How a real hero responds when his Medal of Honor is mentioned: “That was one day in my life and it happened a long time ago.”
The quote above is from Bill Crawford, then a janitor at the US Air Force Academy, when asked by cadets if he was the person described in a history of WWII as having been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for bravery under fire.
Before one of the cadets noted the similarity of names between this WWII hero on the page of the book and the janitor who kept the cadet squadron dormitory clean, Mr. Crawford was unobtrusive, doing his job diligently without any fuss.
The response of a real hero is someone who says some variation of he was just doing his job.
What was ‘his job’?
Well, here are a few articles to check out. I’ll then give some highlights.
- Together We Served – Leadership and the Janitor
- Home of the Heroes – The President and the Janitor, page 2
- Home of the Heroes – The President and the Janitor, page 3
- Congressional Medal of Honor Society – Award citation for William J Crawford
- (Hat tip for the first two articles goes to Dave, my dear daughter-in-law’s dear father.)
Advancing on an Nazi position in Italy, his platoon drew severe fire from a machine gun nest. Private Crawford jumped up, rushed the nest, and threw a grenade into the pit, killing the crew. The platoon advanced, shortly drawing cross fire from two more machine gun nests. He rushed again, knocking out the left nest, then taking out the right nest. He turned the gun in the right position around and fired on the fleeing enemy.
That night, his comrades noticed he wasn’t with them and concluded he had been killed sometime during the day. Knowing their survival was due to his actions, they started the paperwork for a commendation and moved it forward. He was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously.
The award was given to his father some time later. Little compensation for losing your son, but the dad knew his son was a hero.
Unknown for some time was that Private Crawford was a POW. After release at the end of the war his father gave him the medal.
Fast forward 20+ years and Academy cadets noticed the matching names and their perspective of that ol’ janitor changed.
Read the first article above for a long list of lessons to be learned, such as learn about the people around you and everyone deserves respect.
When the cadets asked why Mr. Crawford didn’t mention his award, he gave that explanation that brings tears to my eyes:
“That was one day in my life and it happened a long time ago.”
That is a man to admire. We should all try to live like him.
Move forward in time. Recall the award was given to his father, since he was presumed dead, although he was a POW at the time.
That means he was never formally awarded the Medal.
For many years after the students recognized the hero in their midst, Mr. Crawford, who had retired from the army in 1967, presented the outstanding cadet award at Academy graduation.
In 1984 that little oversight of not having been formally presented the award was corrected. The cadets had worked to make it right.
On May 30, 1984, President Ronald Reagan presented the award to retired Master Sergeant William Crawford.
Mr. Crawford went to be with his Lord and Savior on March 15, 2000.
If this story is an inspiration for you, please read all four articles linked above. You will be mightily encouraged.