By Leo Shane III, Stars and Stripes
Pacific edition, Wednesday, February 28, 2007
WASHINGTON — Bruce Crandall knows that many Medal of Honor recipients are recognized posthumously, often killed as a direct result of their heroic actions.
“So I’m glad I’ve lasted long enough to actually get it,” the 74-year-old Vietnam veteran said. “This is just a tremendous honor.”
Crandall, who flew his unarmed helicopter into heavy combat in the Ia Drang Valley to drop supplies and evacuate wounded troops, was presented the Medal of Honor on Monday at a White House ceremony.
His story of heroism has already been chronicled in the book and movie — 2002’s “We Were Soldiers” — but he said that receiving the nation’s highest military medal was something he never expected and never could have scripted.
He is the second helicopter pilot to receive the award for actions at that battle in November 1965.
Then-Capt. Ed Freeman and Crandall volunteered to fly their UH-1 Hueys into the heart of combat in the valley after military commanders deemed the area too dangerous for aircraft.
“That was the first real test of our helicopters to resupply and rescue guys in that way,” he said. “Normally we’d never fly that close to the fight, and we didn’t like to fly in the dark. But when it turned as hot as it did, we just kept going into the night.”
Freeman and Crandall, then an Army major, spent more than 14 hours evacuating wounded soldiers and resupplying the fighting force with ammunition and rations.
“We had to come into one small, safe area, time after time” he said. “You know it’s hot, and you know (the enemy) is watching you come in to that same spot over and over.”
Army officials credited them with saving more than 70 soldiers through their actions. On Monday, President Bush described him as a “daring pilot,” a “selfless leader” and an example for all soldiers.
“In men like him, we see the best in America,” he said.
Crandall might have received his medal five years ago, but he withdrew his name from consideration for the honor and in an effort to make sure Freeman was recognized.
“I was the commander; he was the volunteer,” Crandall said. “He knew what combat was like and what he was getting into. I wanted to make sure if one of us was honored, he got it first.”
Freeman could not attend Monday’s ceremony due to ice storms in the Midwest. Crandall said the two are still close friends, and also stay in touch with many of the men they helped save.
Crandall, who retired from the Army in 1977 as a lieutenant colonel, lives in Manchester, Wash., and speaks frequently to military and civilian crowds about his war experience.
Last year he visited members of the 1st Infantry Division in Heidelberg, Germany, and said he has had several other opportunities to speak with troops heading into Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I tell them not to pay any attention to this political crud back home,” he said. “As long as there is warfare there is politics. We saw that, too. But they have a job, and they need to focus on that.”
To date, 3,460 servicemembers have received the Medal of Honor, 245 for actions during the Vietnam War.
For more information about Bruce Crandall, visit www.army.mil/medalofhonor/crandall/
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