When Henry Crede was a 10-year-old boy living at 427 Chestnut St. in Columbia in the 1930s, his family had a picnic on the State House grounds. Crede admired the statues there and dreamed of one day dedicating a statue of his own in his hometown.
In November, that dream will come true. Crede, who has lived in Boston since 1945, will return to Columbia to dedicate a life-size bronze statue of a sailor in Memorial Park. It is to honor all of the South Carolina Navy veterans who served in World War II, in memory of Crede’s shipmates who were killed in the war.
“They didn’t have the opportunity to live the life that I had,” the 90-year-old said from his retirement home in Boston. “And they were like my brothers.”
Crede, who worked as a supervisor for the Polaroid Corp. until his retirement in the 1970s, paid the estimated $90,000 for the statue and plaza out of his own pocket. It will be dedicated on Veterans Day, Nov. 11, at the park at 700 Hampton St.
Why did Crede choose Columbia instead of Boston for the tribute? “It’s easy,” he said. “Columbia is my home.”
The 6-foot, 4-inch statue will be displayed in the park between the Pearl Harbor and USS Columbia memorials. It was sculpted by Camden’s Maria Kirby-Smith and portrays a World War II U.S. sailor in his dress blue “crackerjack” uniform at parade rest.
The sailor is of undetermined enlisted rank. He has both an expression of determination and satisfaction – determination to fight for his country and the satisfaction of a job well done.
It is not, Kirby-Smith said, a portrait of Crede, “but I hope (it) is an infusion of Henry’s spirit.”
Crede joined the Navy in 1940 at the age of 16 with the permission of his mother. He sailed on both the hospital ship USS Refuge and the destroyer escort USS Amick. He witnessed first-hand the horrors of war, including the deaths of friends during the North Africa, Sicily and Italy campaigns.
Crede ended up in Boston by chance – drawing straws on board his ship near the end of the war to determine which seamen would be transferred to the West Coast, which would go to the East Coast and which would stay on the ship. He then – also by chance – made a left instead of a right while taking a walk in Boston when he first arrived and happened on a USO club. There he met his future wife, Mitzi, who was volunteering.
“She was the most beautiful thing I’d ever seen,” Crede said.
They married in October 1945 and settled down in Boston. Several years ago, they were honored by former Mayor Thomas Menino as the longest married couple still living in Boston.
Although Crede lived in Boston, he would return to Columbia every few years to visit his sister, Violet Wood of West Columbia.
Crede’s son, Kenneth, contacted the city last year about the statue and was directed to Memorial Park commission chairman Bud Ferrillo. Ferrillo gave him the name of Kirby-Smith, who had done many noted bronze works in South Carolina, including the Kirk Finlay Jr. statue in Finlay Park, the Matthew Perry statue in the Perry Federal Courthouse, the Strom Thurmond statue in Edgefield and the Reconciliation statues of Larry Doby and Bernard Baruch in Camden.
The artist said Crede paid for the project up front and in full without ever having met her. “That makes you honorbound to do the best you can,” Kirby-Smith said.
Grandson Jason Crede said his grandfather had benefited from the Polaroid Corp.’s generous profit-sharing plan and saved his money. He said the family was delighted by the gift, noting that his grandfather had always loved and collected bronzes.
“He is pretty conservative, so it was a surprise when he wanted to spend this kind of money,” Jason Crede said from his office in Boston. “But I’m proud of him. It’s a nice thing for him to leave. He was very attached to the guys he served with.”
Kirby-Smith said it usually takes about a year to sculpt and cast a bronze statue. This one will be complete in six months, due to Crede’s deteriorating health.
“He’s standing on the brink of eternity and he wants to remember,” she said.
Ferrillo said the statue was unanimously approved by the nine-member commission board, which is appointed by Columbia City Council.
“I think it is a long overdue recognition of the role of naval personnel in World War II in both theaters,” he said. “And I am thrilled that a native of the city is returning who hasn’t lived here since 1940. We are very grateful that he has remembered his hometown.”