Wilfred John Criswell left school after his junior year to join the Civilian Conservation Corps, but then returned and finished high school Brook, Indiana, in 1940. He enlisted in the Navy with a friend, Galen Winston Albright, who left school to join. Both died on the U.S.S. Arizona in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, Dec. 7, 1941.
That Mother’s Day they’d sent telegrams that their mothers back in Brook, population 888, who received them at the same time that evening.
Another friend of Mr. Criswell, Clyde Jefferson Combs, who survived the attack, told the Palm Beach Post in 2001 that when the Japanese bombing began, he was trying to get off the ship. “…And then, out of the smoke, walks this sailor. So, here he comes and he looks like cooked bacon, his hair all crisp and curly… He sees me and says ‘Help me, Combs.’ I reach out to take his arm and his skin just comes away in my hand… I thought, ‘How’d he know my name?’ I sure didn’t recognize him. I learned later he was John Criswell, my pal from Indiana. We enlisted back home on the same day. Our service ID numbers were maybe one number apart.”
A group of survivors started up the captain’s gig, or taxi boat, and they got Mr. Criswell on board. But he did not survive. After the war his remains were returned to Brook and buried at Riverside Cemetery.
When he heard that his brother had died, Robert Lee Criswell enlisted. “They can have me, too — and my three brothers when they need them,” he told the Indianapolis Star. His brothers were 11, 13 and 19. Robert Lee Criswell survived World War II.
Wilfred Criswell was born June 20, 1919, to Carris Criswell, a farm laborer, and Daily Mansfield Criswell, a homemaker. Wilfred’s school nickname was Blackie.
When Mr. Combs died in 2005 his remains were interred on the Arizona