Col. Willis Cronkhite (Ret.) - Co. F 1952-1953, Silver Star, West Point Graduate 1946 (Deceased 11/23/2002)
Willis Dodge 'Bud' Cronkhite Jr was born on 06/01/1922 and died on 11/23/2002 at the age of 80. Willis Cronkhite is buried in the cemetery Arkansas State Veterans Cemetery, which is located in North Little Rock, AR.
Col. Willis “Bud” Cronkhite (Ret.) was a varsity wrestler at West Point, nicknamed “The Crusher.” He often bragged that he could either outsmart or outfight any man in the room. His motto was “live fast, die young, and be a good-looking corpse.” He got close to dying young several times. He survived a direct hit by a bolt of lightning on a rifle range in Ft. Benning, and the Chinese Army nearly got him twice.
He commanded Fox Company, 65th Infantry Regiment in Korea. In September of 1952, Fox Company held Kelly Hill for eight days. Several days later nearly every man of the relief com-pany (Co. “B”) was killed or captured in a surprise attack. In October, he led an attack on Jackson Heights dodging machine gun bullets on the way up. Towards the end of a confusing afternoon, he held the hill for several hours with only himself and four others. He was awarded the Silver Star for valor in that action.
After a 30-year career in the Infantry, Bud retired, got a Masters in Social Work, and counseled Vietnam Veterans and people in drug rehabilitation as a second vocation.
He was a devoted father and husband. The sixth time they saw each other Bud and Joyce were married immediately after his graduation from West Point in June of 1946. Thanks in large part to Joyce’s patience, they were married for 56 years.
Bud was the son of an infantry colonel. He lived in China, Japan, Panama, Germany, Korea, and many of the United States. He was comfortable in the company of governors and generals, but spent much of his time helping those who needed it. He would argue either side of any issue, just to keep the conversation lively. He learned and lived in the power of forgiveness.
His personal hero was his battalion commander, LTC Carlos Betances, but he loved all the soldiers in F Company. He was interviewed for an upcoming documentary on his combat experience. The interviewer was a young woman with many connections to the 65th. At the end of the interview he teared up and said: “The Puerto Rican soldiers in F Company were the finest fighters I ever saw. They would follow me anywhere. Commanding them was the highlight of my life.” Both he and the interviewer burst into tears. She ran to him and they embraced until they both cried it out.
On November 23, Bud died in his sleep at the age of 80. He was buried with full military honors with the crest of the 65th Infantry Regiment pinned to his lapel.