Medal of Honor recipient William Crawford dies at 81

 

By Dennis Darrow, The Pueblo Chieftain, March 17, 2000

 

William Crawford, whose bravery as an Army private in World War II led to his becoming the first of Pueblo's four Medal of Honor recipients, died Wednesday at his home in Palmer Lake near Colorado Springs, a friend close to the family said. He was 81.

Crawford's death comes six months before his childhood hometown of Pueblo hosts the national Congressional Medal of Honor Society convention, an event expected to draw many of the nation's 149 surviving Medal recipients.

At the convention, the city will unveil a major outdoor memorial to its four Medal recipients - the others of whom survive - but now another event will take on equal attention. Each year, the Medal recipients conduct a special memorial service in honor of colleagues who've died in the past year.

Crawford is the second Medal recipient to pass away this year. Funeral arrangements weren't available Wednesday.

Over the years, Pueblo has honored Crawford and the other three Medal recipients on numerous occasions. In the 1990s, Crawford made frequent visits as part of the city's Home of Heroes activities. Most recently, he visited to inspect the bronze sculpture of him that's part of the outdoor display.

Crawford received the Medal for the heroism he displayed during heavy fighting in September 1943 near Altavilla, Italy, when on three separate occasions - and on his own initiative - he raced through intense enemy fire to detonate hand grenades on enemy gun sites.

The story of his award goes beyond those actions.

After the battle, Crawford, who was a squad scout, was captured by the Germans and presumed dead. So in 1945, the Medal was given to his father. Later in the year, Crawford was among a group of soldiers rescued from German control.

Crawford spoke modestly of his award.

"I was just glad that I was doing my part," he said in an interview several years ago. "I figured it was just a normal call of duty. I happened to be at the right place at the right time."

Crawford re-enlisted in the Army in 1947 and retired in 1967 as a master sergeant. Later, he worked as a janitor at the Air Force Academy. While working at the academy, he mentioned to friends that he never received the Medal from the president. In 1984, during that year's Air Force Academy graduation, President Ronald Reagan presented him the Medal.

Pueblo's other hometown Medal recipients are Carl Sitter and Jerry Murphy, honored for their efforts in the Korean War; and Drew Dix, honored for heroism in the Vietnam War. Today, all three reside away from Pueblo but visit often and plan to return for the national convention, set Sept. 19-24.

 


Medal of Honor

 

CRAWFORD, WILLIAM J.

 

Rank and organization: Private, U.S. Army, 36th Infantry Division.

 

Place and date: Near Altavilla, Italy, 13 September 1943.

 

Entered service at: Pueblo, Colo.

 

Birth: Pueblo, Colo.

 

G.O. No.: 57, 20 July 1944.

 

Citation:

 

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty in action with the enemy near Altavilla, Italy, 13 September 1943. When Company I attacked an enemy-held position on Hill 424, the 3d Platoon, in which Pvt. Crawford was a squad scout, attacked as base platoon for the company. After reaching the crest of the hill, the platoon was pinned down by intense enemy machinegun and small-arms fire. Locating 1 of these guns, which was dug in on a terrace on his immediate front, Pvt. Crawford, without orders and on his own initiative, moved over the hill under enemy fire to a point within a few yards of the gun emplacement and single-handedly destroyed the machinegun and killed 3 of the crew with a hand grenade, thus enabling his platoon to continue its advance. When the platoon, after reaching the crest, was once more delayed by enemy fire, Pvt. Crawford again, in the face of intense fire, advanced directly to the front midway between 2 hostile machinegun nests located on a higher terrace and emplaced in a small ravine. Moving first to the left, with a hand grenade he destroyed 1 gun emplacement and killed the crew; he then worked his way, under continuous fire, to the other and with 1 grenade and the use of his rifle, killed 1 enemy and forced the remainder to flee. Seizing the enemy machinegun, he fired on the withdrawing Germans and facilitated his company's advance.


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© 2000 by Neil Mishalov