People usually don’t grant janitors a second glance, but this was not the case for one of the cadets at the U.S. Air Force Academy, who stumbled across a secret from the janitor’s past that was truly incredible.
Never Saw It Coming
William Crawford was born in 1918, in Pueblo, Colorado. A devoted American and red-blooded patriot, Crawford always put everyone before himself, no matter the personal cost. A humble man who kept to himself, Crawford never would have suspected his secret would be discovered in his old age.
Hiding At Home
Crawford always called Colorado home. He was lucky enough to travel throughout his life, but there was something about Colorado that kept calling him back. Perhaps that is the reason why, once he hit retirement age, he looked for a laid back job there. He wholeheartedly joined the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, where he was employed as a janitor. Not many would be thankful for such an occupation, but Crawford needed peace after the drama he experienced in his life.
Cover Almost Blown
He was thankful no one had any idea about his past – but that was about to change. Crawford was happy remaining anonymous, and did a good job staying that way. The cadets at the same base Crawford worked at reported that the shy janitor simply blended into the background. He kept to himself and never spoke about his personal life – the cadets didn’t even know his full name, so they only referred to him as Mr. Crawford.
Just A Janitor
Colonel Moschgat, the then-cadet who discovered who Crawford was, wrote the following: “Bill was shy, almost painfully so, seldom speaking to a cadet unless they addressed him first, always burying himself in his work. The Academy, one of our nation’s premier leadership laboratories, kept us busy from dawn till dusk. And Mr. Crawford… well, he was just a janitor. That changed one fall Saturday afternoon…” Little did Crawford know that one particular cadet was about to blow his cover.
Cleaning Toilets Was His Job
In his blog, Moschgat elaborated on why he did not give the janitor much thought: “For many years, 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. Why? Perhaps it was because of the way he did his job, always keeping the squadron area spotlessly clean. Frankly, he did his job so well, none of us had to notice or get involved. After all, cleaning toilets was his job, not ours.”
Back in the day, there were not a lot of ways in which one could fully contribute to their country. Crawford was many things, most of which seemed to contradict one another – to those who were unfamiliar with his true characteristics, Crawford would appear shy and insecure. However, once he broke out of the exterior shell he put up very successfully over the years, it quickly became evident that the man was an honest, brave and a rare individual.
Was It Him?
Moschgat continued: “I was reading a book about World War II…when I stumbled across an incredible story.” As he continued to read the book detailing WWII troops, he flicked through the pages to see Crawford’s name in big, bold letters. The book elaborated on the Allied advance through Italy, when all of the sudden, the cadet came across the story of a former trooper named William Crawford. It was not long before the entire class made the connection between the two.
Too Humble To Admit
Instead of beating around the bush, the cadet thought he would approach the janitor and ask if bluntly if that hero was indeed him. Taken aback with the inquiry, Crawford seemed uneasy, as if he was put on the spot. Almost as if he weighed his options, contemplated whether it was worth it to expose his gallantry. Crawford stared at his picture in the book the cadet held and then simply said, “That was a long time ago and one day in my life.”
The Truth Comes Out
However the young cadets pressed Bill, or as they knew him – Mr Crawford for more information. They had to find out what had really happened. The cadets were curious as to whether the book had missed anything out. Eventually Bill relayed the story, and so the cadets began to see another side to this quiet but incredible janitor.
Crawford joined the U.S. Army in July of 1942. He found his niche as an infantry scout in the 142nd Infantry Regiment of the 36th Infantry Division and was on the front lines in southern Italy less than a year after his enlistment. On September 13th a year later, he acted as a squad scout when his company attacked Hill 424 near Altavilla Silentina. The entire company was pinned down by intense machine-guns fire and mortars – there was no escape.
Quick On His Feet
Private Crawford had a pivotal role against the German resistance. Crawford was near the front, therefore had a clear visual and was able to locate the first of the gun positions that wreaked havoc on the company. He had little time to act, therefore could not wait for an order. Under heavy fire, he crawled forward to eliminate the threat single-handedly. Within a few yards of the gun and placement and lobbed a grenade directly on top of the three defenders.
There was no time to celebrate this successful, gallant action, as before he knew it his company was under fire again from two additional machine gun nests that were deeply entrenched in a higher ridge. They made their way to the crest of the hill, an incredibly dangerous act. Again, Crawford showed initiative and set out to destroy the threat. He managed to crawl and duck with such skill and precision that the entire storm of bullets completely missed him.
Before The Big Blow
Crawford came upon the first machine gun nest and with perfect accuracy once again landed a grenade right in their lap. He moved on to the second gun, Crawford mastered his craft and disassembled the gun completely. He made it unusable instantly. After he saw this, the rest of the defenders fled and wanted avoid being face to face with the man they just watched single-handedly destroy three entrenched positions. Thanks to Crawford’s gallant actions, Hill 424 was successfully overtaken and the Allied advance continued.
The Unimaginable Happened
Unfortunately for Crawford, being so audacious translated into being in great danger. He stood at the frontline of the attack, close to enemy lines. Indeed, his position at the front of the assault eventually lead to his capture by the Germans during the chaos of the battle. Crawford’s chances of survival were low once being abducted by the enemy. The rest of the company believed Crawford’s fate was the same as the one that was delivered to his father – that Crawford was dead.
They Thought He Was Dead
Somehow in the fog of war, Crawford was presumed dead by his unit and ended up a German Prisoner of War. There was no life signal sent their way, nor did history suggest Crawford would be released and be kept alive. During his time as a prisoner, Crawford was placed on a heroic pedestal for his brave actions while fulfilling his role, and was ‘posthumously’ awarded the nation’s highest military honor – the Medal of Honor.
Released From Captivity
U.S. Army regulations determine that in case such a prestigious awards is provided to a fallen soldier, such as the Medal of Honor, it is to be posthumously presented to a family relative. In Crawford’s case, this meant his father was due to receive the award in 1944. It wasn’t until later in that year that the unbelievable happened – a group of soldiers was rescued from German captivity, and as it turned out William Crawford was among them.
Another Surprise Heading His Way
Crawford continued to serve in the military after World War II. On January 13, 1946, he married Eileen Bruce, and one year later, he re-enlisted in the Army. After 20 more years of service, Crawford retired with the rank of master sergeant. During his entire military career, Crawford reluctantly wore his Medal of Honor, feeling unworthy. Many would find it degrading to work as a janitor after having such a distinguished, remarkable career in the military, but not Crawford, who still had one surprise headed his way.
National Hero Mopping Floors
The book which cadet Moschgat found described a different William Crawford than the Bill he knew, the one who quietly moved around mopping and buffing floors, cleaning toilets, and tidying up the mess 100 college-aged kids left in the dormitory: “In the face of intense and overwhelming hostile fire…with no regard for personal safety…on his own initiative…single-handedly attacked fortified enemy positions. …for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty, the President of the United States…”
He Deserved More Than His Salary
As a janitor, salaries range between $24k-$33k in the United States. Bill was a dedicated employee and he honored himself and his job. However, he deserved more than his salary. He deserved to be commended for his war efforts, but at that time Bill wasn’t being given the credit he deserved. Until something unexpected happened.
His Benefits Made It Hard To Survive
The job benefits for a janitor don’t always cover a person’s needs. Especially if you are an elderly war veteran. Bill never complained about his job, but he was struggling. It was hard for Bill to grasp the fact that after serving his country, his country was no longer serving him.
Unappreciated But Grateful
Although Bill wasn’t getting the full appreciation he deserved, he was grateful for his life. As a true hero, Bill was never angry about his situation. That being said, he deserved more. Unbeknown to Bill, something was about to happen that would change his life forever.
He Deserved What Was Coming
Crawford worked as a janitor at the U.S. Air Force Academy and as director of the Lucretia Vaille Museum in Palmer Lake. While he worked at the Air Force Academy, Crawford mentioned to some friends that because of how he was mistaken for dead, he had never received the Medal from the president – which is how one is supposed to receive the highest military honor. The year was 1984 and Crawford was invited to the academy for a graduation ceremony, but he had no idea what would happen next.
His Life Would Never Be The Same
President Reagan attended that very same graduation ceremony. Amongst cadets, general officers and the President himself, Master Sergeant Crawford was finally and formally awarded his Medal of Honor. In Reagan’s remarks, he cited leadership lessons that one could learn from Mr. Crawford. As the cadets looked to their janitor with a newfound respect, they managed to coax the deeply introverted individual into sharing his experience and epic stories with the next generation of leaders. After that, everything changed for all of them.
Reagan Embarrassed Him
President Reagan cited a few leadership lessons they learned from their janitor, the first one was to be cautious of labels. Labels one places on people may define their relationship with them, therefore leaving little room to learn about a person. “Sadly, and for a long time, we labeled Bill as just a janitor, but he was so much more. Therefore, be cautious of a leader who callously says, ‘Hey, he’s just an Airman’. Likewise, don’t tolerate the 0-1, who says, ‘I can’t do that, I’m just a lieutenant.'”
He Did Not Anticipate This
“Everyone deserves respect,” said Reagan next. Moschgat explained that “Because we hung the ‘janitor’ label on Mr. Crawford, we often wrongly treated him with less respect than others around us. He deserved much more, and not just because he was a Medal of Honor winner. Bill deserved respect because he was a janitor, walked among us, and was a part of our team.” But actions speak stronger than words, and Moschgat was about to change his ways, which Crawford could not anticipate.
Cringing With Discomfort
Reagan also emphasized that “Courtesy makes a difference.” Moschgat added, “Be courteous to all around you, regardless of rank or position,” as he referred to both military customs as well as common courtesies. Then, Reagan emphasized how important it is to take time to know your people. Moschgat added: “For years a hero walked among us at the Academy and we never knew it. Who are the heroes that walk in your midst?” At this point, Crawford felt more on the spot than ever.
Everyone Was Waiting For His Response
“Anyone can be a hero,” exclaimed former President Reagan. Mr. Crawford certainly didn’t fit anyone’s standard definition of a hero. Moreover, he was a private on the day he won his Medal. Moschgat added: “don’t sell your people short, for any one of them may be the hero who rises to the occasion when duty calls. On the other hand, it’s easy to turn to your proven performers when the chips are down, but don’t ignore the rest of the team.” All eyes turned to Crawford, who turned bright red.
About To Speak His Mind
Reagan claimed “leaders should be humble”, and based this requirement on the fact that most modern day heroes and leaders are anything but meek. Celebrations and self-elevation are what we have come to expect from anyone who exceeds in their game, but Crawford should be a lesson to us all. Crawford was too busy working to celebrate his past heroics, and was too invested in his job to let his ego deprive him from aiding his country even long past his retirement.
His Response Was Anticipated
Next, Reagan claimed that while life won’t always hand you what you think you deserve, one should also not pursue glory. Rather, as Reagan explained, it is better to pursue excellence. Using Crawford as an example, Moschgat later mentioned that Bill didn’t pursue glory – he did his duty and then swept floors for a living. It was at this point that everyone present at the graduation ceremony looked at Crawford, awaited his response to the President’s words.
He Didn’t Want To Be Treated Differently
“No job is beneath a leader,” was the ninth point Reagan pointed out. “If Bill Crawford, a Medal of Honor winner, could clean latrines and smile, is there a job beneath your dignity?” As the great Dr. Martin Luther King once said, ‘no matter what task life hands you, do it well’.” Lastly, Reagan explained that “life is a leadership laboratory.” Those you meet everyday will teach you enduring lessons if you just take time to stop, look and listen. Moschgat also explained how everything changed on base…
An Inevitable Change
“Things were never again the same around our squadron,” wrote Moschgat, as things inevitably changed after word spread like wildfire among the cadets that the troops had a hero in their midst. “Mr. Crawford, our janitor, had been bestowed the Medal! Cadets who had once passed by Bill with hardly a glance, now greeted him with a smile and a respectful, ‘Good morning, Mr. Crawford.'” But it was not only their attitude that changed, they made a self note to watch their actions as well.
Those who left a mess for the janitor to clean up realized they made extra work for a heroic veteran. So, instead of slacking off, all started to clean up after themselves. The cadets took it upon themselves to put things in order. “Almost overnight, Bill went from being a simple fixture in our squadron to one of our teammates,” posted Moschgat. An example of heroism with humility, Crawford was the consummate hero who wanted little more than to be part of something bigger than himself.
Crawford Changed Enormously
“Mr. Crawford changed too,” wrote Moschgat. He felt overwhelmed with the amount of praise and appreciative words and acts he received, Moschgat noted that Crawford “seemed to move with more purpose, his shoulders not as stooped, met our greetings with a direct gaze and a stronger ‘good morning’ in return, and flashed his crooked smile more often. While no one ever formally acknowledged the change, I think we became Bill’s cadets and his squadron.”
Finally, His Last Words
Bill Crawford died in March of 2000, at the age of 81. After he passed, the Governor of Colorado ordered that all Colorado flags be lowered to half-staff in his honor. To this day, he is the only non-USAF enlisted man of the U.S. Army to be buried at the United States Air Force Academy Cemetery in Colorado Springs. Right before his death, Crawford finally spoke his mind about that eventful incident that altered his life completely…
Forever A Trooper
Crawford had only a few modest words to remark on the event: “I was just glad that I was doing my part,” he said. “I figured it was just a normal call of duty. I happened to be at the right place at the right time.” Moschgat put it best when he concluded that “From storming machine gun nests half a world away from home to becoming a janitor to be closer to the military, he always placed the whole above himself.”