The Early Years

Excerpts from the manuscript  “Wild Bill Crump”, written by S.E Crump and (c) J.W.CRUMP & S.E.CRUMP.

On the 2nd July 1924 the third child of James W and Edna V. Crump was born at 677 Felts Road in the rural town of Opportunity near Spokane, Washington. John William, as he was christened, would be known by his elder brother James and sister Francis as Bill and, unlike his father, who though a carpenter by trade primarily grew beans, tomatoes and other vegetables on which to support his growing family, Bill would spend many of his formative years with his head turned to the sky as opposed to the ground as his fascination with flying and aeroplanes took hold.

The daring tales told to him by his brother of their cousin Buell Felts from whom James took his middle name fuelled Bill’s fascination. Buell Felts, a former World War 1 pilot and later publisher of the Spokane Herald News had been killed in an air crash in 1927. The airfield near Spokane, which was the scene of the crash and later named in his honour, Felts Field would be the site of Bill’s first flight as a five year old alongside a pilot by the name of Nick Mamer.

Bill was bitten by the flying bug immediately and as soon as he reached his teenage years would work as a caddy at the local golf course to earn the two dollars required for joy flights in Waco’s and Ford Tri Motors that flew from Felts Field. A memorable moment for Bill at this time was caddying for the famous golfer Bobby Jones.

The serious side of life was taken care of by attendance at Opportunity’s elementary grade school, where all the teachers were left under no illusion that Bill’s intended career was in aviation, nothing else was going to suffice. Bill was always encouraged and supported where possible in his aim by his parents even when at the age of nine they divorced, resulting in Bill moving with his mother to Edmonds in Washington where Bill would go on to attend Grade and High School.

Bill was 15 when on the 1st September 1939 Germany invaded Poland, resulting in Britain and France declaring war on the Nazi regime controlling the German nation, two days later on the 3rd September. Germany’s aggression and expansionist policies would ultimately result in further escalation of the conflict leading to the Second World War, and the realisation of Bill’s dream to fly regularly. Bill would follow the course of the war in Europe, both in the papers and on the radio. The fall of the Low Countries, then of France, the British evacuation at Dunkirk and most avidly the report of the aerial battles taking place over the southern counties of England in the summer of 1940, that would later be popularly known as the Battle of Britain.

The American nation was split on the question of its involvement in what many isolationists considered Europe’s War. American blood had already been shed for Europe in the First World War and there was a strong body of thought that it should never happen again. Bill thought differently. Not only did he see that Britain’s stand alone during that summer of 1940 that led into 1941 as one of right against wrong, democracy against oppression, but felt that Hitler’s ultimate aim of world domination, confirmed by its invasion of Russia in 1941 would best be stopped in Europe as opposed to America’s doorstep.

The question of America’s involvement would be forever answered, when on 7th December 1941 the Japanese Imperial Navy carried out a crippling attack on the American Fleet at anchor in Pearl Harbour Hawaii, using 350 aircraft launched from carriers 27 miles off the islands coast. 4,575 United States (US) personnel were killed or wounded. By pure luck none of the six precious fleet type aircraft carriers were lost which would ultimately see the US Navy change its strategy from that based on a powerful surface fleet to one based on employment of carrier air power, that would, eventually four years later, see victory in the Pacific theatre. More importantly at the time, the Japanese attack shook America out of its complacency. As the commander of the combined Japanese Fleet, Admiral Isoroku Yamamato who had opposed the attack while it was in its planning stage was to say, “No matter how successful it may be, it will wake the sleeping dragon” and wake it did. The mighty American industry would soon be churning out thousands upon thousands of planes, tanks and ships with which to arm the Allied Forces as they took the fight to both Japan and Germany. On the day America declared war on Japan, Britain would become her ally. Although it would not be until a week later when for some inexplicable reason Germany declared war on the United States of America (USA) that America came officially in to the war in Europe.

But for the first six months until American industry got in its stride and the Military organised itself from its peace time slumber, the USA and its allies were for the most part, on the back foot.

It seemed overnight that in every public place recruiting posters appeared exhorting American youth to enlist to avenge Pearl Harbour and kick the yoke of Nazi tyranny in Europe. Bill was determined to play his part particularly as it offered him the opportunity to fulfil his dream of becoming a pilot. However for the moment he knew he needed to keep up his studies, particularly improving his mathematics, as he knew the minimum entry requirement would be a high school diploma, and with many of the written selection tests having mathematics content.

Sure enough, within days of Bill’s mid term graduation, he was in the Army Air Corp (AAC) recruiting station at Edmonde completing the application forms for aircrew training. It would be a year from this initial contact with the AAC until his final acceptance and commencement of training in 1943. During this year Bill would need to earn a living. This was accomplished by continuing to caddy and working as a bus driver. Not only did this allow Bill to continue to fund his flights from Felts Field but also his dates with 16 year old Helene Suess whom Bill had met at Edmonde High School’s Auditorium. Jackie as she was known, was a freshman at the time and Bill a senior. After graduation whenever work allowed, Bill would meet up with Jackie for lunch and at weekends their time would be spent mostly at the movies.

Even by Bill’s own admission, his bus driving was not the smoothest, which resulted in a number of crashes and visits to his company’s office for the completion of relevant accident reports. These crashes would have an effect on Bill, not apparent at the time. June Sorensen filled out the forms; Bill got to know June pretty well, so much so that in 1946 they would be married.