Thanks to some sleuthing and determination, Norway brothers Arthur and Herbert Crooker have been awarded military headstones for their service during World War II.

PARIS — Veterans Day this year was especially meaningful for the family of two Oxford Hills brothers who served in the Merchant Marine during World War II, Herbert and Arthur Crooker of Norway.

Both survived the war but passed away fairly young, Herbert in 1946 at a U.S. Navy hospital in Boston and Arthur in 1971 after struggling for years with alcoholism, disability and latent war trauma. Neither raised families of their own and over the years, as their mother and siblings passed away, future generations of kin knew less and less of them. Buried side by side at Norway Pine Grove Cemetery, Herbert and Arthur faded into time.

But over the last two years the Crooker brothers were rediscovered and with the help of old newspaper clippings, a determined veteran and their grateful niece, their voices have been heard again.

As the oldest living relative of World War II veterans Herbert and Arthur Crooker of Norway, Anita Patenaude (front) has spent the last two years working to secure military gravestones for her uncles. Also pictured from left, the brothers’ great nephew Mike Patenaude, Past Commander of Foster Carroll American Legion Post 72 South Paris Gilbert Turner and Stone Smart American Legion Post 82 Norway Commander Roger Polvinen. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

It started as Stuart Goodwin, president of the Norway Pine Grove Cemetery in South Paris, started a comprehensive review of the cemeteries records and found that Arthur Crooker did not have a proper headstone. With a little Google sleuthing, he found that the daughter of Arthur’s sister Margaret Reid, Anita Patenaude, still lived locally. He reached out to Patenaude to tell her they could arrange for the Department of Veterans Affairs to provide Arthur with a military headstone.

“When he called, I said, ‘what about Herbert?'” Patenaude told the Advertiser Democrat, following a graveside ceremony for her uncles last Thursday.

With 25 years between their dates of death, Herbert’s records had not yet been verified among the more than 7,000 graves at Norway Pine Grove Cemetery. Prompted by Patenaude, Goodwin found Herbert’s information and gave her good news: he, too, qualified for a military headstone.


As luck would have it, Patenaude was able to supply Goodwin with some local newspaper clippings about her uncles’ wartime exploits at sea and he found others, including a write up in a 1940s Houston newspaper. Goodwin, also a veteran, worked with Reid to complete the application process to confirm Herbert’s and Arthur’s World War II Merchant Marine service and they secured approval from the VA to provide their headstones.

The Crooker brothers were boys of the Oxford hills, but the newspaper articles written about them show that they were also the quintessential breed of sailor Maine is known for. Service in the Merchant Marine during World War II could be even more dangerous than the battlefield and several times the ships they served on came under enemy fire. At different times, each was reported missing at sea – much to their mother’s distress – only to resurface, sometimes months later.

“Herbert signed up with the Marines in 1941, but they wouldn’t take him because he had epilepsy,” said Patenaude, who was about four when her uncle enlisted. “I only remember meeting him a couple of times. He found out that the Merchant Marine would take anyone so he joined with them.”

In April of 1942 the ship Herbert worked on was torpedoed and he would be listed as missing. His mother, Madeline Crooker Tuttle, was notified by telegram on June 28. His obituary appeared in the Portland Press Herald and Lewiston Sun Journal the following week.

But by August 6 Tuttle learned that reports of Herbert’s death had been greatly exaggerated; according to a story appearing in the Portland Evening Express, she received a letter from another Norway resident serving in the Navy who reported “he had seen Herbert, alive and well, in a tropical port.”

That incident marked the third time that Herbert had a ship torpedoed out from under him, according to an interview he gave to a Houston newspaper. Herbert told his story to the reporter with humor and a swagger well earned.


Old newspaper clippings tell the lost stories of Norway brothers Herbert and Arthur Crooker’s World War II service at sea. Nicole Carter / Advertiser Democrat

Enemy submarines “don’t bother me,” Herbert was quoted as saying. “I have been torpedoed three times and it doesn’t affect me in the least.”

His main concern was that his mother had to deal with multiple reports of his demise only to find out later that they would be wrong.

“Believe me, it doesn’t pay to believe what you read in the newspapers about a fellow in the merchant marine,” Herbert laughingly admonished the reporter who would have to publish his sentiment.

Herbert’s first brush with enemy fire came in December of 1941, again in March of 1942 and then just a month later. He told the Houston reporter that the Italian sailors responsible for sinking his ship the last time proved to be sympathetic enemies, passing American cigarettes and bread to the lifeboat he shared with seven others. The group would eventually be rescued after eight days, having sustained themselves with the food and tobacco provided by their enemy.

“You’ve heard of fellows getting seasick? Well, I get land sick,” Herbert was quoted as saying. And having come under fire three times did nothing for his modesty. “When they (enemy submarines) didn’t get me the third time they lost out. I don’t think they can ever get me now.”

Herbert enlisted at the relatively late age of 25. His younger brother Arthur followed in his footsteps while he was just a teenager. He first tried enlisting when he was 16, before he United States even entered the war. As soon as he turned 17 he signed up, joining the U.S. Coast Guard before moving onto the Merchant Marine just as Herbert had.


The two had one other brother who also served during World War II, Harold Crooker, who went out with the Norway Company Co. C, 103rd Infantry.

Like Herbert, ships Arthur served on were also attacked by enemy submarines; he was reported as missing at sea early in 1942 only to arrive on his mother’s doorstep on April 3 on leave for Easter.

Unlike Herbert, Arthur did not embrace the notoriety of surviving naval attacks. The story about his experience trickled back to Norway in accounts given by other sailors to the New Orleans Times-Picayune in an article. One of his brothers sent the clipping home to their family.

Torpedoes from an enemy submarine caused Arthur’s ship to capsize and sink, tossing the crew of 59 men into shark-infested waters. There were also accounts of the men struggling to surviving crude oils slicks that followed the ship’s sinking. All but one would be rescued by Gulf fisherman hours later.

“I see these small sharks,” one of his shipmates told the Times Picayune. “…I kick at them but they will not go away. They nip at my shoes and my pants, almost take my pants off. Sure I was scared, wouldn’t you be?”

Whle Arthur was in Norway between deployments, Harry Packard of the Portland Sunday Telegram managed to snag an interview with the reticent sailor. Packard noted in his newspaper story that Arthur was a fine-appearing youngster and the pride of his mother Madeline Crooker Tuttle, but also the quietest and and most soft-spoken boy he had ever met.


Arthur had just returned from a stint to Iceland, a place he did not care for. The wind was so harsh it would push a double-anchored ship. The girls there were pretty but resented the presence of American and British sailors. The land and villages were beautiful but the food was abysmal, mostly consisting of almost inedible canned, oily fish and black bread.

“I don’t want to know the variety (of fish),” Arthur told Packard. “In fact, I don’t want to see any more fish that is anything like it. The black bread I couldn’t cut with an axe.”

Arthur went to Cuba, which he found as uninteresting as Iceland, and other North Atlantic countries between the U.S. and European war theatre – Canada, Greenland and Scotland.

The one boast Arthur made during his interview was that he had never gotten seasick for a minute, even during rough weather.

Interviewed by Packard under the watchful eye of his mother, Arthur left the danger out of the story of his service, sticking to mundane topics like his daily duties of serving food three times a day to the seamen’s, the firemen’s and the officers’ quarters, the boredom of being onboard with no entertainment or diversion and the black market prices in other ports of simple pleasures like cigarettes and chocolate.

Packard wrote that Arthur had provided no information about his experiences on the sunken ship and subsequent rescue. But when he asked him if would go back to sea, the young sailor’s answer was “you bet.”

Talking about her uncles, decades after their passing, Patenaude is grateful she is able to help honor their service.

“It’s very enlightening,” she said. “Because they never talked about any of it. I knew Arthur more, as I knew him as an adult. They were in a very dangerous situation during the war. Working on a bomb, on these ships that carried explosives and everything else. And they were targets, the enemy wanted them. They did more than I ever knew, there were a lot of things people didn’t talk about in those days.

“There are always mysteries in families, don’t you think? It was all a mystery. I knew these two men, but I did not know all this information. It’s just unbelievable.”

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