Woman charged in death of friend

Patty Michelle White

After the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor and galvanized the nation to a war footing on Dec. 7, 1941, Charles Heyward Crosby wanted desperately to enlist to help the country defeat the enemy.

But he waited. His lone remaining sibling, his sister, Ray Martin, 77, of North Charleston, is unsure why, but she believes Crosby, the oldest of 13 children, continued to work to help support the rural Colleton County farm family.

As the war dragged on, the call for more men increased. Finally, in February 1944, just over than two years after the United States entered World War II, Crosby left his job at the shipyard on the old Navy base and joined the Army.

Unlike many underage teenagers who lied about their age to say they were older to enlist in the military, Crosby told Army officials he was 29. He was actually 36.

"Heyward just wanted to serve his country," said Martin, who was 14 when her brother left for war.

Less than a year after Crosby joined, he was killed in Belgium on Jan. 27, 1945, shortly after the Battle of the Bulge, and buried in the American Military Cemetery at Henri-Chapelle.

"We didn't know he had lied about his age until we were checking on the $10,000 life insurance policy he left to our mother," said Martin, the last of eight brothers and five sisters. Three other brothers also served in the war; none was injured.

In 1947, Crosby's flag-draped coffin came home. He was buried again at Mount Carmel Methodist Church Cemetery in Walterboro.

His mother, Ottie Crosby Wilson, who had remarried after her husband died in 1935, kept the neatly folded, 48-star flag in her homemade cedar chest at the foot of her bed until she died in 1958. Since then, Martin has stood guard over the flag, keeping it in her own cedar chest.

Just before Thanksgiving, she gave the flag; the book "Britain's Homage to 28,000 American Dead," which was individually inscribed on the front cover with Crosby's name; a Purple Heart damaged in a December 1945 house fire; and a photo of her brother in uniform to the American Military Museum in downtown Charleston.

"I didn't even know we had a museum until I talked with a veteran a few days before that," she said.

Martin thought about passing the flag and other memorabilia along to family members, but she didn't think they would appreciate it as much since he had been dead so long and none of them ever knew him.

"He gave his life, and I wanted (the flag) to be honored," she said.

Over time, the folded flag yellowed around the edges, and Martin, not knowing it was never to be unfolded, spread it out to look at it, and was going to have it professionally cleaned.

"I didn't know you weren't supposed to unfold it. The museum told me they wanted it just like it was."

Martin took the flag to Charleston Air Force Base, where it was refolded to its original standard.

"They were very nice," she said. "I need to bake them a cake."

Folks at the museum are delighted that she thought to give it to them for safekeeping.

"We appreciate getting anything related to veterans," museum curator Michael Lussier said. "Anything we can do to further that cause and honor those veterans, we appreciate doing it."

The flag and Crosby's memorabilia sit in a glass case in the museum's chapel section.

The museum has seven other flags dating from World War II, including one that showed up recently in a box with uniforms and medals that was dropped off at the nearby Fort Sumter tour center.

"We don't know who it belongs to," Lussier said, "but we appreciate it being passed along to us."

The museum received another flag Wednesday from a group of Marines, Museum Director George Meagher said. The flag was used to cover coffins of soldiers killed in Iraq as their remains were transferred to planes for the trip home.

Martin is happy with her decision to pass along a little piece of her brother's World War II history.

"I'm glad that they will put it on display so people can see it. I know that they will protect it."