Garland Crook

Sgt. First Class Garland Crook, of Bismarck, served in the U.S. Army as a security agent during three wars. Pictured here in 2016, Crook was on duty in England and France during World War II, and in Korea and Vietnam during both conflicts. 

Look closely at footage from Gen. George Patton's funeral and you might see Garland Crook's eyes peering out the windshield of the vehicle hauling the coffin. 

Gen. John Lee had been charged with organizing the funeral, and Crook was a member of his staff. So he was given the somber duty.

It was hardly Crook's first important assignment, and it would not be his last. He served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam as a member of the Army Security Agency. 

Crook grew up in Mississippi and quit high school to join the U.S. Army at 17. He was so young his mother had to sign the paperwork.

After training on anti-aircraft guns, the Army sent him to England on the Queen Elizabeth. The ship zigzagged across the ocean, changing direction every 10 minutes to elude enemy submarines. Crook manned a gun.

He served at an airbase in England, firing anti-aircraft guns, before he was ordered to the beaches of Normandy.

Crook arrived at Omaha Beach nine hours after the first wave of men attacked. The fighting had mostly relented, but the area was littered with bodies. 

Crook, who was 19, said he knew then how important the battle had been.

He landed in the water then drove up the cliffs on a half-track and 5 miles to an apple orchard. For 20 days, Crook and his infantry fired at the Germans through tall hedges. Few Germans came out alive. 

"The Germans were slaughtering their people in those hedgerows," he said.

One day, a German fighter plane spotted Crook and his driver in the orchard. The man dropped a bomb that struck his driver head on. The bomb killed the driver and kicked up enough dirt to bury Crook three feet deep.

Luckily, someone was watching and dug him out. 

Crook suffered a bad concussion and spent three days in the hospital.

After he recovered, he joined a replacement pool of soldiers that followed the front lines. Later, he worked as a driver at a port in northern France.

While at the port city, Crook was assigned to drive Gen. Lee. Lee wanted to drive himself, so Crook piled into the back of the Jeep with Lee's aid, who offered him a job working for the general in Paris. Crook was almost due to go home but decided he could not pass up the opportunity, which brought him to driving Patton's hearse.

By the end of World War II, Crook was a trusted soldier with security training. He drove congressmen, dignitaries and family of high-ranking military officers. He lived in the now-luxurious Georges V hotel off the Champs Elysee in Paris.

As the war in Europe wrapped up in 1946, Crook returned to the United States, where he went back to high school.He was recruited to play basketball at the University of Kentucky.

Only two years after he came home, the Army summoned Crook again, this time to Korea.

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"I thought that was the end of the world," Crook said. "I couldn't see why it was worth anybody being killed. In Vietnam, it was worse yet." 

Crook had close calls in both countries.

On one mission in North Korea, Crook was charged with driving soldiers through snowy minus 40-degree weather. He was in a convoy of several vehicles, and there were two men up front and three in the back under a tarp.

The tarp flapped up, and Crook stopped to tie it down. He let the other cars go ahead, thinking he could follow along. He didn't notice when they turned and he headed miles in the wrong direction. 

After some time, he reached a base and got a map and coffee from a chaplain there. But as he retraced his steps toward the missed turn, Crook realized the bridge he crossed had been destroyed. The bridge crossed a ditch and Crook knew he had to drive through it.

What he didn't know was that Chinese soldiers were hiding there. The two groups got into a shootout. Crook and his soldiers won, but they lost man in the fight. 

At first, Crook left the man there. But 5 miles down the road, he knew he wanted to turn back. Only one soldier agreed to go with him to retrieve the body. When they found him, people had already stolen his shoes and coat.

Crook got the man and collected the other soldiers. At last, they made it safely back to the convoy and left North Korea.

Crook served in Vietnam, too, and retired after more than 20 years of service.

Years later, Crook worked with the Library of Congress to interview other World War II veterans about their stories. 

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Reach Caroline Grueskin at 701-250-8225 or at caroline.grueskin@bismarcktribune.com