Quiet and unassuming Lincoln Charles Crofts left Valley at the age of 19 to serve in the U.S. Army during World War II. At the end of the war, Lincoln returned to Valley and married his sweetheart, Bessie Hughes, from Panguitch, who had faithfully written and waited for him. The Victory Medal he was to receive at the end of the war was never presented to him. Through the efforts of Mike Turner, a Richfield businessman, Utah was finally able to join the National Honor Flight Network last fall, created with the sole purpose of honoring America’s heroes for their sacrifice during World War II. When Mike learned that Lincoln had not received his Victory Medal, he invited him to join the Utah Honor Flight and fly with them to Washington, D.C. At a special banquet held in their honor, Brigadier General Patrick J. Doherty, USAF and Director Air Force Services, Washington, D.C. presented the overdue medals to Lincoln and 24 other Utah Veterans. The next day, the Utah group was able to visit “their” World War II Memorial, as well as the new Korean War Memorial, the Vietnam Memorial, and the Tomb of the Unknown Solider.

At the end of World War II, the United States Congress ordered 16 million Victory Medals to be presented to all returning veterans. (Over 400,000 Americans gave their lives during that war alone.) Only three million medals were made and less than 800,000 were actually presented. Not only was this the “Forgotten War,” the medals they should have received were forgotten as well.

As the years passed, the Vietnam Memorial was dedicated, but no memorial was ever made for those who fought in World War II or Korea. In 1993, Congress passed legislation authorizing the building of a National World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C. The President signed the authorizing legislation into law on May 25, 1993. Unfortunately a large number of the World War II Veterans died before a memorial was erected. The memorial opened to the public on April 29, 2004, and was dedicated one month later by President George W. Bush on May 29. It is located on 17th Street, between Constitution and Independence Avenues, and is flanked by the Washington Monument to the east and the Lincoln Memorial to the west.

Lincoln has only left southern Utah three times in his life prior to his visit to Washington, D.C. The first time was when he left for the Army; the second one was when he and his new bride were called to serve a mission for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in Upstate New York in the early 1950’s; and the third time was after their children were raised and he retired – he and his wife were again called to serve a mission, this time in Missouri. Like most World War II Veterans, Lincoln has been perfectly content to live a quiet life and keep his military experiences to himself.

Following Basic Training in Mississippi, Lincoln boarded a ship for the Philippine Islands. He was a Private First Class assigned to the 25th Division, 161st Regiment; Company F. Lincoln was an infantryman while serving in the Philippines. He spent some time in Manila, and when General MacArthur fled to Australia, Lincoln’s division moved into the mountains to assist the Filipinos in trying to keep the enemy from obtaining more territory. At one time, he spent 45 days straight on the front lines. Prior to MacArthur’s return, his company was sent to the island of Leyte to secure the beach for MacArthur’s return. They were then sent back to the large island of Luzon and helped to clear the beaches in the Bay of Lingayen. When the war ended, he was sent to Japan during the occupation where he served as a truck driver. He said the greatest thrill of his time in the Philippines was when he was able to see his brother Rex and his cousin Edmund Hepworth, also from Orderville, and both were serving in the Army. It was wartime and mail didn’t always get to the soldiers rapidly. He had no idea who or how many of his family members and friends were still alive. Seeing his brother and his cousin let him know at least they were still alive and well.

The Southern Utah contingent left St. George on Monday, June 23, with an escort provided by the Southern Utah Patriot Motorcycle Organization.  (Most of the Patriot Riders are Vietnam Veterans). With lights flashing, part of the escort led the bus, while the remainder followed the bus. When the Veterans’ bus arrived in Las Vegas, they were greeted by cheering crowds, and had a hard time getting through the terminal with so many people stopping to shake their hands and thank them for their service. Cheers went up as they boarded the plane for Baltimore, Maryland. As the plane landed in Baltimore, the Veterans were given an Angle Arch Salute (fire trucks on each side of the runway shot water over the plane as it taxied down the runway). Honors only given to the top heroes, and Lincoln and his comrades have waited almost 70 years for this type of recognition. Military salutes, cheering crowds and thanks were received everywhere they traveled on their three day trip.

Utah’s Senator Mike Lee, U.S. Congressmen Rob Bishop, Chris Stewart and Jim Matheson greeted all of the Utah Veterans, and several were greeted by Senator Orrin Hatch. During that time, the Veterans all wore a shirt that said: “If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can read this in English, thank a Veteran.”

Utah Honor Flight has partnered with the National Honor Flight Network, both created with the sole purpose of honoring America’s heroes for their sacrifice.  Utah Honor Flight will identify World War II, Korean, and Vietnam era Veterans and carry them to the greater Washington, D.C. area for them to experience their memorials, at no expense to the Veteran.  Top priority is given to the senior Veterans from WWII, along with others that may be terminally ill. This program is run solely on donations. Donations can be made by check to: Utah Honor Flight, P.O. Box 42, Richfield, Utah 84701 or donations can be made at any local Zions Bank Account ending in #9721.

Will Rogers once said: “We can’t all be heroes; some of us get to stand on the curb and clap as they walk by.”

Congratulations Lincoln, you certainly deserved this moment in the spotlight.