Every day hundreds of Air Force Academy cadets passed by William Crawford, the academy’s janitor, oblivious to the fact that the man is an American hero.
The quiet and humble World War II veteran blended into the background, cleaning bathrooms and sweeping, but all that changed after one cadet found out he was a Medal of Honor recipient.
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The cadet was looking at history books when he recognized their janitor and told his roommate , “I think our janitor is a recipient of the Medal of Honor.”
The next day the cadets asked Mr. Crawfordpoint if he was the man in the picture. Crawford stared at the picture, eyes glazing over as he remembered the harsh realities of World War II, and calmly said, “That was a long time ago and one day in my life.”
Before Crawford was a janitor, he was known as Private Crawford, who served as the squad scout for the third platoon in Company I. The Company was stationed in Italy, tasked with clearing out German machine gun nests and bunkers.
On Sept 13th, the Company was assaulting a heavily guarded hill and immediately came under intense machine gun fire and artillery burrages. Pinned down by the Germans, Crawford knew he needed to act quickly. The private set his sights on the gunner’s nest wrecking havoc on his squad and crawled towards the Germans, who were dug in deep.
Crawford lobbed a perfectly thrown grenade that landed directly on top of three defenders, allowing his squad to advance a bit further up the steep, muddy hill until they were pinned down by more machine gun fire from a second nest.
Again, Crawford, on his own initiative, set off to take out the next gun nest. Crawling under a storm of bullets, he once again threw a perfectly tossed grenade right in the German’s laps.
Crawford and his men destroyed a third nest when the Germans fled.
Thanks to Crawford’s valiant efforts, Hill 424 was taken by the Allied forces. Sadly, though, due to his aggressive forward advance, Crawford was ultimately captured by the Germans.
His company believed Crawford had died during the battle, but reports of his gallant efforts quickly spread, and for his heroic actions, he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor.
Crawford’s father accepted the Medal on behalf of his son, but in 1944 Crawford and other soldiers were rescued from German captivity. Crawford was oblivious to the fact that he had been awarded the nation’s highest military honor.
Crawford retired in 1967 at the rank of Master Sargent, taking a job as janitor at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
The Master Sargent told the cadets about that heroic day and that he never personally received the Medal of Honor because of his capture and assumed death.
In 1984 President Ronald Reagan spoke to the graduating cadets. The Air Force and their cadets arranged for the noble janitor to finally stand face-to-face with the President of the United States to personally received his commendation, an honor that was long overdue.
William Crawford died at the age of 81 in the year 2000 at his Colorado home. Although he was an Army veteran, he would become the only non-U.S. Air Force enlistee to be buried at the United States Air Force Academy Cemetery in Colorado Springs.