By: Joe Strupp
James Crawley, a longtime military reporter who embedded during the invasion of Iraq and served as president of Military Reporters and Editors, died Tuesday night, according to Sig Christenson, a MRE board member.
Crawley, 51, had been battling brain cancer since late 2007, and had been unemployed for several months after being laid off from Media General’s Washington bureau as part of a reorganization.
“Jim was an early supporter of MRE, a believer in what we’ve sought to do and served as the fourth president of our organization, stepping down in his second term only because his health had failed him,” Christenson, who writes for the San Antonio Express-News, wrote in an e-mail. “Jim knew as much about the Marines and the Navy as any journalist I’ve met, had an eye for detail and a great writing style. In his last months, he reported on his own health woes in a matter-of-fact way that hinted at his courage and determination to live on. He didn’t mind telling you the truth but you also sensed that he did not want you to pity him. I was amazed, but shouldn’t have been, really. That was Jim, a man of honor, integrity and dignity.”
Crawley’s wife, Melba, said he died Tuesday evening at a Rockville, Md., hospital near their home. “The last six or seven months he was doing well and there was great optimism,” she told E&P Wednesday. “Just about the time you thought we beat this one, there was something else.”
Crawley, who remained as president of MRE even as his health deteriorated, had covered the military since 1994. He stepped down as MRE president several months ago. Prior to joining Media General, he served as the chief military reporter for the San Diego Union-Tribune, covering the Navy and Marines.
He also embedded with the Marines during the 2003 invasion of Iraq and covered Operation Enduring Freedom. He has written extensively about special operations forces, racial diversity in the military and readiness issues. He had a bachelor’s degree from Texas A&M University and a master’s from American University.
“As a war correspondent for the San Diego Union-Tribune, he covered the Iraq invasion with 1-MEF, came under fire and performed heroically,” said Christenson, a five-time Iraq war correspondent himself. “He promised his wife, Melba, that he would not go back after making it home from Baghdad, and kept his word. That says everything about Jim, who never lacked for ambition or a desire to cover our troops at war, but also could be selfless, caring and deeply considerate.”
Melba Crawley, who had been married to her husband for 20 years, said he took great pains to make sure she would be taken care of after he died. Mrs. Crawley has a 36-year-old son from a previous relationship.
“He really took care of everything,” she said. “He made sure we took care of everything while he was going through this.”
Crawley had previously fought kidney cancer in early 2007 and had undergone an operation to remove a cancerous growth, but had overcome that battle. His wife said this round was too difficult. “If he couldn’t be a reporter and do the things he loved, he didn’t want to go on,” she said.
MRE is expected to have a memorial service for Crawley in the coming weeks, Christenson said. Mrs. Crawley said she also planned a service of some kind in the Washington area, as well as another in Crawley’s hometown of Dallas, Texas.