Military service runs in Cronia’s family

Published 9:37 pm Friday, November 4, 2016

By McKenna Wierman

The Vicksburg Post

George Cronia’s laughter is infectious, and he laughs a lot.

Email newsletter signup

Sign up for The Vicksburg Post's free newsletters

Check which newsletters you would like to receive
  • Vicksburg News: Sent daily at 5 am
  • Vicksburg Sports: Sent daily at 10 am
  • Vicksburg Living: Sent on 15th of each month

As he sits on his living room couch with an album full of yellowed pages spilling over with stiff black and white photographs as well as vibrant snapshots from just last year, chatting away, it’s impossible not to laugh with him while he flips through his memories.

He pulls a page out of the binder and points at a black and white family photo, covered in protective plastic. The yellow paper shows a group of strong looking men, with serious faces and fierce eyes. Cronia points out his grandfather.

“I really come from a military family,” he said. “My grandaddy on my father’s side was in the Spanish-American War. My father was in the Army, and then all of his brothers, three brothers, were in the service. I was in the service, and my brother was in the service.”

There are pictures and newspaper clippings tracing most of his life, including his days at Carr Central High School, right before his life changed forever. Two years before the end of the second World War, Cronia volunteered to join the Army.

“I was 18 years old when I went in,” he said. “I went in January of 1945.”

For Cronia, joining up seemed like the natural thing to do after he graduated from high school in 1944. He was 15 when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and knew as soon as he’d found out about the bombing he wanted to help his country.

“I was in a movie, and they turned the lights on and made an announcement in front of the stage,” he said. “It was on a Sunday night, and as I was walking home from the movie by myself all these thoughts came through my mind about what it meant. And I thought, ‘Well, what are you gonna do?’”

When the time came, he knew the answer.

“I was getting ready to be drafted, and so I had a bunch of guys that were going in, friends, and I went up to the draft board and I said ‘Look, y’all put me on the next bunch going out of here,’ and so that’s what they did.”

Cronia took to military life like a fish to water. His high school days playing track, basketball, football had kept him athletic and fit. He was also a member of his High School Victory Corps, a military initiative during WWII designed to prepare boys for wartime service, where he learned drills and how to march.

He was the outstanding trainee of his basic training cycle, and then made platoon sergeant. When he got through with basic, he was recruited by a group of paratroopers from Fort Benning,Georgia looking for the best of the best.

Cronia joined the 82nd Airborne Division, right as they were returning from Europe.

“I didn’t have any combat time, but we were training for the invasion of Japan, and that would have been a mess.”

Cronia didn’t know quite how to feel.

“We had a regimental commander stand up before us and say ‘Gentlemen, look around you. Half of you are not gonna make it,’” Cronia recalled. “I felt like I could’ve been in either half, like, ‘Which half am I gonna be in?’”

Then Truman dropped the atomic bombs, and the war soon ended.

Cronia returned home to Mississippi, where he graduated from what is now the University of Southern Mississippi in 1950.

He moved down to Brooklyn, Mississippi, where he coached football and basketball and taught at Forrest County Agricultural High School. He lived in a dormitory at the boys school.

But war soon found Cronia again.

“I came home Christmas of 1950, and the 31st Division has been activated for the Korean war. And man, I had tons of buddies in that thing. So the commander of the battalion told me that he would like me to join the unit.”

He did, and the 31st Division headed to Fort Jackson, South Carolina.

“We went up there January of ’51, and in September I got my calvary order to go to Korea.”

This time, Cronia made it to the action.

“I was assigned to the 3rd Infantry Division in Korea, which was a fighting outfit. I mean, I was over there for 11 months, and the whole time I was over there except for six weeks when we pulled off the line for maintenance and equipment stuff, we were right there in the middle of the Chorwan valley, and it was a very interesting experience.”

Cronia remembered Korea was cold, and that before entering anyone’s home, you had to remove your shoes. He also remembered the fighting.

“You got those mortar shells, and all that stuff coming at you and mine fields, and stuff,” he said. “You know, you’re always on edge. It’s not terrifying, it’s just concerning. You’re just real concerned about it.”

He came home for the last time in 1952. He married his wife, Lerlyne, in December of the same year, went back to Southern for a master’s in 1953 and joined the Mississippi National Guard as a lieutenant.

Pretty soon, Cronia was teaching at Clinton High School, coaching his basketball teams to championships and starting his family. After six years in Clinton, Cronia and his young family moved back to Vicksburg, where he had accepted a full-time position with the MIssissippi Army National Guard.

After 36 years of service, he retired in 1982 as a brigadier general.

He still makes time to do his own yard work, and tinker in his woodshop.

His home is filled with walnut clocks, toy cars, display cases and even a butterfly box, all perfectly hand crafted.

He’s proud of all of it; his decorated service, his coaching feats, his role in his community and his wood crafts.

But more than anything, Gen. George S. Cronia is proud of his family.

“The most important thing in my life is that I married my wife and raised my four children. That’s the most important thing in my life.”

SPECIAL SERIES: This story is part of a series of articles featuring local veterans and their stories. The stories were written by journalism students from the University of Mississippi and is sponsored by Trustmark Bank.