Melvin Crowder passed away silently on November 1, 2012 at The Fountains Care Facility in Yuba City, California. He was born to J.E and Margret Crowder on June 9, 1923 at his grandfathers home in Dunseith, North Dakota. Mel lived in North Dakota until he was 14 years old when his folks moved to California in 1937, settling in Yuba City. His father worked with his nephew Bill Brander in an early crop dusting outfit coordinating the only two crop dusters in the north state at that time. Attending school in Yuba City until his Sophomore year, his family moved to Gridley where he graduated from Gridley Union High School in June of 1941. After high school Mel worked for Safeway Stores as an apprentice meat cutter until November 1942 when he enlisted in the Navy. He went through boot camp in Farragut, Idaho and continued advanced training in Naval Aviation Ordinance in Norman, Oklahoma. Upon graduation from there he qualified as an Aviation Aerial Gunner. Mel then attended training at the Top Secret Norden Bombsight School. From there he was transferred to Norfolk, Virginia and assigned to Torpedo Squadron 15. Aboard the newly constructed USS Hornet Aircraft Carrier Docked in Newport News, Virginia. On November 29, 1943 the ship was christened and put into service. Everyone assigned to the ship at christening became known as “Plankowners.” The ship shakedown cruise which normally lasted 30 days was reduced to 14. Supplied and armed, the Hornet made a hasty departure for the Pacific where she was directly needed for the war effort. Upon reaching Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, the ships Captain declared that the pilots of Torpedo Squadron 15 were not combat ready and transferred for additional training. Mel remained aboard being assigned to the new squadron coming aboard known as Air Group 2. Mel's job consisted of loading bombs, torpedos and ordinance required by each planes needs and to make sure those planes remained in combat readiness. He was also on standby as an Aerial Gunner on a TBM Aircraft. The first combat action Mel saw was in the Carolina Islands in the South Pacific followed by many Naval engagements and battles. He also participated in all of the land and island invasions throughout the rest of the war, including, Leyte Gulf, where General McArther made his historic return to the Philippines. During combat maneuvers off of Okinawa Island in June of 1945 Mel's fleet was overcome by a typhoon which blew wind and ocean up to 120 knots. The ship went through one side of the typhoon into the dead calm water of the eye and out of the other side. Numerous ships suffered damage and casualties with the Hornet also having damage and aircraft lost overboard. Mel recalled the damage to the Hornets bow with the flight deck being followed over and down for about 30 feet. That damage precluded launching aircraft after the first aircraft launched went into the water due to eddy winds from the damaged flight deck. Consequently the ship launched her aircraft in reverse and off the AFT deck which had never been done before and was successful. After more assignments, Mel's ship proceeded to San Francisco via Pearl Harbor in July of 1945 to be retrofitted. After outfitting with all of the latest technology and armament of the day, the USS Hornet was in drydock when the war was declared over. Mel continued to be assigned to the Hornet when she was directed to ferry troops back from the far east to the US in what became known as the “Magic Carpet Ride.” After five round trips in February of 1946, the Hornet arrived at Alamada Naval Station where she remains today as a floating museum of history. Mel was honorably discharged and stayed in the Naval Reserves until he was recalled to active duty during the Korean Conflict in 1952. Mel was unable to pass his flight physical and returned to civilian status. Returning to Gridley, Mel went back to work for Safeway Stores for a short time and then went to work as a truck driver for Foremost Dairies for seven years. In 1953, Mel married Dolores Presley and together they owned and operated Presley's Cafe in Wheatland until 1998 when Dolores passed away. The Cafe was well known throughout the area and many a patron, friend and family frequented the restaurant including the Greyhound and other bus line services. Mel was well known for not only for his witty waiter and food preparation skills, but always for a friendly chat and handshake for all that knew him. From 1962 to 1978, Mel also drove bus number 7 for Wheatland Union High School making many a life long friend with his young passengers. From 1998 to present, Mel enjoyed retirement, traveling to his home state and many USS Hornet Reunions held in different locations.
Page 2 of 2 - Mel will be missed by all his friends, family and loved ones and especially for his dedication and sacrifice during WWII to keep our country free.
Interment will be held at the Gridley-Biggs Cemetery, Veterans Memorial area on June 10, 2013, at 10 a.m. All are welcome to attend.