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Sherwood native Darrell Crawford was given choice: go to juvenile detention or join the military.

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Darrell Crawford admitted that a judge gave him an ultimatum after he repeatedly got in trouble for speeding as a teenager: serve his country or serve time.For Darrell Crawford, it took a little tough love from a judge to prompt him to join the Army.

Crawford's father and uncles served in World War II. His father served in North Africa, while his uncles served in the Pacific theater.

Born in 1949, Crawford candidly admits there was a time in his youth when he would, on occasion — perhaps more than just on occasion — get ticketed for speeding. This resulted in several visits with a judge.

"Between 16 and 17 years old, I got 19 speeding tickets," Crawford said, adding sarcastically, "At 17, you're really smart. … I had gone there (to a judge) once every couple of weeks."

One particular meeting with a judge was decisive in Crawford's decision to join the U.S. Army.

The judge, deciding he didn't want to see Crawford anymore, offered him a stark choice: either MacLaren, a youth correctional facility in Woodburn, or the military.

"I said, 'Hell, I'll take the military,' figuring he would let me go and I could go hide out," Crawford recalled.

But there was no getting out of it. Crawford was 17 when he joined the service.

"I was 17, so I had to call Mom," he said. "She had to come down and sign the papers. She didn't want to do it."

PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ - Sherwood native Darrell Crawford served in the Vietnam War.Crawford's first stop was at Fort Lewis in Washington, and he was later stationed in Hawaii.

"From Hawaii, I went to Vietnam," he said. "I made it to 'Nam in 1967, but I went over with an advanced party because I didn't want to take a boat over there. … I got there the last half of 1967, and the rest of the guys didn't show up until January of 1968."

Crawford was stationed in the little town of Doc Pho in South Vietnam.

In May 1968, Crawford was hit with shrapnel during combat. Luckily for him, he narrowly avoided critical injuries. Medics were able to remove the foreign material from his neck area and from over his heart.

Crawford described the ups and downs of battle during his experience in Vietnam.

"It's so sporadic over there," he said. "There are days where nothing ever happens. You get bored, tired and fed up. Then, all of a sudden, all hell breaks loose."

That said, Crawford said he had a good life in the military, noting that soldiers would look after each other.

"We take care of each other," he said, "If somebody gets too — whatever you do over there — the other guys make sure you're going to be OK."

Crawford remembers June 30, 1969, well. That's when he returned to Sherwood after serving his tour of duty and was reunited with his family.

Upon arriving home, Crawford had to figure out life after the military.

He recalled that he found himself "pumping gas up at the Chevron station at Six Corners in Sherwood," as well as other gas stations in the area.

Crawford added, "I think I pumped gas at about every place there is."

He worked for several years at Pettibone Mercury, a forklift business. After spending some time in California and Colorado, Crawford moved back to familiar surroundings in Sherwood.

Today, Crawford enjoys hobnobbing with fellow veterans at the American Legion Argonne Post 56.

Crawford's simple advice to a young man or woman thinking about joining the armed services and perhaps learning a skill there: "Get into what you enjoy."

For Crawford, being a mechanic is what he enjoys.

"I've always been a mechanic. I've always been good at mechanics," he said — noting, however, "In the infantry unit, you're infantry first and a mechanic second." PMG PHOTO: JAIME VALDEZ  - These days, Darrell Crawford enjoys visiting with buddies at the American Legion in Sherwood.

Editor's note: This story appears in 2022 Salute to Veterans, a special publication in print and online by Pamplin Media Group to celebrate the stories of veterans.

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