Today is Memorial Day, and veterans of American wars are being honored for their service across the country. Were he alive today, Harry Crews would be accepting the honor as well. Harry served three years in the Marines, and though he never saw combat, he was promoted to corporal, and earned the National Defense Service Medal and the Marine Good Conduct Medal.
He joined the Marines just weeks after graduating high school. His brother had preceded him and was serving in Korea. The army turned him down, but the Marines were happy to have him. “Going to the Marine Corps was the only way I knew to get out, to leave the state, leave everybody whom I knew, and see if I could do it alone,” he said later.
Luckily (or unluckily) for Harry, the Korean War ended while he was in basic training. He served his stint fixing airplanes in South Florida, boxing, and haunting the library on his base. Though in later years he spoke about his Marine experience as a hardship, he often attributed his work ethic to those years:
“What it put into me is what a writer has to have: discipline,” he said. “When I went into the Marine Corps, I was a sorry S.O.B. There wasn’t nothing too low for me to do, including stealing old ladies’ purses. But 14 months later when they let me off the island, I ‘sirred’ everything that moved, and I spoke kindly to little old ladies with purses.”
Did you know that Harry Crews was a Korean War veteran? That's him, fourth from the left on the back row. He may not have died while serving his country, but his three years as a United States Marine forever impacted his work ethic as a writer, one who waged war on the page and cherished every scar. | Photo courtesy of Harry Crews Papers, Hargrett Rare Book and Manuscript Library, University of Georgia Libraries