A New VA Clinic named after Colonel Demas T. Craw

By Kierstin Gunsberg

It was early spring 1900 when Clara and Mark Craw first met eyes with their new baby boy and named him Demas, but it was his comrades and friends in the military years later who, playing off his birth name, took to calling him Nick as in Nicodemus. The fresh moniker means “victory of the people” and was fitting for the young man with wispy brows and a dimpled chin, who’d dropped out of TC Central High to join the U.S. army just a week after his eighteenth birthday. It didn’t take long for Craw to climb the ranks, and by the time that World War I had ended, only seven months after his enlistment, he’d been promoted to Private First Class. 

He re-enlisted only a few months later and, despite an eye injury, joined the Air Force. It was there, on assignment in bustling New York that the young man from the quiet outskirts of Traverse City found himself smitten with Mary Victoria Wesson, whose father was president of Smith & Wesson Firearms Company. The pair married and welcomed their baby boy, Nicholas in 1931. Later that decade, another world war broke out, and in the autumn of 1942, Craw was sent to the shores of Morocco to negotiate a ceasefire with French forces. On approach, Craw was killed, but the mission ultimately resulted in the surrender of French forces. For his role and bravery in disarming the enemy, Craw posthumously received a Medal of Honor on March 4, 1943 – the last of many medals earned throughout his 42 years.

Whether he was answering to Demas, Nick or Nicodemus, the Colonel was most certainly victorious in life, in death and of the people he fought to protect, which is why in January of 2016 Congress named Traverse City’s VA clinic after him. 

Dr. Daniel Lathrop DPM, Mr. Nicholas Craw, Mr. John Lefler & Mr. Terry Hawn.

Only a couple of years after naming the clinic, it was announced that a new building would be constructed just south of Chum’s Corners, replacing the existing clinic at Racquet Club Drive as well as the Grand Traverse VA Clinic off Munson Avenue. As Carrie Seward, who serves as Public Affairs Officer out of Aleda E. Lutz VA Medical Center in Saginaw, explains, the two offices provide different health services, and the new location will combine them. 

Those visiting for appointments will be greeted with a covered drop off area to protect against Traverse City’s fickle weather, a modern interior, and a smoother flow for out-patient primary and mental health care. Social work programs will also be available to provide support with substance issues and housing crises. Simplifying healthcare for northern Michigan Veterans also includes the convenience of virtual visits with their provider, which she says some VA clinic patients may not realize they have access to. And for Veterans who aren’t already enrolled at the VA, Carrie says they’ll be able to come right into the new clinic and ask for an enrollment packet. 

Carrie admits the project has been a long time coming, “The only challenge was getting through the government process to lease property, as there are a lot of steps and it takes time,” but she says there were “many triumphs throughout.” 

And those triumphs, it seems, were worth the years of red tape, planning and hard work that will soften the frustrations and fears surrounding healthcare for those who’ve served.

The Colonel Demas T. Craw VA Clinic held a Dedication and Naming Ceremony on Thursday, January 30, 2020, at 1:00 PM at the new location, 701 U.S. 31 South in Traverse City. 

If you’d like to contribute to Veteran Programs like the VA clinic, please contact Voluntary Service at 989-497-2500 Extension 13360.

Read about other heroes past in this article.