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Retired Army colonel saw combat in 3 wars

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/25/21/20/1hOTPc.Em.138.jpeg|402
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    Col. Charles Crain
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2014/07/25/21/20/18vS2x.Em.138.jpeg|332
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    Col. Charles Crain

A decorated, retired U.S. Army colonel who saw combat in three wars was remembered by friends and family during services on Saturday.

Col. Charles Crain, 96, of Charlotte died Monday. Crain – known to many friends and fellow servicemen as “Charlie” – was a combat veteran who served in World War II, Korea and Vietnam.

Born in Flemingsburg, Ky., Crain was a dedicated family man, who friends and family remember as being generous and fascinating.

He and his wife of nearly 67 years, Elizabeth, moved to Charlotte in 1986 to be near their daughter and only child, Marilyn Folnsbee.

“He was a true officer and gentleman,” Folnsbee said Friday. “He’s a true American hero. … We’re very proud of him.”

Crain participated in five campaigns during World War II as an infantry company commander, three campaigns in Korea as an infantry battalion commander and in Vietnam as a division adviser to the 9th Vietnamese Infantry Division.

His military awards include the Silver Star, Purple Heart, Bronze Star, Combat Infantry Badge with Star, Legion of Merit, Air Medal and Cross of Gallantry (Vietnam).

Retired U.S. Marine veteran William Davis, 89, met Crain through their involvement as members of the Sons of the American Revolution organization. Crain was also active with the Military Officers Association and the American Legion, Matthews Post No. 235.

“We just lost a real, true American. Not that many people are awarded the Silver Star,” Davis said, noting it’s one of the country’s highest military awards for bravery.

“There are darn few real Americans who were combat veterans in three wars,” Davis said. “I don’t know how many there are in the U.S., but there can’t be that many who had a number of engagements in each of those conflicts.”

‘Greatly admired’

While Crain didn’t often open up about many of his combat experiences – “He was in some pretty horrific battles,” Folnsbee said – Crain wrote that having “the courage to participate honorably in three wars as an infantry soldier,” and later achieving leadership, were some of the proudest achievements of his life.

“He took his responsibility in the military very seriously,” Folnsbee said. “Any soldier that lost their life, he always wrote a handwritten letter to the family, telling about that man and his service.

“When he returned stateside, he did his utmost to make a personal call to those people and their home.”

Folnsbee said she could remember as a child being on vacation and traveling to visit these families. “He felt that was his responsibility as their commanding officer,” she said. “It says a lot to his character.”

With the help of his wife, Crain wrote a book of short stories with insights on his military experience, titled “ Stories From Three Wars: One Soldier’s Memories.”

Davis recalled a time that Crain knocked on his door to present him with recognition for his service, part of Crain’s work with a retired officers’ association.

“He was that kind of guy,” Davis said. “He was a gentleman and a good family man. … His personality wasn’t flamboyant, but he’d tell it like it was.”

Through online guest books, people Folnsbee will likely never meet have been sending their condolences and sharing similar sentiments. While that’s not unusual, some of their stories are.

Henry “Bill” Haigh, who served under Crain in World War II in Europe, died July 19, two days before Crain. Haigh’s daughters were looking for friends to notify and learned that Crain also had died. They signed Crain’s guest book and said their dad greatly admired him.

“We have heard many stories about their experiences and about Charlie’s leadership and friendship with Dad. Tonight, we are sorting through Dad’s Army files … and we have years of letters between Dad and Charlie,” they wrote. “May it help you to know just how much he was respected and admired by our father; we wish we had been able to meet him.”

Interment with military honors was at Sharon Memorial Park in Charlotte.

In lieu of flowers, the family requested donations be made to SouthPark Christian Church, 6650 Park South Drive, Charlotte, NC 28210. Condolences may be offered at www.HarryandBryantFuneralHome.com.

Trenda: 704-358-5089; Twitter: @htrenda
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