Continued from last week are stories of local WWII veterans.
Fletcher E. Knight
Fletcher E. Knight was born on Sept. 30, 1923 at the home of his maternal grandparents, Mr. and Mrs. Fred M. Nash of Baynesville. Knight was nicknamed Jigger because his Uncle Timmy couldn’t pronounce ‘Seagar’, the name they were considering and said Jigger instead. He attended Colonial Beach Schools until he moved to W&L in seventh grade. Knight attended college until 1943 when he joined the U.S. Navy Air Corps because he got tired of being called a WWII “draft dodger”. In 1943 he was sent to Chincoteague Naval Air Station in Maryland and married Mary Doleman. The Air Station was a training facility for B-24 Liberators which were used as conventional bombers and also for naval reconnaissance, anti-submarine warfare and transport purposes. After much training, Jigger became a flight engineer and a plane captain who stood between the pilot and the co-pilot during training flights and responded to their instructions.
While in the Navy, Jigger had several very close calls. On one occasion, he was one of 14 men aboard a B-24, on the run-way at Chincoteague, ready to take-off on a training flight. Suddenly a jeep appeared on the scene and Jigger was needed to replace a magneto on another plane. He had the reputation of being the best “magneto man” around, and could make repairs while hanging upside down! When the B-24 took off without him on board, to everyone’s horror, it flew straight into a cliff, and all 14 men were killed. Jigger had been spared.
On another occasion, one of Jigger’s close buddies returned to the base after being on leave to get married. His first day back, he asked Jigger to let him take Jigger’s scheduled flight to Norfolk so he would be able to draw some extra pay for flight time, known as “flight skins”. This request was granted, and shortly after take-off of the return trip to Chincoteague, his plane plunged into the river and all aboard were lost! Again, Jigger’s time hadn’t come.
Lt. Johnson, who had come up through the ranks, was one of Jigger’s favorite pilots. While on a training mission over the Atlantic Ocean from Chincoteague Naval Air Station, with 14 men aboard, a serious problem was discovered. The two wheels on the copilot’s side of the aircraft would not come down, while the two wheels on the pilot’s side were functioning properly. The command station was contacted and the pilot asked for instructions. The reply was to dump all the fuel in the ocean and all hands on board to abandon the aircraft.
Twelve of the crew parachuted to safety. After much pleading with the home base, Johnson was given permission to attempt to fly the B-24 safely to the base. Jigger had flown many missions with Lt. Johnson and felt that Johnson was the greatest pilot he had ever known. He sat in the copilot’s seat and followed directions from Johnson. The plane screeched in with its belly on the runway, sparks flying. The only damage to the Liberator was a single wing tip that had scraped through the grass beside the runway during the landing, thus saving a million dollar aircraft. Together the pilot and Jigger, the flight engineer, had brought the plane in safely and without loss of life. Some say it was only because Jigger was afraid to jump out of the airplane.
Jigger was discharged in Jan. of 1946 and was glad to be home with his wife and son, Michael who would soon celebrate his first birthday.
For 35 years, Jigger was a very successful life insurance agent with Southland Life Insurance Company. Jigger was a charter member of the Montross Volunteer Rescue Squad, chartered in 1989. He and Billy Sanford ran the very first squad call for Mr. Stanley Dawson, retired Westmoreland County Extension Agent.
Jigger was elected as the first Chairman of the Board of Directors of the squad. He and his wife Mary ran volunteer rescue squad duty five days a week, 14 hours a day 52 weeks a year for many years.
Louis Crabbe was born on Oct. 8, 1925 in Westmoreland County. As a young man, he worked for the Pennsylvania Railroad Company before he was drafted to serve in WWII. Boot camp occurred at Great Lakes, Illinois and lasted for nine weeks. He was pleased to be drafted into the United States Navy. Mr. Crabbe served our country for three years and enjoyed it. But, he stated: “I was glad to go in and glad to come out!” Mr. Crabbe was stationed in the South Pacific as a gunner’s mate second class. He enjoyed the operation of repairing guns and was overseas for two years. He was discharged in 1946. Upon his discharge from the Navy, Mr. Crabbe returned to his home in Sandy Point to pursue a career in carpentry and then in commercial fishing working out of Reedville, New Jersey and Delaware. In the fall of 1963, he grew weary of the high seas and began another career in construction work. He worked for several construction companies in the Washington, D.C. area as a carpenter and a cement finisher. He retired from Grumley and Walsh Construction Company in 1987.