Cross Reflects On Life
There are stories all around us. Deep within the hills and hollows of our county lie a treasure of stories, if we are just willing to look around us. Ninety-four-year old Bill Cross is an example of such.
The World War II veteran was born, and grew up, in a time that is foreign to many of us. Through stories of hardship, yet simpler times, he offers a viewpoint, morals, and values that many of us should heed, and keep close for future generations.
Casey, a Beagle Hound pup, enthusiastically offered a greeting at the front door of Cross’ farmhouse, located in the hills of Proctor. Cross hasn’t had this canine companion for long, but hopefully its ornery, yet sweet demeanor offers some comfort in the absence of Cross’ wife, who passed away just a few months ago.
Before he began shooting the breeze with this writer, Cross offered coffee and cookies, peanut butter ones that he had just baked the previous day.
The kitchen table includes a bowl of fruit, the tray of peanut butter cookies, a couple of pens, and a yellow legal pad. The yellow legal pad includes several filled pages of Cross’ autobiography, which he has diligently been working on after being asked to do so by his daughters.
Cross begins telling his story, captured on those pages. He said he was born in Reader, in 1922, and he weighed five pounds.
“It cost $5 to deliver me,” he said. “That’s how I started out. An old country doctor delivered me.”
There were tough times growing up, especially during the Great Depression. “I can remember during the depression, hoeing corn from 7 a.m. until 5 p.m. for 25 cents a day, plus dinner and supper. That was before my mother died, but there just wasn’t any work for anybody,” Cross said.
Cross said his family had moved to Ohio, when he was about 2-years-old, and “when the Depression hit, there wasn’t any work for anybody, so we had to come back home, and we lived with my granddad.
The family ended up renting a house in Reader. “I stayed there until I graduated,” Cross said.
Furthermore, Cross’ father found work that paid $16 for a week.
“People get more than that an hour!” Cross exclaimed of the world today.
Cross graduated from Reader. “We had a big graduating class. We had 12 boys and three girls.” Of the latter, Cross noted with an ornery tinge, “We had a variety – a blonde, a brunette, and a redhead.”
Cross said his mother died when he was 14-years-old. His father later married, but Cross had gone to live with his grandmother after his mother died. Yet, his grandmother died a year later. Cross still stayed at his grandparents’ home, living his grandfather.
A Military Career
“Mayor Bruce got PPG to come in as a war plant. I worked there until I went to the Army Air Corps 8th Air Force. I was sworn in on October 2, 1942,” Cross began to speak of his military history.
“I was in there over three years,” Cross said.
“One of the things that stuck in my mind was when we went overseas. There were 22,000 of us on the Queen Mary. I slept on the deck all the way. Can you imagine that many people on a boat? We sailed out of Brooklyn Navy Yard, and it went too fast for a convoy, so it zigzagged, so as the German submarines couldn’t torpedo us. We eventually landed in Scotland.”
Cross said he was in England for about two years and had volunteered for gunner. However, “This guy from Steubenville, a tech sergeant, said “No, you aren’t going to be a gunner.'”
Cross instead worked battle damage on airplanes.
“They had to have somebody patch them up, and we were doing that.”
Cross continued, “I remember on D-Day, the airplanes. A good buddy of mine and I…. we had been in the hangar all night. I knew it was going to happen. We went out that morning, and he said “Look there!” I looked up, and I could count 210 planes in one formation, of B-24 bombers, but at the same time, I could see 10 formations of different planes, fighters, bombers… The old man (slang for the commanding officer) said, ‘There ain’t going to be any sleep. You can forget about it.'”
The happiest day for Cross and his comrades was May 8, 1945, when Germany surrendered.
However, Cross did not get to head home until August, due to B-29 training.
On his way home, “They dropped the first atomic bomb on our second day out. The third day, the British were unofficially celebrating the end of the war, and then they dropped the second (bomb).”
Cross came home on the Queen Elizabeth. There were 16,000 men and 7 nurses aboard. It arrived in Brooklyn Naval Yard in the United States; he then crossed the river to Camp Gilmore in New Jersey.
“I was headed through Keyser, W.Va. when Harry Truman announced the end of the war. You know, I never saw such a happy bunch of people in my life.”
Cross spent time in San Antonio, Texas, and then Arizona, prior to getting his discharge from the military.
Cross did end up signing up for the reserves later on, and he was called during the Korean War. However, Cross’ service during this time did not include overseas deployment.
Cross did note, that during his time with the Army, he was chosen – along with two others – to put the first rockets in aircraft. “We put the first rockets that was ever on a bomber. That was quite a big deal.” Cross said later on, while in Texas after the war, he heard his name over the loudspeaker. Though he thought he was getting in trouble, he and his fellow comrades were actually recognized for their work with putting the rockets on aircraft.
Cross noted that his first vehicle, which he bought upon returning from the Army, was an old 1939 Plymouth. “I told my dad I was going to get a car. He said, ‘You don’t need a car.’
He kept messing with me. So one day I said, ‘You’re right. I don’t need a car. I’m going to buy myself a motorcycle.’ The next day we went and bought me a car.”
Cross then approached the subject of his late wife.
“Then I got married. I had a lot of girlfriends, but that didn’t make any difference. Betty was a telephone operator, and the first date she had with me, she swore it would be the last. She was so quiet. We got married a year and a half later. We got married in 1949, and that was the best move I ever made in my life. I really loved Betty… I still do.”
When asked what impressed him about Betty, compared to other women he dated, Cross doesn’t really hesitate at all.
“She was just different… It seemed like she was my kind of woman. I could not have gotten a better woman.”
Cross has lived in his Proctor residence for 46 years. He said if his wife, Betty, would have lived until April, “we would’ve been married for 68 years.”
“Betty and I did everything together,” Cross said. “If there was a big meal, I cooked as much as she did. If I was putting up hay, she did too.”
“I tell you what, I always have respected women. I don’t care what kind of girl I met, if I treated her like a lady, she would act like a lady. I think that is one thing today… To me, it seems like people don’t try to live as close to God as they ought to.”
Work & Farming
Outside of his military service, Cross has 71 years as a union carpenter. He served as president of the carpenter’s union later on his career.
“I got my apprenticeship under my dad, and you can’t get a rougher apprenticeship than under your dad,” he said, laughing.
“I worked up and down the Valley,” Cross said, naming off different places where he worked.
“I don’t want to sound like I’m tooting my horn,” he humbly added.
Cross was repeatedly asked to serve as an assistant superintendent on the water tower project, near St. Marys. However, “I didn’t want it; it was time for me to put up my hay!”
When he started farming, Cross didn’t have a bailer. A gentleman came to the farm to custom bail.
“When he left, the man said ‘I felt sorry for you on that farm with those four girls. When I got done, I felt sorry for myself!”
“They worked,” Cross said of his daughters – Linda, Jean, Cheri, and Nancy.
Cross and his wife were also involved in 4-H for years, each having a club for 20 years.
“Mine was mostly horses,” Cross said, adding that he worked with the Teen Trail Riders.
“We had as many as 36 horses here on a Sunday,” he said.
“I tell you, I thought sometimes it took more time than what I had, but I thought if I kept one kid off of dope, it was worth it.”
Cross said that at Betty’s funeral several of the former 4-H and “Teen Trail Riders” crew showed up.
“One man said, ‘You thought you got four girls, but you got a big family.'”
And since Cross spoke of keeping kids “off of dope,” he was asked his advice on the current drug abuse problem.
“I know that if they did the same thing I did, it would help. The kids were most interested in the horses, than they were in anything else.”
One of Cross’ hobbies is poetry. He said he is “not a poet,” but he writes “some poetry.”
“The reason I do it? I’m a firm believer in that the Good Lord lets you keep anything as long as you use it. When you don’t use it, you lose it. I believe you should use your mind as much as you use your body.
Cross said he never wrote poems until about three years ago. “It’s funny, I woke up one night, and the first one I had written, I called it “The Farmer’s Prayer.”
Cross’ first piece of work goes like this:
You helped me in the meadow Lord,
When I was making hay.
When I was planting corn
You were with me all the way.
When I was building fence
And splitting locust posts,
Some of them split awful hard
That’s when you helped me most.
Remember when the grass was short
And we were needing rain?
All I did was ask you Lord
You helped me out again.
Whether cleaning out the barn
Or hauling in the wood,
I never really thanked you Lord,
Not nearly like I should.
But my work here’s almost over
There’s not much left to do,
Then I hope that I’ll be coming home
And I’ll be helping you
Cross’ talents don’t end there however. He also showed this writer how he makes tiny baskets out of peach seeds, as well as the most intricately detailed barn that he created – along with whittled wooden animals – years ago.
Do You Remember?
Cross then noted that he had some questions for the writer of this story, as well as its eventual readers. He asked if anyone remembers when New Martinsville had air mail, after World War II. “It flew usually – I think it came from Huntington to Pittsburgh. It would go up in the morning, and it never landed. That plane would come and drop the mail bag, and it would go to Pittsburgh. Then in the evening, it would come back.”
Does anyone remember the two ferry boats that crossed the river? “That was when they were building Ormet. They had so many guys going to work, they would run two ferry boats.”
Cross inquired if anyone remembers the five automobile dealerships in New Martinsville, or the two drive-in movie theaters.
He asked about the excursion boats that would come through the area during the summer. The boats would stop in New Martinsville, on their way to Pittsburgh. There would be a dance band on the boat.
Cross mentioned how the Wetzel Chronicle building stands where Clark’s Red Barn used to. “Right behind that, was a big field, and on a celebration for New Martinsville, they brought an outfit in with polo and played a game. I never had so much fun, watching the horses!”
Cross recollected a time when Dwight Eisenhower, when president, came through the area on a train “and made a whistle stop in New Martinsville.” He noted that Lewie Newman, Betty’s step-brother, shook hands with Eisenhower. Later, people realized that Newman had been Eisenhower’s chauffeur during World War II.
Does anyone remember Hoover’s Bull? Cross said a train once traveled from New Martinsville to Clarksburg. This train had a “big old air horn,” and since this was in Hoover’s administration, people labelled the experience “Hoover’s Bull.”
After hearing Cross reminisce on the past, it’s apparent how much life he has lived in 94 years. He is then asked if he has any advice for the readers of the Chronicle.
Cross recited one of his poems, about life. He then stated “Your life is what you make it.”
He then said “The one piece of advice I gave my grandsons was, when you go to work for somebody, try to make yourself valuable enough that they don’t want to let you go.”
“Don’t be afraid of hard work.”