Hamilton County

Marshall Ernest Crippen



Seaman Crippen received a certificate designating him to be a “full fledged sailor” signed by President F. D. Roosevelt. In 1938 when President Roosevelt took his trip to South America, he signed Marshall’s certificate after the boat had crossed the equator. According to Navy tradition, it is said, a seaman is not a “full fledged sailor” or “hard-shell” until he has crossed the equator. At that time certificates are always given to them, signed by the commanding officer. It just happened on Marshall’s first trip across the equator the president was on board his ship.

Source: Daily Freeman Journal, Webster City, IA, March 4, 1939

Webster City Sailor Reported Missing


Marshall Crippen’s Parents Receive Message From Rear Admiral.

Marshall Ernest Crippen, 24, son of Mr. and Mrs. Wesson C. Crippen, of Webster City, was reported missing in action following the great naval battle waged between the United Nations fleet and the Japanese convoy flotilla in the Java region a few weeks ago. Crippen is the first Hamilton county service man to be listed as a possible war casualty.

Crippen’s parents received a message from Rear Admiral Randall Jacobs, chief of the naval bureau at Washington stating that the youth, who held the rank of coxswain, was missing following the performance of his duty in the service of his country.

No Ship Mentioned.

The message did not state on which ship Crippen was stationed and war regulations forbid mention of ships or locations on which navy men are stationed.

The young man’s father stated today that Marshall enlisted with the navy in 1935, following his graduation from the local high school. He first went to the Great Lakes Naval Training station at Chicago, and later to San Diego, Calif.

At the San Diego station, Marshall went aboard the U. S. S. Houston, one of the 12 warships reported lost in the Java battle. He served four years, and upon the expiration of his term in 1939, reenlisted.

Received Letter.

The last definite word from Marshall was received by his parents in a letter dated Jan. 30. The letter arrived only last week. In the letter Marshall stated he was well and getting along nicely. There was no indication where the letter was mailed, and no address was given.

Before Dec. 7, the date of the Pearl Harbor attack, Marshall was on the Houston, stationed at the Philippine Islands, and had been there for at least a year. It is believed the Houston was one of the warships that had been bottled up by the Japanese for a while, but later managed to make an escape with a number of other navy ships. From that time on the family had no definite knowledge of his whereabouts.

An Able Man

Marshall was an experienced seaman, and was given a “diploma” after his initiation as a “shell back”, when he crossed the equator for the first time. “Shell backs” are seamen who have crossed the equator and undergo a ritual during their first crossing. The local youth made his initial equatorial crossing during his second year with the navy. His diploma bears the personal signature of President Roosevelt, who is himself a “shell back.”

Coxswain Crippen was cited on shipboard for his ability and accuracy in handling gun turrets, one of the most exacting duties in the service. The youth was always interested in science and radio while a student at the local schools and also took part in athletic programs. He paid a visit to his family about a year ago while on a furlough.

Roosevelt’s Favorite

He recounted many of his experiences and was particularly proud of the fact that President Roosevelt often chose the Houston as his favorite ship for sea voyages. He had often greeted the president on these voyages and reported the president as a good sailor.

The “missing in action” message did not state Marshall was aboard the Houston, but his father said today he had always been under the impression that Marshall had served all of his time aboard this ship.

Marshall has three sisters, Carla Jean, at home, Mrs. Dorothy Buckle, Webster City, and Mrs. Margaret Elliott, Monte Vello, Calif.

*    *    *    *    *


The following message was received by Wesson C. Crippen Saturday evening in action:
Washington, D. C.
Wesson C. Crippen
720 Superior Street
Webster City, Iowa.
The navy department deeply regrets to inform you that your son, Marshall Ernest Crippen, coxswain in the United States navy, is missing following action in the performance of his country. The department appreciates your great anxiety and will furnish you further information promptly when received. To prevent possible aid to our enemies, please do not divulge the name of his ship or station.
(Signed) Rear Admiral Randall Jacobs
Chief of Bureau of Navigation.
PHOTO of USS Houston included in this news article.
LOST IN DEFENSE OF JAVA — Here is the U.S.S. Houston, one of a dozen United Nations/ warships lost last month in the unsuccessful attempt to turn a Japanese fleet away from Java. This picture was made while the cruiser was on a visit to San Francisco bay.

Source:  Daily Freeman Journal, Webster City, IA – March 16, 1942

Crippen First To Die in World War II

First Webster City casualty in World War II and first Hamilton county serviceman reported missing in action was Marshall E. Crippen, 24, son of Mr. and Mrs. W. C. Crippen. Crippen was serving as a coxswain aborad the cruiser, U.S.S. Houston, which was one of 12 allied warships lost in the Java Sea battle Feb. 28, 1942. The Webster City sailor had been serving in the Navy for seven years, having enlisted following his graduation from Lincoln High school in 1935. Another Hamilton county sailor, James E. Watt of Williams, was also reported missing aboard the Houston.  Watt, who had been in service since 1940, was a close friend of Crippen’s.

Source: The Daily Freeman-Journal—Centennial Edition—Sat. June 8, 1957

Plaque dedication ceremony to honor Marshall Crippen

A special bronze plaque honoring Marshall E. Crippen, the first Hamilton county serviceman to die in World War II, will be dedicated Friday morning at 9 o’clock at the Des Moines St. bridge, it was announced today by Commander Dick Owens of the Webster City American Legion.

The plaque, furnished by Webster City’s American Legion post will honor the Webster City sailor who was aboard the U.S.S. Houston, one of 12 U.S. warships reported lost in the great battle of the Java Sea in March, 1942.

Dedication of the plaque will be incorporated with the annual Women’s Relief Corps observance at the bridge which will honor all servicemen and women lost at sea. The public is invited to attend.

Marshall Crippen, the son of Mrs. Mable Crippen and the late W. C. Crippen, enlisted in the U.S. Navy in 1935 following his graduation here.

After his preliminary training at Great Lakes, he was assigned to San Diego and from there went aboard the U.S.S. Houston. He served for four years and upon the expiration of his term in 1939 promptly re-enlisted.

He had attained the position of coxswain and had been cited on shipboard for his ability and accuracy in handling gun turrets. During one of his visits home he told his family that President Franklin D. Roosevelt had often chosen the Houston as his favorite ship for sea voyages, and he had greeted the president on several of these occasions.

Prior to the start of World War II on Dec. 7, 1941, Crippen was reportedly based in the Philippine islands and had been there with the Houston for about a year. It was believed that the Houston was one of several warships bottled up by the Japanese fleet for awhile before making an escape and joining with other U.S. naval units.

His parents had received a letter from him, dated Jan. 20, arriving just a week before the notice of the ship sinking. The letter said he was well and getting along nicely.

At the dedication services Friday morning, the Crippen family will be well represented. Mrs. Crippen has two daughters residing in Webster City, Mrs. Dorothy Burckle and Mrs. Carla Wahlers. A third daughter, Mrs. Margaret Elliott, resides in Fresno, Calif.

The legion dedication completes the official dedication of the two memorial bridges over the Boone river. The bridge on East Dubuque St. (Bank St.) was dedicated with the unveiling of a plaque furnished by the county barracks of the Veterans of World War I, honoring James T. Wedding, first Hamilton County serviceman to die in World War I.

Source: Daily Freeman Journal, Webster City, IA - May 26, 1969

Marshall Ernest Crippen was born Apr. 3, 1917. to Wesson C. and Mable M. Marshall Crippen. He died in the sinking of the U.S.S. Houston (CA-30) in the Java Sea battle Feb. 28, 1942. He is memorialized at the Manilla American Cemetery, Fort Bonifacio, Manila, Philippines.

He was reported missing in action in March 1942, later declared killed in action. He was awarded the Purple Heart, American Campaign Medal, World War II Victory Medal and Combat Action Ribbon.  

Marshall was the first Webster City casualty in World War II and first Hamilton county serviceman reported missing in action.

Daily Freeman Journal, Webster City, IA
World War II Memorial