Alva Jackson Cremean – “Jack” to friends and family – was twenty-one years old on 7 December 1941. The former high school student and JC Penney clerk from Rocky Ford, Colorado, was part of the Marine detachment aboard the venerable USS Oklahoma, one of the proudest ships on Pearl Harbor’s Battleship Row. Jack himself was no less proud: the Oklahoma was his first assignment after the rigors of boot camp and Sea School, and he had been aboard her for nearly fourteen months. He worked hard while on duty, earning his PFC stripe in a matter of months, and kept his nose clean while on liberty. In one of the most notorious ports in the world, he kept his family in mind and made sure to send off a package of Christmas presents – a grass skirt, some souvenir handkerchiefs, a sailor doll – well in advance of the holiday season.
Jack’s family would read the news about the attack on Pearl Harbor in their local newspapers, and as the scope of the disaster unfolded, grew increasingly worried about their son and brother. They spent seventeen days in a hellish limbo before the telegram arrived: a Christmas Eve missive that began Deeply regret to inform you that your son, PFC Alva Jackson Cremean, is missing in action….
Six days later, a second telegram arrived. Am pleased to inform you that corrected casualty report reveals your son to be a survivor instead of missing in action. Brilliant news, and just in time for the New Year. They still hadn’t received a letter or telegram from Jack personally, but the package of presents showed up, perhaps delayed by the sudden influx of military mails. The grass skirt was an instant hit with the younger Cremean girls.
Days passed, then weeks, then months, and still no word from Jack. Finally, mail arrived with an overseas postmark – but it was returned mail, letters the family sent that were marked “undeliverable.” Then the third telegram arrived in February, 1942. Jack was dead.
Today, 7 December 2018, marks the seventy-seventh anniversary of Jack Cremean’s death, along with thousands of other Marines, sailors, and soldiers at Pearl Harbor. It’s also the day that Jack Cremean was buried, at long last, beside his parents in Madeira, California. The linked article by Carmen George describes, in heartbreaking detail, the pain of a single family who were left with no answers.
“It’s just an amazing thing that has happened, to be lost and found, and now everyone will have closure,” niece Elaine Holiday said. “I think my mother always wondered, ‘Did he survive and was injured and didn’t remember who he was?’ You know there’s always that doubt in your mind that maybe he didn’t go down in the ship.”
That sister also clung to something Cremean once told her – that if he was ever seriously injured in combat, he wouldn’t return home.
“That was kind of always in the back of my mother’s mind that he might be alive,” Spradlin said. “That little hope.”
That little hope.
In the past few weeks, I’ve been interviewed by a couple of different organizations. Hometown Heroes Radio did a podcast with the families of Jack Cremean and Sgt. Dwight W. Randall which is absolutely worth a listen; if you stick around for the final segment, you’ll get to hear Yours Truly holding forth on the subject. (The full interview is here.) I’ve also spoken with a few folks from American Military News. Now, being Interviewed is a new thing for me, especially with the added implications of being A Reputable Source / Maybe Something Like An Expert? so I did a fair bit of nattering on. (Apologies to Melissa from AMN who had to deal with my post-bronchitis voice.) Anyway – all of these interviews keep coming back to the theme of “that little hope.” Something that keeps a family hanging on, for years, sometimes in spite of all the evidence and popular opinion. Knowing that while the lives of their missing relatives have ended, their stories haven’t, not quite yet. For some, they payoff may never come, but that little hope is so vital to keeping memory alive.
Today also marks the seventh anniversary of MissingMarines, and it’s my hope that this site has helped to keep that little hope alive for casual readers, family members, and the scores of folks who write in with research requests whether or not their relatives are listed here. Hopefully there’s never false hope given, but enough to keep a memory alive.
I was going to do a big admin post instead – there’s now a Missing Marines Facebook group (I know, right, only took seven years! Look, I work for a digital agency and for a while I had to do social media professionally for a bunch of different brands. Let’s say I have strong opinions about the medium) and if all goes well, this’ll be the first post that shows up on that page. The link is here if you’re a regular reader who wants to give a follow. If you’re coming over from Facebook, hi! Hello! Welcome aboard. We’re all here to help.
More news coming tomorrow.