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Vet who survived 3 wars adds coronavirus to milestones seen in his lifetime

Illustration of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus, COVID-19. (CDC/TNS)

The Bombing of Pearl Harbor, World War II, John F. Kennedy’s assassination, the first man in space, the Korean War, AIDS, the Watergate scandal, the Vietnam War and Y2K are just some of the things Eustis three-time war veteran John McCrary, 91, has seen in his lifetime. Now he adds the coronavirus pandemic to his list of our nation’s most defining moments.

“It’s just terrible what this has done to our country and all over the world,” McCrary said. “But like all the others, this too shall pass. The Lord is in charge, not us. But we should still be cautious and do our part.”

McCrary, a beloved local veteran, is known to many people as “Papa John.” He often tells stories around tables at Combat Cafe in Eustis, where he eats breakfast every morning. People know him as the man who survived three wars and four marriages, saying that with that record, he can survive anything.

He even recently became Tik Tok famous with Combat Cafe co-owner Beth Chambers when their video received over a million hits.

“I’ve been very fortunate,” McCrary said. “I still get out and enjoy life.”

McCrary was born in 1928 and grew up in Canton, Georgia. His father died when he was 8 and although he initially didn’t like his step-father, McCrary said when he moved out, he realized he was the problem and not his step-father.

McCrary joined the Navy at 17 and headed to Maryland for boot camp.

“One morning after roll call, they went down the line and counted off 300 of us to become Seabees,” McCrary said. “We all had no idea what that was but it was an order. It’s the dirt Navy, they said. But I’m really glad I was one of those 300.”

McCrary became a certified blaster, nicknamed Master Blaster, and was shipped overseas to places like the Philippines, Korea and Guam.

“Although WWII was said to be over, we still had people shooting at us while I was working in mobile construction,” McCrary said.

He also trained with Underwater Demolition Team Six, which later became known as Seal Team Six.

Part of his duty was to test nuclear bombs, where he was exposed to large amount of radiation. Because of this exposure, McCrary has undergone nine cancer surgeries.

He spent 27 years in service before entering the reserve as command master chief.

And as if danger overseas wasn’t enough, McCrary experienced battles at his home front as well. While on leave, he returned home to find that his first wife had run out on him and had a child with another man. Devastated, McCrary took his four children they had together and started a new life.

He married his second wife, Cybal, who McCrary said has a special seat in heaven for not only putting up with him, but also for raising his four children. The two were married for 17 years when Cybal passed away.

McCrary married, and was widowed, two more times. He states that now, when a woman comes around, he’s got his “running boots on.”


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