1943, leaving behind a wife and four-year-old son, George Jr. In a 2014 interview for the Licking County Library, George Jr. told a story he remembered visiting his father in Virginia during the war. George pointed out the racism that existed there when there was nowhere to go to play.
“My father was stationed in Virginia and my mother took me on a bus from Ohio to Virginia. My dad was still working on the base and I asked my mom if I could go to a place on a carousel. I wanted to ride a carousel. Anyway, this white sailor came and he knew Papa. He said to my mother, you’re George’s wife, aren’t you? My mother said yes, how did you know? Well, he’s a friend of mine, said the sailor. I want you to do the following. You’re picking up your son, so mom picked me up, then he picked up mom and carried us to the gate. He carried us through Virginia, places we could go and places I could play. When papa got out, he took us back to base. That has been one of the greatest blessings for me. The biggest tragedy of this whole thing is that he and my father boarded a ship and went overseas. The Japanese kamikaze plane hit the ship and killed him, my father survived. I always wanted to say thank you later in my life. But I never have to say thank you like that. But for me, color doesn’t make a difference. God made us that way. This man helped me see how equal everyone was. “
Croom Sr. served on two different Landing Craft Infantry Assault Ships in the Pacific Theater. He was first assigned to LCI-423 and then transferred to LCI-981 in May 1944. These ships were designed for 200 men and were used to land large numbers of infantrymen right on the beach. The 981st took part in the Morotai landings in New Guinea in September 1944. In November and December they were then active in Leyte and Luzon. In January and February 1945, they took part in the Manila Bay-Bicol operations and then in the consolidation and conquest of the southern Philippines.
With the end of World War II, Croom Sr. was discharged from the Navy but continued to serve in the Navy Reserve. He began taking commercial arts courses at the Hampton Institute in Virginia. According to an article by Newark Advocate published November 22, 1948, before the war he had begun drawing a comic as a hobby about, “Buck Basin, a freckled cowboy, always on the side of Law and order”. When he started art school, he returned to drawing the comic. According to the article, the comic began airing in the Norfolk Times on November 15th. He finished his studies in March 1949 and wanted to pursue his comic, unfortunately the Navy would need him again for his comic career.
Doug Stout is the Veterans Project Coordinator for the Licking County Library. You can contact him at 740-349-5571 or [email protected] His book “Never Forget: The Stories of Licking County Veterans” is available in the library or online at bookbaby.com.