Please listen to my podcast on this incredible story: Brian Sussman Show, Episode 190.
The cadets at the Air Force Academy knew the janitor named “Bill” was formerly military. They could tell by the way he conducted himself: all business and perfection. Judging by his age, they all figured this nice, quiet man likely served in World War Two.
William “Bill” Crawford shocked the cadets in the early 1980s when one of the students accidently discovered that Bill was a recipient of Medal of Honor.
When the cadet asked Bill if he was Private William Crawford who served in the 36th Infantry on the night of September 13, 1943 in Altavilla, Italy, Bill responded, “Yes. That was one day in my life and it happened a long time ago.”
Once his anonymity was discovered, Bill told his story.
“Our soldiers had marched for hours, stopping within 200 yards of German defense positions near Altavilla, Italy.”
They planned to attack at dawn.
“Some of our artillery shelled the German line of defense, and then they sounded the attack.”
Crawford went forward with his platoon sergeant. “He beat me to the wall,” Crawford said, “and I laid down and I fired at what I thought was a German defense there.” He looked over to see what his sergeant was doing, but the sergeant was completely still. He’d taken several rounds to his chest.”
Crawford took off after the enemy snipers.
“I just followed the little, narrow ditch. . . . I stayed pretty close to it,” he described. “And, sure enough, there was a brushy terrain, a well-camouflaged area, right ahead. And out of that came a burst of machine gun fire. As I was running for this little ditch, he was shooting right under my feet. Some of the rounds probably went between my legs and never touched me.”
Crawford would singlehandedly take out three German machine gun nests with only his rifle and a handful of grenades. His company was able to advance.
Just a few days later, Crawford was captured in battle, but the Army mistakenly thought that he’d beenkilled in action. The following year, Crawford’s father was presented with what was believed to be a posthumous Medal of Honor. Private Crawford was seemingly destined to be memorialized as one who gave it all.
What a surprise when Crawford was later discovered alive! He was released with other POWs after the war and continued to serve in the Army until 1967.
He retired with the rank of Master Sergeant. A few years later, he began a job as a janitor at the Air ForceAcademy.
For many years,” Colonel James Moschgat recalled in 2012, “few of us gave him much notice, rendering little more than a passing nod or throwing a curt, ‘G’morning’ in his direction as we hurried off.”
That all changed one day when then-cadet Moschgat stumbled across Crawford’s name in a history book. “Word spread like wildfire among the cadets that we had a hero in our midst,” Moschgat wrote. “Cadets who had once passed by Bill with hardly a glance, now greeted him with a smile and a respectful, ‘Good morning, Mr. Crawford.’”
The cadets soon discovered that Crawford had not attended his own Medal ceremony because he’d beenin a POW camp. The Air Force Academy decided to make things right.
Crawford finally received his Medal, in person, from President Ronald Reagan at the Academy’s 1984 graduation. But the Air Force wasn’t yet done honoring their adopted soldier. When Crawford passed away in 2000 at the age of 81, he was buried, with full honors, at the U.S. Air Force Academy Cemetery. He is the only non-USAF enlisted individual to be granted that honor.