Lucian Croft’s condominium, not more than a 4-minute bike ride from my childhood home, smelled like peanut butter and flowers. I don’t know where they sell that scent, but it is reserved for the homes of the kind and the elderly.
We didn’t call him Lucian or Mr. Croft. In fact, I don’t remember anyone calling him that. Young or old, the people who knew him called him Col. Croft, and boy did he look the part.
Col. Croft was a dear friend to our family. My Father and Col. Croft’s children were a close-knit group – my Dad practiced law with Col. Croft’s son-in-law. By extension, and through friendships with Col. Croft’s grandchildren, I got a front-row seat to some of his war stories. These were the kinds of stories that became collections of iconic films reserved for Hollywood’s A-List.
Col. Croft, to be precise, wasn’t a Colonel in the U.S. Army. He was a Lieutenant Colonel who served under Gen. George S. Patton, but I only knew him when his posture had slumped a bit and his hearing aids rang through long stories.
But, wow, those stories. One evening, seated in his small condominium – the one of flowers and peanut butter – Col. Croft started one of his trademark soliloquies about the Battle of the Bulge, where he fought in one of the bloodiest wars in American history.
Granted, we were a rascally group of kids, and we tended to squirm in our chairs a bit. For that reason, I’m not sure I remember a single word of Col. Croft’s oral history. I don’t remember what he said about Patton, nor do I even remember his role in World War II.
Later in life, history books taught me the importance of what was actually the Ardennes Counteroffensive. It was Hitler’s last offensive attack. Nearly 500,000 Axis troops descended on the Allies, but our depletion of Hitler’s reserve forces and artillery helped lead to the end of the war.
No, I don’t remember any of that from Col. Croft’s stories, but that doesn’t seem to matter as I think back on the wonderful man. What I remember most came through the expressions on his face, the way he moved his arms, the tone of his voice, and the look in his eyes. He could transport himself back to those battlefields, and we went along for the ride.
As Col. Croft motioned one way with his arms, his voice would rise, his lips would become wet, just so the story could continue without pause. He’d look directly at us, and then he’d look away, probably an effort to evoke the smallest of details.
What I recall most about Col. Croft’s stories wasn’t that he particularly missed the battlefield. No, I remember that he talked with a combination of pride and humility – a tough task for the most gifted of speakers. He was as honored to serve his country as any other life-long accomplishment; he was proud to have served with our nation’s Greatest Generation.
Over the past few months, the folks at The Leader have begun a daunting task that we believe will add to our community’s lore, while helping the young people of today remember the Lt. Col. Lucian Crofts of yesterday.
To coincide with the Veteran’s Day holiday in November, The Leader is going to publish a book about the veterans who live (or have lived) in the Heights, Garden Oaks, Oak Forest, and all our surrounding neighborhoods of North Houston.
In this book, we want to capture the essence of what our veterans have meant to us – young and old. We want to publish as many pictures as possible – those in battle, those in military school, those standing on a Navy vessel leaving port.
But this book will be more than just pictures that permanently record the images of our veterans. We also want to tell as many stories as possible. While there aren’t many – if any – of our World War II veterans still around, there are still plenty from Vietnam, Korea, Desert Storm, and our ongoing deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.
This idea for a book on our Veterans, which will be called just that – Our Veterans – began with a member of our management team who published similar books at newspapers in the Midwest. What he found, from members of the community, at least, is that most of the mementos we keep from our veterans are either very personal or part of a national story.
What we don’t have is a way to celebrate the men and women from our neighborhoods who have defended our country.
Here’s what we also know: We’re in a digital age where images and stories fall further and further down the navigation bar while the latest news overwhelms our feeds. The power of a book like this is its ability to be passed from generation to generation.
Of course, we won’t skip the digital version, either. The photos we collect and the stories we’re able to tell will be captured in a wonderful digital collection that can be shared with friends.
As we launch this meaningful project, we’re going to ask our community to help honor our veterans. If you have a son or a daughter, a husband or a wife, who has served, and if you have photos of them or stories to tell, we’d love to have your permission to print them in the book we’ll publish this fall.
If you have a loved one, or if you, personally, fought in battle, and you have a story that other people in our community would be interested in knowing, please let us know.
To be included in our book, all we need is for you to send us an email or give us a call. If you choose to email, send a note to email@example.com. Of course, you’re always welcome to email me at the address below.
My perception of the military was shaped by a wonderful man named Lucian Croft. Maybe you can help us shape the memory of the next generation.