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Father of Graduate Student Wins Medal of Honor

By Joe Savrock (March 2007)

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Mike Crandall, graduate student in the College’s Adult Education program, has plenty of reason to be proud of his dad.


crandallbushmedalofhonor.jpgBruce Crandall with President Bush


Last month his father, retired Lieutenant Colonel Bruce “Snake” Crandall, received the nation’s highest military tribute, the Medal of Honor, from President George W. Bush in ceremonies held at the White House. Crandall accepted the honor in recognition of his courageous rescue and supply operations amid fierce enemy fire during the Vietnam War on Nov. 15, 1965.

Serving as a U.S. helicopter pilot, then-Major Crandall made repeated flights into a bloody battle in the Ia Drang Valley, risking his life to shuttle wounded American soldiers out of harm’s way and returning to deliver supplies to help ground soldiers stave off a Viet Cong offensive. He had to switch his unarmed helicopters several times during the operation because of heavy damage from enemy gunfire.

Crandall and his wingman, Ed “Too Tall” Freeman, are credited with saving the lives of more than 70 American soldiers that day. Their heroics inspired the 2002 motion picture We Were Soldiers. In that movie, Greg Kinnear played the part of Crandall. Mel Gibson portrayed the battalion commander, Lt. Col. Hal Moore.

Crandall, who resides in Kent, Wash., was first considered for the Medal in 2001, but he modestly declined his nomination. “My father requested they hold any movement on his consideration for the Medal of Honor until after Freeman had been considered, because my father felt strongly that if there was to be only one Medal of Honor presented, it should go to Ed.” Freeman, in fact, received the Medal that year.

Mike and his wife, Jerri—also a current graduate student in Adult Education—attended the recent White House ceremony, as did Mike’s daughters Rebekah (a fall 2007 incoming freshman at University Park) and Jessica (a junior at Clearfield High School), as well as his mother, Arlene, and several other family members. It was finally time for Ltc. Crandall to receive his well deserved recognition.

“This medal is awarded for actions above and beyond the call of duty,” said Bush during the Feb. 26 ceremony. “Today I am proud to bestow this medal on a daring pilot, a devoted soldier, and a selfless leader—Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Crandall.”

Following is Bush’s description of Crandall’s heroics:

“On the morning of Nov. 14, 1965, Major Crandall's unit was transporting a battalion of soldiers to a remote spot in the la Drang Valley, to a landing zone called X-Ray. After several routine lifts into the area, the men on the ground came under a massive attack from the North Vietnamese army. On Major Crandall's next flight, three soldiers on his helicopter were killed, three more were wounded. But instead of lifting off to safety, Major Crandall kept his chopper on the ground—in the direct line of enemy fire—so that four wounded soldiers could be loaded aboard.

Major Crandall flew the men back to base, where the injuries could be treated. At that point, he had fulfilled his mission. But he knew that soldiers on the ground were outnumbered and low on ammunition. So Major Crandall decided to fly back into X-Ray. He asked for a volunteer to join him. Captain Ed Freeman stepped forward. In their unarmed choppers, they flew through a cloud of smoke and a wave of bullets. They delivered desperately needed supplies. They carried out more of the wounded, even though medical evacuation was really not their mission.

If Major Crandall had stopped here he would have been a hero. But he didn't stop. He flew back into X-Ray again and again. Fourteen times he flew into what they called the Valley of Death. He made those flights knowing that he faced what was later described as an ‘almost unbelievably extreme risk to his life.’ Over the course of the day, Major Crandall had to fly three different choppers. Two were damaged so badly they could not stay in the air. Yet he kept flying until every wounded man had been evacuated and every need of the battalion had been met.

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.”