On April 5, 1918, Woodrow Wilson was president, and nations around the globe were locked in the campaigns and battles of the First World War. On that calm spring day in a log cabin on a Missouri farm deep in the Ozark Mountains, a blessed baby boy was delivered into the world by a country doctor who arrived on horse and buggy. Born to Bessie and Homer, Newton Ulysses Crawford, the first child and only son, would see 96 years, some 35,000 days of family, laughter, love. So much change, yet he always approached life as an adventure, even throughout the three wars that he served as a Naval Officer—he was a true war hero who fought with honor in World War II, Korea, and Vietnam.
His father, Homer, was born in an alfalfa field in 1894. His parents worked on the land as farmers except for one year when they lived in town to work in the Brown Shoe factory after it opened. Homer and Bessie had two more children, daughters Dortha and Juanita, and the siblings always got along.
Newton farmed, fished, hunted, and explored the 320 acres of forests, fields, hills, river bottoms, and bluffs. Mostly, he worked with his relatives, plowing fields and hauling hay. In his spare time, he walked to school, starting school at four years because he “fussed and fussed” until they let him and making it through two years of high school. He loved going to school, and recess was his favorite part. His mom sent box lunches with peanut butter and jelly on homemade bread and fruit from the orchard on their property. He walked to school, crossing a swinging bridge over Possum Creek.
He didn’t have shoes and went barefoot most of the time, though wore lace-up boots in the winter. He often walked ten miles back and forth to town. They did not have electricity until after he left home, so he did not grow up listening to music on the radio or watching television. He carried in wood every night for the fire. He said that they normally had cornbread, beans and milk at night and oatmeal on eggs for breakfast while lunch was chicken, squirrel, quail, or pork. They sometimes ate opossum or frog legs. They grew or raised everything they ate except for sugar, salt, and pepper.
On Sunday mornings, he went to church with his family, and afternoons he played games like baseball, horseshoes, jacks, dominoes, and cards. Sometimes, they flew kites, made mud pies, or went roller skating or sledding. They often met for picnics, potlucks, or family reunions.
When he turned 16, his grandpa bought him a tractor to keep him home, safe on the farm for a few more years. But Newton joined the Navy and served for 30 years, traveling the world, surviving three wars, making the highest ranking as a Naval Officer, CWOW4 or Chief Warrant Officer W-4.
Everywhere he went, Newton planted a garden, if he could, and told stories of his gardens in exotic places during his years in the Navy.
Retiring from the military, he spent 30 years as a cattle farmer on his family farm where he lived in a white house built by Crawford hands many years before. Two careers, two lifetimes.
He married his childhood friend, Juanita Allen, the girl from just down the road, on September 30, 1944 at the preacher’s house in Houston. He said about his wife, “she’s the most beautiful thing I ever saw!! She was really pretty!” Married for 61 years, always together until her death in 2006.
His only son, Newton Ulysses Crawford, Jr. was born on March 1, 1948 in California. Newton, Sr. said, “Newtie was always laughing and having fun. He liked to have a bath and play in the water.”
Newton Jr. returned to the family farm with his own family. Another white house that had been built by Crawford hands moved, driven down the roads to the hill, placed next to its match. From one son, 10 grandchildren, 20 great-grandchildren, including Newton Ulysses Crawford III and twenty years later, Newton Ulysses Crawford IV. Newton the First also had a decade plus of being the grandpa next door. We remember playing rook, watching movies, eating holiday meals...every family event, he stood strong and tall; his presence always there, steady, soothing. Most of the time, he wore his three-time war veteran hat, blue jeans, a blue button down work shirt, and brown cowboy boots.
His sun-spotted hands built houses, a family, a farm. Like his mother, Bessie, he lived into his nineties, driving his own car, and living in his own house until the very end. Change, war, loss, laughter, love—through it all he remained kind, with good humor and an optimistic spirit.
The man and the land leave a significant legacy. An honor to his generation, he will be missed. From him, how much we learned. Thank you, Dad, Grandpa, Great-Grandpa, Newton the First, for showing us the value of family, hard work, a positive attitude, and kindheartedness. For displaying the importance of keeping a garden, raising our own food, and taking care of our land. For teaching us to explore the world and live as an adventurer. You will live on in our hearts and minds from a million treasured memories. We love you.