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This Day in History: Bruce P. Crandall's Medal of Honor

On this day in 2007, a hero receives the Medal of Honor.  Bruce P. Crandall waited more than 40 years to receive the honor. “I’m still here,” he joked at the time. “Most of these awards are posthumous, so I can’t complain.”

 

Crandall was drafted into the Army in 1953, and he served for more than a decade before being deployed to Vietnam. By then, he was an experienced aviator and an engineer who’d been developing helicopter assault techniques.

 

He would need every last bit of that experience to survive a battle on November 14, 1965.  


On that day, then-Major Crandall was commanding the 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion. He and his unit of 16 helicopters had been tasked with inserting troops into a landing zone near the Ia Drang River. The intended search-and-destroy mission was the first major battle between American and North Vietnamese troops.

 

“Now these assaults were beautifully planned,” Crandall later explained. “It was like the ballet because everything was timed down to the second. We got airborne, two eight-ship formations. And one’s right behind the other one.”

 

The first few trips went smoothly, but all hell was breaking loose by the time Crandall and his men were making their fifth trip in.

 

“[T]here’s enemy shooting at us just outside of our rotors,” he described. “They’re in the wood line, and they’re in trees, and they’re hitting people before they can get off the aircraft. They shot my crew chief through the throat. One of my lieutenants got hit in the back of the head. . . . it couldn’t have been worse.”

 

Conditions on the ground were so severe that the eight helicopters behind Crandall’s flight were ordered to turn around and abort their mission.

 

Yet Crandall realized that the men on the ground were in serious trouble. They would need more ammunition—and they would need help getting the wounded out. Complicating matters, medical evacuation units were refusing to enter the area because enemy fire was too intense.

 

“Major Crandall then decided to adjust his base of operations to Artillery Firebase Falcon,” his Medal citation later explained, “in order to shorten the flight distance to deliver ammunition and evacuate wounded soldiers.”

 

He sought out volunteers to help, and he began flying his unarmed helicopter back and forth between Falcon and the soldiers on the ground. He delivered ammunition, water, and medical supplies. He picked up wounded soldiers.

 

Crandall did this for hours, ultimately making 22 flights. He went through three helicopters that day because his aircraft kept getting shot up. Together with his wingman, Capt. Ed Freeman, Crandall rescued more than 70 wounded that day—and he lived to tell the story.

 

Both pilots were recommended for the Medal of Honor, but the paperwork was delayed by what Crandall later described as “minimum resources and almost no administrative people” in the unit to handle the process. Instead of Medals, each man initially received a Distinguished Flying Cross.

 

It took decades, but the delays were finally resolved. Perhaps you won’t be surprised by what happened next? By then, Crandall worried that only one of the two would get the Medal, so he asked that his name be withdrawn from consideration. He wanted to ensure that his wingman received the honor.

 

In the end, both men received Medals, albeit six years apart.

 

“Don’t ask someone to do what you won’t do,” Crandall once said of his time in Vietnam. “You lead from the front.”

 

He certainly lived up to his words, didn’t he?

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