SHAWVILLE – In March of 1943, a young man left his family’s home in a rural Pennsylvania town to fight in World War II.
Now, 74 years later, a bridge in his small hometown has been named to honor his sacrifice.
Pvt. David Kyle McCracken was born March 12, 1924. He was one of 14 children born to J. Ward and Margaret Jane Kyler McCracken of Shawville.
He graduated from Clearfield High School in 1942. Following his graduation, he had been employed by the Department of Highways, predecessor to the Pennsylvania Department of Transportation, until March of 1943, when he was inducted into the Army.
McCracken completed basic training at Camp Walters, Texas. He first served in North Africa in September of 1943, as a member of the 15th Engineers Combat Battalion, Ninth Division.
During his tour of duty, McCracken served in England, Italy, France and Germany. He was killed in action Dec. 31, 1944, while serving in Belgium and was a recipient of the Purple Heart.
McCracken was buried in in the Henri-Chapelle American Cemetery in Liège, Belgium.
At the bridge dedication ceremony held Friday, his family shared some of the memories they had of their brother.
“I was 4 years old when David went into the service, brother Ward McCracken said. “I have a lot of good memories of him. We were farm people. David raised strawberries.
“My brother Leroy and I used to go with him (David), and we’d go down over the hill to my Grandma Kyler’s house. David was always there helping make apple cider. He did it (the work). We’d just give him the apples.”
McCracken described his brother as “a very quiet and sincere young man.”
“My father was in the First World War,” McCracken said. “He always told me, later on in years after David had passed, he said that David went through the same battlefronts that he went through, the exact same battlefronts, and I thought that was very interesting.”
McCracken said he was very thankful to those who came together to make the bridge dedication possible. He said he had tried to put together a memorial for his fallen brother, but was never able to.
Penny Abrino also shared memories of her brother. Although she was only three years old when her brother David was killed, he was always remembered fondly by her family.
“I happen to be the youngest of the McCracken family, the youngest of 14,” Abrino said. “I was so fortunate to have 11 older brothers and two older sisters, and I tell everybody that I feel like I know David through my siblings, because we heard about him all the time.”
Abrino said her sister Henrietta was close in age to David, and Abrino learned a lot from her and from other people who had a connection to her brother.
“He was buried in Belgium and there was a family there who volunteered to take care of his grave and we corresponded constantly back and forth. We wrote letters,” Abrino said.
“There was a husband, a wife and one son. The son was my age. As we got a little older, we started corresponding. I was taking French in high school and he was learning English so we would correspond back and forth.
“We didn’t remember David, but we knew who he was. I look at it this way, if David was as wonderful as my other brothers I have, he was a wonderful man.”
During the dedication ceremony, several honored dignitaries spoke, not only in honor of McCracken, but of all veterans and the importance of remembering their legacy.
“It really is a privilege to mark this bridge as hallowed ground as we dedicate it to honor the life and service of Pvt. David Kyle McCracken, who gave that ultimate sacrifice in defense of his country in World War II,” U.S. Rep. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson said.
“Private McCracken made the ultimate sacrifice on that New Year’s Eve, but his legacy is not forgotten. This bridge will remind all those who cross it of the importance of service and sacrifice and will ensure that Private McCracken’s story will be told for generations to come.”
“Dedicating this bridge today is a small token of our appreciation, but a large testament to the life and sacrifice of Pvt. McCracken,” Senator Wayne Langerholic Jr. said.
“All those who use this bridge will read the sign and remember the name of Private David Kyle McCracken. They may not know what he did, how he lived and served, but they will know the sacrifice for our country has been proven so bold that it is worthy that we dedicated this bridge in his honor.”
“Most of us here probably never had the opportunity to meet David Kyle McCracken, but certainly we know the name McCracken here in the Frenchville area,” State Rep. Matt Gabler said.
“To have this particular marker to note and remember the fact that we had such an incredible individual who served his commonwealth, who served his country and who gave the ultimate sacrifice is so worthwhile and so worthy. It really is an honor just to be part of that history to stand here during that recognition today.”
Gabler also encouraged everyone to rededicate their lives to serving and living as Americans in a way that is worthy of the sacrifice that has been made to allow us to do it.
Clearfield County Commissioner John Sobel also spoke of “The Greatest Generation,” who overcame the extreme poverty of the Great Depression, and only to be called up to fight “the greatest evil the world has ever known.”
“I think it is so absolutely perfect that the Commonwealth is choosing to name this bridge after Pvt. McCracken. Not only creating at least in part recognition of his sacrifice, but also a daily recognition and a daily reminder to us of the sacrifice of the Greatest Generation, my parent’s generation,” Sobel said.
Commissioner Tony Scotto echoed Sobel’s praise of the country’s veterans and said that bravery doesn’t always come from big cities.
“Even the small rural counties, the small towns have also had impact in the Armed Services, and we’re just as brave. We also make the ultimate sacrifice as other soldiers have done,” Scotto said.