This is a story of a 1964 graduate of Park High School who gave his life in the Vietnam War. His upbringing takes us back to the early days of the expansion of Cottage Grove in the late 1950s. His …
This is a story of a 1964 graduate of Park High School who gave his life in the Vietnam War. His upbringing takes us back to the early days of the expansion of Cottage Grove in the late 1950s. His name was William Crockett and he is likely not very familiar to most of us.
His loss was compounded by the fact that he was declared MIA, missing in action. Not many of us realize that we have an MIA from our city of Cottage Grove. Not many of us knew him. Those that do, may have known his family, walked the same hallways that he did at old Park High, or knew him as a neighbor or friend.
William Crockett went missing in Vietnam in 1972, along with pilot Lee Tigner, when their F-4H fighter jet crashed into the Song Thach Han River near Quang Tri City.
William (Bill) Crockett was born at the Great Lakes, Illinois Naval Base on October 23, 1946 to William and Dorothy Crockett. His father was a U S Naval Chief Petty Officer who served in World War II and Korea. In 1958, the Crockett family moved to Cottage Grove. Bill, his brother Steve and sister Gail, went to Pine Hill Elementary School. Bill also went to Oltman Junior High and graduated from Park High School (in Saint Paul Park) in 1964. He was a model Boy Scout, a good student and lettered in Tennis.
Following his school years in the area, Bill went to the University of Minnesota, studied Zoology and graduated in 1968. He then entered the U S Air Force as an officer and became First Lieutenant in special weapons.
On August 22, 1972, with about five months remaining in the Vietnam War, William Crockett and Lee Tigner’s F-4 fighter plane was hit by enemy ground fire. The right wing was torn off and the plane was witnessed with no one ejecting as it crashed and tumbled into a river near Quang Tri City. Subsequent searches showed no survivors or remains. Crockett and Tigner were declared as Missing in Action. From that day on, the family of William Crockett would never know if he died, how he died or when he died. For the families, having their loved one, declared MIA in any war is a cruel and additional horror and eternal hardship.
In 1982, the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall opened to the public. The Wall, as it is known, was founded by Vietnam veteran Jan Scruggs and designed by Yale student Maya Linn. The organization is known as the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund (VVMF). Aside from The Wall, the VVMF are also custodians of a travelling wall- The Wall That Heals and the photo memorial project- The Wall of Faces.
There are 58, 276 names etched on The Wall this year. These soldiers came from all over our country, our provinces and several other countries. Behind each name there is a story, a family and a photo. The Wall of Faces is an effort to place a photo and the stories of each of these men and women (there are eight ladies named on The Wall) on this website. Of those 58,000 plus names, as of this writing, there are only 49 individuals without a single photo. Most of them, without a single picture are from New York City and Puerto Rico. Minnesota completed their search in 2015.
The Wall is shaped like a broad letter aerial V. The names are listed by dates of death, beginning on Panel 1 East and continues to the Panel 70 East and resumes at the opposite end at Panel 70 West and ends at Panel 1 West. Panel 1 East and Panel 1West are next to each other and form the very bottom of the V.
William Crockett’s casualty date was very late in the war, thus, his name is found on line 68 of Panel 1 West, next to Lee Tigner. Panel 1 West has 132 lines with 5 to 6 names on each line. The names of Tigner and Crockett are almost in the middle of that panel.
To see the pictures and stories of William Crockett, one needs only to search online using these words- vvmf william crockett Once on his page, the photos can all be seen by clicking on VIEW ALL PHOTOS and using the side arrows. There is a name slot to the right of the photo area and an ADVANCED SEARCH offering where one can search by city, county, state or many other variables. To see what others have written, scroll down from the picture area. William Crockett has 4 pages of stories and remembrances.
William Crockett has 3 letters he wrote to his family on his VVMF page. One is from December of 1971. At this time he was trying to calm his family in the recent losses of a number of his fellow pilots. He was married by then and was hoping to spend some time with his wife Jan. His letters were deeply personal and reveal his character. By the time of the last 2 letters, it shows that he was becoming more concerned about his own safety.
Our nation still has over 1,500 MIAs from the Vietnam War. William Crockett is one of 33 MIAs from Minnesota.
Maybe the best writing from the family, came from his sister, Gail Stanghelle in June of 2021. The Crockett’s Dad- Bill, died in 2010, their Mother Dorothy, in 2014. They lived all those years without knowing. While we can never know or be part of this kind of loss in a family, Gail has great insights to their early years in Cottage Grove and to the loss of a brother, almost 50 years ago. Here is that letter: This past Memorial Day I realized that it’s almost been 50 years since my brother, Bill, died in Vietnam. My whole family served in the military – both my parents during WWII and both my brothers in Vietnam. But, since Memorial Day is for remembering those who died in active service, my thoughts turned especially to my brother Bill.
My family moved here in 1958. We were part of the boom that followed the war. We lived on the first street made in the new part of Cottage Grove. It was Cherry Avenue then – but later was renamed Hadley Ave South. Our neighborhood was full of kids and it was a great place to grow up. I have such fond memories of my neighbors – the Johnsons, Pinkes, DeMarcos – and more. Walking two very long blocks to go to school at Pine Hill Elementary seemed brutal in the winter. My older brothers, Bill and Steve, were there too. There were just empty fields behind our house and a lot of dirt to play in! The years passed and the tumultuous 60’s were upon us –and the Vietnam War. To be honest, I didn’t give it much thought. I was a typical, self-centered teenager. I tuned out the nightly news and the listing of how many died that day in the war. It was so far away and didn’t seem real – until my brothers were gone. Steve enlisted first and then Bill joined after graduating from college. I missed both of them – the house was very quiet and lonely without them. I still didn’t consider that they might not make it home. Until one of them didn’t.
The war was almost over – it was August 22, 1972 – and two Air Force officers came to the door. I was 17 at the time and home alone. They asked If my parents were home and when they found out they were not they proceeded to tell me that Bill’s plane, on which he was navigator, was shot down over Quang Tri Province in Vietnam. The plane was observed from others in his squadron. It was hit, the plane flipped over and exploded on landing. No one ejected from the plane. Not good news.
Bill’s body has never been recovered. Living without that closure was tricky sometimes. While the head knows he couldn’t have survived – the heart says “What if? There were times, sometimes years later, when I would find myself thinking – what if he walked through that door. What if I saw him walking toward me?
Grief changes over almost 50 years, I do not find myself wondering anymore, but he is never forgotten or missed. There will always be a part of my heart that misses him and that nothing or no one else can fill. He has nephews and nieces who would have loved to have known him – as well as my husband and sister-in-law.
When I look at the Vietnam War Memorial, I see 58,000 plus names – I know that behind each name are countless family members and friends who grieve for and miss that person. Billy was a wonderful older brother – bossy at times – but I know he cared for me and my brother Steve. He left a wife of only four months behind as well. No children. Sometimes I feel badly that there will come a time when no one who knew him will be alive. He’ll be forgotten and that’s a shame. I’ve shared about him with my children and they are proud of the uncle they never knew.
However, one of the really wonderful things that happened from his death is that I began a spiritual journey that continues to this day. Although we were brought up going to church, I never made it personal until after he died. Hard things can either draw you away or toward God. Bill had faith and I know where he is and that I will see him again – I’m looking forward to that day!
William Crockett has a marker at Fort Snelling National Cemetery. It’s at the Memorial Marker section of the cemetery, located right across the street from the visitor information center. Crockett is also named on the Tablets of the Missing at the Punch Bowl Cemetery in Honolulu.
It would be a great compliment to William Crockett and his family to name the new ballpark after him. The Crocketts lived on the 8700 block of Hadley, just a few short blocks from Hamlet Park and the new fields. It would really be nice for us to honor the memory of a Park graduate who gave his life in defense of his country. Curious kids playing ball on those fields, just one day might look him up and learn about his brief life. Just because this all happened 50 years ago, does not mean we forget.
In his sister Gail’s own words, “Thank you for this opportunity. My brother had no children and it won’t be long before those of us who knew him personally will no longer be here. I don’t want him forgotten.”
Our City of Cottage Grove has seen a lot of progress in recent years. Some of this progress is marked with new parks and the need for expanding athletic fields. One such area is behind the four ball fields at Hamlet Park. The location is near the back side of Werner Electric. This complex has two developed baseball fields with room for two additional fields. Sometime, later this summer, the Cottage Grove City Council will name the new fields.
Recently, the cities resident Advisory Committee for Historic Preservation was asked by the city for a recommendation to name the fields. After a discussion and by unanimous consent, they approved that the fields be named after former resident William Crockett. We hope the Cottage Grove City Council will take this into consideration at a future meeting.