To the eyes of countless United States Air Force Academy cadets, William Crawford may be nothing more than a humble janitor. Now imagine their shock and surprise when they later discovered that he was actually a decorated war hero – a legend in his own right.
In the 1970s, Crawford worked as a janitor without the knowledge of most that about 30 years before that, he was in Italy fighting the Germans. He was one of the finest privates, courageously risking his life in battle that he eventually earned the Medal of Honor – the country’s highest military honor.
Unknown to most US Air Force Academy cadets in Colorado Springs, their humble janitor William Crawford was a war hero who was awarded the Medal of Honor.
Born in 1918, the Colorado native served for many years in the military and was assigned to different duty stations. It was only after his retirement that he was able to go back to Colorado and then he decided to work as a janitor at the academy located in Colorado Springs.
Many years later, the cadets were blown away when they studied a book about the Allied campaign in Italy and found out about Crawford’s heroism. Needless to say, they never looked at him the same way again.
The cadets eventually made the connection when they studied about a book and learned about Crawford’s heroism.
In a conversation with his roommate, Cadet James Moschgat, Class of ’77, exclaimed:
“Holy cow, you’re not going to believe this, but I think our janitor is a Medal of Honor [recipient].”
The cadets brought the book to Crawford the next day and asked him about it, to which he merely replied:
“That was a long time ago and one day in my life.”
As a private, Crawford defended their troop and drove off German attackers single-handedly.
That encounter would later take Crawford back to that fateful day when his entire company was assaulted by machine-guns and mortars.
Being the third platoon’s squad scout, Private Crawford was near the front and he eventually spotted the gun positions of the attackers. Without waiting for any order – and under heavy fire, Crawford bravely crawled and threw a grenade each to the attacking groups.
The other defenders were left without a choice but to flee in terror from the soldier who single-handedly destroyed their group.
Because of his heroism, Hill 424 was overtaken and the Allied advance continued.
Because of Crawford’s bravery, Hill 424 was preserved and the Allied advance was able to continue. He, however, was later captured by the Germans during another battle.
Believing he was dead, he was given a posthumous award of the Medal of Honor which his father received in his behalf in 1944. Fortunately, he was discovered among a group of soldiers rescued from the Germans.
Crawford served in the military until he retired as a Master Sergeant in 1967.
Crawford continued serving in the military and eventually retired at the rank of a Master Sergeant by 1967. When he died in the year 2000, at age 81, he was buried at the United States Air Force Academy Cemetery in Colorado Springs.
Crawford’s inspiring story not only taught the cadets about bravery but also about the importance of humility.