During 2019, Freedoms Foundation and the Friends of the Medal of Honor Grove are paying tribute to the living recipients of the Medal of Honor on the anniversary of the actions for which they earned the nation’s highest award for valor. The series continues with Maj. Bruce P. Crandall and the Battle of Ia Drang Valley in South Vietnam, the subject of the book We Were Soldiers Once … And Young. During the operation on Nov. 14, 1965, Crandall and his wing man and fellow Medal of Honor recipient Maj. Ed Freeman evacuated about 70 wounded comrades and supplied the ammunition that allowed American forces to survive that day.
Bruce P. Crandall’s Medal of Honor citation reads:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty: Major Bruce P. Crandall distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism as a Flight Commander in the Republic of Vietnam, while serving with Company A, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile).
“On 14 November 1965, his flight of 16 helicopters was lifting troops for a search-and-destroy mission from Plei Me, Vietnam, to Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley. On the fourth troop lift, the airlift began to take enemy fire, and by the time the aircraft had refueled and returned for the next troop lift, the enemy had Landing Zone X-Ray targeted.
“As Major Crandall and the first eight helicopters landed to discharge troops on his fifth troop lift, his unarmed helicopter came under such intense enemy fire that the ground commander ordered the second flight of eight aircraft to abort their mission.
“As Major Crandall flew back to Plei Me, his base of operations, he determined that the ground commander of the besieged infantry batallion desperately needed more ammunition. Major Crandall then decided to adjust his base of operations to Artillery Firebase Falcon in order to shorten the flight distance to deliver ammunition and evacuate wounded soldiers.
“While medical evacuation was not his mission, he immediately sought volunteers and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, led the two aircraft to Landing Zone X-Ray. Despite the fact that the landing zone was still under relentless enemy fire, Major Crandall landed and proceeded to supervise the loading of seriously wounded soldiers aboard his aircraft.
“Major Crandall’s voluntary decision to land under the most extreme fire instilled in the other pilots the will and spirit to continue to land their own aircraft, and in the ground forces the realization that they would be resupplied and that friendly wounded would be promptly evacuated. This greatly enhanced morale and the will to fight at a critical time.
“After his first medical evacuation, Major Crandall continued to fly into and out of the landing zone throughout the day and into the evening. That day he completed a total of 22 flights, most under intense enemy fire, retiring from the battlefield only after all possible service had been rendered to the Infantry battalion.
“His actions provided critical resupply of ammunition and evacuation of the wounded. Major Crandall’s daring acts of bravery and courage in the face of an overwhelming and determined enemy are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.”
Crandall was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for his actions in the Ia Drang Valley, but this was upgraded to a Medal of Honor. He received the medal from President George W. Bush on Feb. 26, 2007.
At the ceremony, Bush said:
When they touched down on their last flight, Major Crandall and Captain Freeman had spent more than 14 hours in the air. They had evacuated some 70 wounded men. They had provided a lifeline that allowed the battalion to survive the day.
To the men of la Drang, the image of Major Crandall’s helicopter coming to their rescue is one they will never forget. One officer who witnessed the battle wrote, “Major Crandall’s actions were without question the most valorous I’ve observed of any helicopter pilot in Vietnam.” The battalion commander said, “Without Crandall, this battalion would almost have surely been overrun.” Another officer said, “I will always be in awe of Major Bruce Crandall.”
For his part, Bruce has never seen it that way. Here’s what he said: “There was never a consideration that we would not go into those landing zones. They were my people down there, and they trusted in me to come and get them.”
Crandall would serve a second tour in Vietnam, eventually logging more than 900 combat missions. In January 1968, during another rescue attempt, his helicopter was downed and Crandall spent five months in the hospital with a broken back and other injuries. He retired from the Army as a lieutenant colonel in 1977.
Bush’s remarks continue the story:
As the years have passed, Bruce Crandall’s character and leadership have only grown clearer. …
A few years ago, Bruce learned he was being considered for our nation’s highest military distinction. When he found out that Captain Freeman had also been nominated, Bruce insisted that his own name be withdrawn. If only one of them were to receive the Medal of Honor, he wanted it to be his wingman. So when I presented the Medal to Captain Freeman in 2001, Bruce was here in the White House. … Today the story comes to its rightful conclusion: Bruce Crandall receives the honor he always deserved.
In men like Bruce Crandall, we really see the best of America. He and his fellow soldiers were brave, brave folks. They were as noble and selfless as any who have ever worn our nation’s uniform. And on this day of pride, we remember their comrades who gave their lives and those who are still missing. We remember the terrible telegrams that arrived at Fort Benning, the families devastated, the children who traced their father’s name on panel three-east of the Vietnam Memorial wall.
Our sadness has not diminished with time. Yet we’re also comforted by the knowledge that the suffering and grief could have been far worse. One of the reasons it was not is because of the man we honor today. For the soldiers rescued, for the men who came home, for the children they had and the lives they made, America is in debt to Bruce Crandall. It’s a debt our nation can never really fully repay, but today we recognize it as best as we’re able, and we bestow upon this good and gallant man the Medal of Honor.
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