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Stories of American Heroes - Brought to you from the "Home of Heroes" - Pueblo, Colorado

The President

and

The Janitor
Page 2

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The grizzled, old blacksmith from Pueblo, Colorado shifted his feet uncomfortably.  He felt out of place enough as it was, standing before a crowd of soldiers to face no less than a two-star general.  The date was May 11, 1944 and Mr. Crawford had been summoned to Camp Carson, Colorado for a special occasion.  It was not a happy occasion, but it was a ceremony the man who had already tasted grief far too often could not avoid.

"Your son was a hero," Major General Terry Allen said to the father that struggled to keep tears that formed in his eyes from falling across his cheeks.  Then, slowly the general began to read the official citation that detailed the heroism of George Crawford's son, Bill.

On September 13th, just nine months earlier, Private Bill Crawford had been serving his Nation as a member of the 36th Infantry Division in Italy.  He had landed with the unit at Salerno and moved inland as Allied Forces began the drive to liberate the European continent from the evil and deadly grip of the Nazi regime.  "On that September day," Major General Allen read, "Private Bill Crawford demonstrated the highest degree of valor...and sacrifice."

As his platoon had moved up a hillside, an enemy machine-gun nest began to rain death around Crawford's fellow soldiers.  It was a desperate situation, a crisis that demanded a man of character, and Private Bill Crawford was that man.  Without orders, he jumped to his feet and charged forward, ignoring the bullets that flew around him.  Moving up the hill, Private Crawford advanced to within a few yards of the enemy, threw a grenade into the pit from which they were firing at the American soldiers, and in so doing had saved his platoon.  Again the American forces could advance. 

The advance was short lived.  This time it was not one, but two, separate machine gun nests firing at them from both the left and the right.  And again, it was Private Crawford who stepped forward to save the platoon.  First he attacked to the left, destroying the gun that threatened his comrades.  Without pause, he shifted his attack to the right, knocking out the second enemy emplacement, then turning the captured machine-gun on the now routed and fleeing German soldiers.  Again the platoon advanced, and fought throughout the day.   Then, as darkness fell, the men of Crawford's 3d Platoon, Company I, 3d Battalion, 142d Infantry pulled into a defensive position for the night.  Those who were alive, marveled at the fact that they had survived the viscous fighting of the day.  All knew they were alive because of the heroism of Private Bill Crawford.  None could find the fearless soldier to thank him...Private Crawford was no longer among them...his body lying somewhere in the darkness on the field of battle.  Unable to otherwise express their thanks and admiration for the hero of the 3d platoon, the soldiers did the only action left to them, submitting their fallen hero for the Medal of Honor.

The posthumous award of the Medal of Honor to Private William John Crawford had been quickly approved, and Major General Allen presented the small star-shaped symbol of the highest degree of valor to a grieving father at the military post just 30 miles from young Bill's hometown of Pueblo, Colorado.  Slowly the elder Crawford stretched his work-hardened hands forward to graciously accept the award that, though prestigious, would never replace the son he had lost.   "Perhaps," George Crawford thought to himself, "I should have spent more time with Bill while I had the chance.  Now, that opportunity is lost forever."  As he turned away, no longer could the tears be restrained.  So he slowly walked away alone, hiding them in his solitude. 

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Half a world away, Private Bill Crawford tossed about on his straw-filled, burlap mattress in a futile attempt to find some comfort.  He was tired, he was sore, and he was embarrassed.  How had he let himself be captured?  How had he even survived that horrible battle at Altavilla, Italy nine months earlier?  Did his family even know he was alive?  Would he survive life in the German prisoner of war camp to ever return home?

Unable to find rest, he pulled from his pocket the small New Testament that his German guards had passed on to him from the Red Cross, and opened it.   He looked down and read the first verse to meet his gaze, Romans 8:31, "If God be for us, who can be against us."  Reading the Bible was a new practice for the young boxer from Pueblo, Colorado but that particular verse was his favorite and he had read it so many times, the worn little Testament seemed to open to that verse on its own accord.  In the words of that verse he found strength to face each new day.  He had fought his battles.  Now, as a prisoner, he needed someone stronger than himself to insure his future.  In a prisoner of war camp named Stalag 2b, Bill Crawford made his peace with God.  It was a step that became the focal point that guided the rest of his life.

Life in the camp was difficult, but not unbearable.  There were moments, like that day in the early spring of 1944 when a German guard had clubbed Private Crawford in the head with the butt of his rifle.   The former Gloves Boxer refused to take such unwarranted punishment.  In the middle of the compound, he ripped the rifle from the hands of his tormentor and rained a series of blows on him that rendered the German unconscious.  Crawford thought he would be severely punished, but the camp's German doctor noted the bruising from the unwarranted attack of the guard and testified in the young American's defense.   Amazingly, the German guard was punished and Crawford exonerated.  Even as the young man had always garnered the respect of his comrades, as a prisoner he also garnered the respect of his captors.

Two months after Private Crawford's Medal of Honor was presented to his father as a posthumous award, the family received news that the young hero was alive.  At about the same time, a telegram arrived at the prison camp informing Private Crawford of his unique and high award.  His treatment improved even more, the Germans themselves respecting his Medal of Honor award and recognizing him for the man of character he was.  But even this could not spare him the perils of the last months of the war.

In the winter of 1944, the Russian army was swiftly advancing into Germany on the eastern front, and the prisoners of Stalag 2b were assembled as the Germans attempted to move the camp.  For 52 days the prisoners were marched through the frozen mountains, one step ahead of the advancing Russian army.   In those 52 days, Bill and his fellow prisoners were marched 500 miles, subsisting on a meal of one potato a day.  Resting firmly in his belief that "If God be for me, who can be against me", Private Crawford determined to survive and return home.   In the spring of 1945 an advancing tank column finally brought him liberty.   He took his first hot shower in nearly eighteen months on VE-Day, 11 days before his 27th birthday.

In a 1995 interview, Bill Crawford recalled the joy of his release and the long ocean voyage home.  As the ship entered New York harbor, "I saw the Statue of Liberty there, and boy it looked good.  It was the most beautiful sight I've ever seen."  Private Crawford's joy in his release, far overshadowed any prestige he felt at the award of the Medal of Honor.  Though it would never be forgotten, it would take nearly 40 years for Bill Crawford to finally receive the honor he so truly deserved.

 

 

 

 

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The President and The Janitor
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