George Crocker

George Crocker, age 97 died at Sunflower Care Homes, Emporia Kansas, Tuesday morning, 7/21/2020.

Crocker born October 24th, 1922 in Spearville, KS to Herbert L. and Carrie  Dvorak Crocker. He was preceded in death by his parents; his wife, Mary Ann Bassett Crocker formally of Laguna Beach, CA, a native of Emporia, KS; his oldest daughter, Carolyn E. Crocker, of Clark, CO; two sisters: Addie Crocker Taylor, Whittier, CA, and Lydia Lain, Austin, TX; and brother Leonard R. Crocker of Dodge City. He is survived by two daughters; Kathryn Crocker Zavilla, of Aurora, CO; Susan M. Crocker, of Longmont, CO; and grandson David Crocker Codding of Boulder, CO.

Crocker was a WWII Veteran for the US Navy Air Patrol Bombing Squadron VPB 106 as a radioman, radar operator, and top-turret gunner. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, five air medals, the Combat Service Medal, the Philippine Liberation Medal issued by the Philippine Government, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with four bronze battle stars: Iwo Jima, Malay Coast, Philippines and Borneo.

He married Mary Ann Bassett from Emporia on March 19th, 1949. They had three children, Carolyn, Kathryn, and Susan.

Crocker graduated with a BA from College of Emporia and Masters of Theatre Arts from University of Denver.

He was a Director of live theatre in Grand Rapids, MI; Sarasota FL; and Miami, FL as a faculty member at University of Miami; he directed in Olpe & Emporia, KS; and Hollywood, CA. His last production at the University of Miami, Crocker directed “Billy Bud” and was awarded the best dramatic production of the year by the National College/Universities Yearbook of 1958.

He was a world traveler and an avid sailor. His contributions to the community entailed serving on the Historical Board, Art Council; he spent sixteen years on the Granada Theatre Alliance Board as well as four years painting historical landscapes on the interior of the Granada Theatre.

Crocker will be cremated. Celebration of life will be held at the Granda Theater on July31st at 2:00 p.m . In Lue of flowers, donations  may be made in his name to the preservation of the Granda Theater Alliance, in care of the Emporia Community Foundation 527 Commercial st. Suite B, Emporia, KS 66801

It’s Been Quite a Ride
A dedication to George C. Crocker
10/24/22-7/21/2020

In the Weekend Edition of the Emporia Gazette on October 12 and 13, 1991, George C. Cocker was featured in the “MAN OF THE WEEK” column as having: “The Makings of a Renaissance Man,” exhibited during his lengthy lifetime; multiple talents. He excelled in sports, especially in football and the creative arts as a Director of live theatre, a novella, and sculptor. George was the center of numerous Emporia Gazette articles over the years honoring his WWII experiences, as well as his contributions in theatre and creative arts.

Graduating from Spearville High School in May, 1941, he came to Emporia that fall and attended The College of Emporia. Early in his sophomore year, he left Emporia to enlist in the US Navy, March 19, 1943 and was assigned to the Navy Air Patrol and Bombing Squadron VPB 106 as a radioman, radar operator, and top-turret gunner. He was selected to be in Crew One piloted by the Squadron’s Commander, William S. Sampson, USN.

George served in the Pacific during WWII; awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, five air medals, the Combat Service Medal, the Philippine Liberation Medal issued by the Philippine Government, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal with four bronze battle stars: Iwo Jima, Malay Coast, Philippines and Borneo. For these achievements, he was honored with a citation from Secretary of Navy, James Forrestal, written on behalf of the President of the United States, Franklin D. Roosevelt, sighting his meritorious achievement in aerial combat causing the destruction of the enemy’s attacking fighter planes. “His courage and devotion to duty were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service.”

During his tour, the squadron flew missions as far north as Tokyo Bay, sinking enemy coastal shipping. He was part of a 12-man crew on the Privateer; a 4-engine Bomber built in San Diego, based off of the B24 Army Bomber. It was nicknamed ‘The Flying Tail’ due to the increased length of the body of the plane, separating the wings and tail.

On February 19, 1944, his crew flew from Mariana Islands to participate in the initial battle of Iwo Jima. That particular day, George’s crew had orders to locate and report back sightings of in-flight Japanese aircraft and fighters. Crocker realized later that this particular mission would have been fatal had Japanese planes not been delayed a day due to treacherous weather. Later, when the Marines gained control of the enemies’ airstrip and had secured southern portions of the island, his squadron was stationed on Iwo, and from there missions were flown to sink heavily-armed picket boats that were stationed intermittently miles apart from Iwo Jima to Tokyo, serving as early warning radar stations to track the Air Force B-29’s bombing flights from Tinian and Saipan, and the Mariana Islands. A low level method of attack on these enemy picket boats was called “skip-bombing.” From fifty to a hundred feet in altitude, the bombs were dropped close–but short of the target, then would skim over the water, similar to tossing a flat stone to skip.

From Iwo Jima, his squadron, having suffered disproportional losses of aircraft and crews, were assigned to Palawan, the Philippine Island just above Borneo where the war was assumed to be less active. That assumption was incorrect. The squadron’s land-based planes, flying missions a thousand miles from base without escort were generally no match in aerial combat when the enemy attacked with twelve to fourteen fighter planes against a single patrol/bomber over enemy held territory like Singapore, where heavy losses of crews and aircraft occurred. There were twelve members total.

On May 31, 1945, on a patrol/bombing mission to the Indo China coast, near the mouth of the Pahang River, they discovered a large Japanese Convoy anchored near the mouth of the Pahang River consisting of the one heavy Japanese cruiser and numerous troop and supply ships. Flying through a heavy radar controlled ack-ack from the cruiser, they succeeded in emptying their plane’s bomb-bay of multiple bombs while flying directly over the troop ships. Then for fending off enemy fighter planes, destroying two during a nine minute “aerial dog fight.”

Following his discharge, George worked in San Francisco for the Emporium, resculpting pre-World War mannequins from Czechoslovakia and Germany. After this he returned to Emporia to complete his undergraduate degree in Art and Physical Education. Following his graduation in 1949 George took a teaching job at St. Joseph High School in Olpe, KS coaching baseball and basketball, and directing theatre where he wrote and produced the performance “Rhubarb Vania.” Although he was not Catholic, the Sisters hesitantly informed George that many students referred to him affectionately as “Sister George.” He was flattered. This same year, he and his wife, Mary Ann Basset were married. Over the next ten years, they had three daughters together: Carolyn, Kathryn, and Susan.

When the St Joseph High School closed in 1952,he enrolled in a graduate program at the University of Denver in Theatre Arts. His first job was Director of community theatre in Grand Rapids, MI. In 1953 George directed Tennessee Williams’ “Summer In Smoke” gaining public recognition for its superb performance. The Grand Rapids Herold titled their review “The Play has One Fault: Not Enough Can See It.”

Following that, George went to Sarasota, FL where he worked for the Ringling Family as managing director of Palm Tree Theatre. There he worked with a New York professional cast for 3 years before joining the faculty at the University of Miami. The year he left the drama department at the University, he won prestigious awards for College/University Year Book of ’58 for best dramatic production of the year presented by College/Universities of the United States for the production of Herman Melville’s “Billy Bud.” Billy Bud is a 17th century tragic sea story where Billy Bud is hung innocently by British law for striking a master Sergeant for disobedience.

His wife, Ann, being a native of Emporia, George and his family moved back in 1961 where he began a three-year contract with an associate professorship at the College of Emporia. In April of that same year, he successfully directed Angelos Terzakis’ “Theophano,” the first Greek drama translated in the United States. Terzakis himself, Playwright and head of the Greek National Theater flew in to Emporia for the week for the production.

Upon the ending of his contract with The College of Emporia, the Crocker family then spent the next 20 years in CA where George wrote ghost scrips in Hollywood and directed many Tennessee Williams shows. During this time, he became an avid sailor and sailed a two-masted vessel in Mexican Waters. One of his boats he named Baba Yaga after the witch of Slavic Folklore due to the rich tan and bark colors of its sails. George was a ham radio operator and was able to utilize this critical skill during his sailing adventures.

When returning to Emporia upon retirement, George busied himself in world travel and the creative arts. He visited England, France, Hungary, Russia, Poland, and Ireland.  In his spare time George played on a traveling golf team with three Emporia Doctors—their team being named “Three Docs and a Croc.”

He spent four years painting seven interior art pieces for the Grenada Theatre during its renovations, all in which can viewed today. His other artworks include an oil painting of the A.H. Gufler’s home on 12th Avenue set in the early 20th century, also a painting of the Grenada Coffee shop which can be seen on the wall of the Granada Coffee Company.  George was a caregiver to his wife in her final years of life.

His adventures in life tied him to his recently completed novel “1919” where one of his major characters is described as a “wander lust.” George believed he had enough experience to fill three lives. “It’s been quite a ride.”

In his final years of life, George’s good friend Harry Stephens gave an unmeasurable amount of friendship and support that encouraged his independence and way of life.

Along with Harry, Hand In Hand Hospice played a major role providing end of life care and support.

Additional stories of George’s WWII experiences are recorded in a series of articles conducted by the Emporia Gazette, located at the Lyon County History Center.

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