The Craig Memorial Bridge in Toledo is 65 years old this year. Opened to traffic in 1957, it provided a key transportation link over the Maumee River, not just for Toledo drivers, but for thousands of motorists using this first major North-South Interstate Expressway. When the drawbridge span was dedicated in January of 1957, it was in the name of Lt. Robert Craig of Toledo who died in heroic service to his nation 79 years ago this week during World War Two. His actions were so significant he would become the posthumous recipient of the coveted Medal of Honor. The following is his story:
July 11, 1943. The world is at war, and Robert Craig is in the middle of it. Italy. The island of Sicily to be exact. It’s where where Second Lieutenant Craig had stormed ashore with the 15th Infantry Regiment and thousands of other soldiers from the 3rd Army in Operation Husky, the invasion of Sicily. Intense fighting raged for days between the Allied Forces and the Axis armies of Germany and Italy. Often fierce and deadly to both sides. Near the town of Favoratta, Craig’s “L” Company was pinned down by an enemy machine gun nest. The German bullets had already wounded three of the company’s officers who had tried find its hidden location. For reasons, perhaps known only to himself, the 24-year old Craig, who had been working at Tiedtke’s as sales clerk before the war, found something deep within himself and volunteered to personally locate and destroy the menacing machinegun nest. Not only did he figure out the location of the gun, but managed to snake his way to within 100 feet of it and charged headlong into its spray of automatic gun fire.
A War Department press release quoted Corporal James Hill as saying that Lieutenant Craig “ran head on through the machine gun fire … reached the gun position miraculously unhurt, and, standing over the crew, killed all three of them with his carbine.”
The bravery allowed his company to advance, but they were thwarted once again by yet another wall of gunfire. This time coming from the rifles of an estimated 100 enemy soldiers. Craig, on a slope, without cover and no place to hide, told his platoon to withdraw to behind a ridge for cover, while he, once more, opted to draw the fire towards himself. With little hope of survival, Craig, assumed a kneeling position and returned fire againt the soldiers, killing five and wounding three others before the barrage of Axis bullets eventually found his body leaving it motionless on the hillside. But while Craig lay dead, his courage and intrepid sacrifice endured and so inspired his men, they advanced on the enemy gunners, inflicted heavy casualities and sent them on a retreat.
Back in Toledo, Craig’s family would not know of his death until two months later in September of 1943 when Italy finally fell and surrendered to the Allies. It was a major victory and turning point in the war in Europe. The young Libbey High School graduate’s sacrifice on the faraway hills of Sicily helped make that happen. His bravery that day did not go unnoticed and in May of the following year, 1944, Robert Craig, who had been born in Scotland, and moved to Toledo a young boy, was awarded the Medal of Honor. The nation’s highest military honor that is approved by Congress and awarded by the President. His father, William F. Craig recieved the medal for his son Robert in special ceremonies at Camp Atterbury in Indiana. It was a proud moment for his family. They would recieve another day of pride when in January of 1957, the new Maumee River bridge on the Detroit-Toledo Expressway was opened to traffic and was dedicated to the memory and gallantry of Lt. Robert Craig. More than 2000 people attended the event on that very cold January Day. William and Jane Craig were there and wept silently as their son’s memory was honored. The band from Libbey High School, Robert’s high school, played for the event, and James Meade, the pastor from Robert’s church who spoke that day said “the bridge should serve as a symbol of freedom, justice and goodwill. The things that Robert gave his life for”, July 11, 1943 on a battlefield in Sicily.
(The article was first published in the Press Newspapers on July 10th, 2022)