Among the many celebrated veterans from Cranford is one man credited with inventing the item that helped Allied tanks plow through the hedgerows of Nazi-occupied Europe.
In 1944, Curtis Grubb Culin III, was 29 and serving in World War II when he was recommended for a Legion of Merit, awarded for exceptional service.
According to The Cranford Citizen and Chronicle of Sept. 7, 1944, Sgt. "Bud" Culin developed the modification, drawing plans up, showing them to his captains, and then seeing his plans spread: "It was demonstrated for almost every general, including Lt. Gen. Omar Bradley, who said it would probably revolutionize warfare in the Normandy section of France," wrote the newspaper.
Troops at the time were pressed to find options for getting past the German's anti-tank obstacles and the hedgerow landscape. Placed on the beaches and "bocage" fields at Normandy, France, the German defense was steel, three-beam obstacles as well as centuries-old, overgrown, thick hedges surrounded by ditches that left Sherman tanks, ridden by U.S. troops, vulnerable to attack from the underside. Sherman tanks would try to get through by riding up and over the hedgerows, but this exposed the tank underside to attacks, while the tank's guns pointed to the sky.
In addition, the hedgerows were so thick and impenetrable they provided an excellent place for German forces to attack from, and succeed even when outnumbered.
So advantageous was this landscape that, wrote Lt. William Arendt in his book Midnight of the Soul: "In my opinion, hedgerow fighting is the toughest in the world, with the possible exception of close-contact, jungle warfare."
Figuring out how to bust through the hedgerows without compromising the tanks could prove a valuable Allied advantage.
Culin devised a modification to go on the front of the Sherman tank to instead drive right through the hedgerows without making the tank vulnerable. In what was nicknamed the Rhino tank, four prongs (or "tusks") went on the front as a type of plow to barge through the hedgerows. The device is often referred to by its nickname, the Culin Hedgerow Cutter.
According to Preserve Cranford, Gen. Bradley ordered as many "Culin Cutters" as possible be made immediately, and it is estimated three out of every five American tanks were turned into Rhinos boasting Culin's invention.
In addition to his Merit of Honor, Culin also received a Purple Heart, and Culin's important place in history was noted in Gen. Bradley's book "A Soldier's Story." Bradley wrote in his memoirs: "Less than a week before the planned jump-off, (Major General) Gerow telephoned early one morning to ask if I could meet him at the 2nd Division. 'Bring your ordnance officer along,' he said, 'we've got something that will knock your eyes out.'"
What he ended up seeing was Culin's invention. Bradley wrote: "I found (Major General) Gerow with several of his staff clustered about a light tank to which a crossbar had been welded. Four tusk-like prongs protruded from it. The tank backed off and ran head-on toward a hedgerow at ten miles an hour. Its tusks bored into the wall, pinned down the belly, and the tank broke through under a canopy of dirt. A Sherman similarly equipped duplicated the performance. It, too, crashed into the wall, but instead of bellying skyward, it pushed on through. So absurdly simple that it had baffled an army for more than five weeks, the tusk-like device had been fashioned by Curtis G. Culin, a 29-year old sergeant."
Pres. Dwight Eisenhower, in a post-presidential address to the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, described the morale boost the invention had on troops: "The biggest and happiest group I suppose in all the Allied Armies that night were those that knew that this thing worked. And it worked beautifully."
Eisenhower and Bradley both wrote that the invention undoubtedly saved lives and minimized casualties and contributed to strategies of Allied victory.
Culin entered the service in 1940, and served as a tanker with the 102nd Cavalry Reconnaissance Squadron of the New Jersey National Guard, also called the "Essex Troop," in the Second Armored Division of the U.S. Army. According to The Cranford Citizen and Chronicle, Culin joined when the National Emergency was called after Pearl Harbor.
Culin also served in the D-Day invasion of Normandy, according to The Cranford Citizen and Chronicle, and his unit was among the first to enter Paris as well.
According to Preserve Cranford, Culin received the Medal of Honor but months later lost his leg on a land mine in the Hurtgen Forest near the German-Belgian border, where a series of fierce battles on German soil were fought between the U.S. and German forces. So after recuperating, Culin returned home and continued his career as a salesman.
Culin, 1914-1963, was a 1937 graduate of Cranford High School who also served on the tennis and chess teams, reported the Cranford Citizen and Chronicle. According to the Cranford Fund for Educational Excellence, Culin was honored as a member of the CHS Alumni Recognition of Excellence Awards in 2001.
On Memorial Day 1992, Cranford honored Culin with a memorial, which Cranford Historian and history teacher Larry Fuhro designed and installed on the Cranford Municipal Building lawn.
The monument quotes Eisenhower: "(Sgt. Culin's) contributions to success in the Normandy breakout reflected Yankee Ingenuity at its best."