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No small parts: Fort Belknap vet recalls brief time in Navy


November 12, 2018

Courtesy photo

World War II U.S. Navy veteran Cranston Hawley, front, poses for a photograph with U.S. Army Veteran Rebecca Joan Bishop, back from left, her mother and Cranston Hawley's wife, Jessie James-Hawley, and her daughter Hays U.S. Postmaster Dawn Bishop-Moore. Cranston Hawley's daughters were not able to attend the event.

Life takes everyone on different journeys or to different places and for a resident of Fort Belknap Indian Reservation, his time in the U.S. Navy took him further than he imagined.

Cranston Hawley was born in Fort Belknap Oct. 8, 1927, and is a member of the Assiniboine Tribe.

He was 14 years old when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, during World War II

Hawley's wife, Jessie James-Hawley, remembers how America changed after the attack on Pearl Harbor.

"I can remember as a kid, I was 3 years old, and I was riding in the back of a pickup, " she added. "We had a radio and they announced World War II. The Japanese had bombed the Hawaiian Islands. Back then, America, the war affected everyone. You had to have rations for your sugar, your coffee, everything. Everything. Butter, rubber tires, nylon stockings, everything."

The Japanese invasion kickstarted an increase in military production and James-Hawley said many people from Fort Belknap moved to the West Coast where plants were located for building military equipment.

She added that her own mother, Cecilia

Langford, was one of the women - famously depicted as Rosie the Riveter - who worked in the industrial plants.

The war "touched everybody," she said.

The number of young men enlisting for the military also increased.

Men had to be at least 18 years old to join the military.

"He tried at age 16 to get in to the military, but his mother wouldn't sign for him," James-Hawley said. "So he waited and - he lied - told her that he was going to join the Coast Guard, that it was safer and he would be out of danger, so she signed. So he went in to the service at age 17."

Cranston Hawley said he chose the Navy because he thought he would be safer and most of the people he knew were joining the Navy. He also didn't want to have to march.

"When I first saw the ocean, though," he said, "I said, 'I ain't going out there. I'm a Montana cowboy.'"

Hawley was assigned to a landing ship, tank - LST - and served in the engine room. He was a seaman first class.

According to Encyclopedia Britannica, LSTs were used for deploying soldiers, supplies and vehicles to beachheads.

LSTs were first produced for military service in 1942 and were used in the European and South Pacific theaters.

"Gen. Douglas MacArthur employed LSTs in his 'island-hopping campaigns' and in the invasion of the Philippines," Britannica states. "In the Central Pacific, Adm. Chester Nimitz used them at Iwo Jima and Okinawa."

Britannica also states that 26 LSTs were lost in action and 13 more were lost in accidents and rough seas.

Hawley recalled a mission he was on where they were tasked with firing at floating mines in the water. He said the explosion was so loud it permanently affected his hearing.

During the war, James-Hawley said ,her mother described Fort Belknap feeling like a ghost town because the men who were old enough went to war.

"She said just old men and young boys were left," Hawley added. "I think that's true of every community."

"We would go in to the post office and there would be lists posted of those soldiers who were missing in action and those who had been killed," she said. "And I remember listening to people cry."

Cranston Hawley said his ship was to take part in the invasion of Japan, but the war ended before they got the chance to do so.

Cranston Hawley

The History Channel's website, http://www.history.com, states because of "heavy casualties sustained in the campaigns at Iwo Jima and Okinawa and fears of even costlier invasion of Japan led Truman to authorize the use of a new and devastating weapon - the atomic bomb."

The atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in August 1945 and on Sept. 2, 1945, Japan officially surrendered; ending the war.

Hawley returned home and became chief judge on Fort Belknap Indian Reservation. He served as judge for almost 40 years.

"People will call and they want him to come and serve as judge," James-Hawley said. "He was always very fair."

Hawley, now 91, and his wife ranch on Fort Belknap.

He is humble about his brief years in the service.

"I didn't serve for very long," Hawley said. "I don't deserve anything."


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