"True courage is not the absence of fear, but the mastery of fear."
-- Mark Twain
The theme of war heroes continues this month with a story about Bill Crawford of Pueblo, Colo. Bill was born in 1918. His mother died soon after he was born, leaving his father to raise him and his one older brother and two older sisters.
His father, George Crawford, struggled to do the best he could to raise his four kids, relying on his relatives to help at a time when he was coping with the loss of his wife.
Fast forward to 1944, when Bill's father was asked to come to Camp Carson, Colo., for a special ceremony to accept the Medal of Honor on behalf of his son's heroic efforts in World War II. Losing his son would probably be worse than losing his wife. There was just one problem with George Crawford receiving the Medal of Honor on behalf of his son, though.
Bill Crawford was a private in the U.S. Army whose unit had landed near Altavilla, Italy, during World War II. As his platoon climbed a hill one day, enemy forces showered them with machine gun fire. Acting alone but armed with a hand grenade, Bill ran into the stream of gunfire and got to within a few yards of the enemy pit, then threw the grenade into it. He wiped out the enemy and saved his fellow soldiers.
This one act, done without his ranking officer's orders, would probably be enough to earn him a Medal of Honor, but there was more. As his platoon advanced, they soon faced more enemy gunfire, and this time it was from not one but two separate groups; one on the right and one on the left.
Again, Bill stepped up to save his fellow soldiers' lives, even though it meant putting his own life in grave danger again. He first destroyed the gun that was shooting from his left side, then he immediately knocked out the machine gun that was firing from his right side, turning the gun on the Germans and forcing them to run.
Bill's platoon advanced and continued fighting throughout the day, but later that night, his fellow soldiers could not find him.
In September 1943, they requested that he be awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously. This was in September of 1943.
In May 1944, Bill's father accepted the honor Camp Carson. His face was streaming with tears.
There was just one problem, though. The members of Bill's platoon had assumed that he was killed in action, but what really happened was that he was captured and sent to a German prisoner of war camp. About two months later, his family was notified that Bill had survived. A telegram was sent to the prison camp, notifying Bill that he had earned the Medal of Honor.
One of his Red Cross packages contained a Bible, and when Bill opened it, the very first verse that he saw was Romans 8:31: "If God can be for us, who can be against us?" Knowing that he needed some divine help from above while in a prison camp, this verse became the source of Bill's strength to help him get past the tough times that he was about to face.
The tough times included a forced 52-day, 500-mile march in the winter in 1944 when the Germans relocated their prison camp to avoid the Russians, who were attacking from the eastern front. Their only food was one potato a day. Bill and his fellow prisoners were finally released in the spring of 1945.
Bill served 20 years in the U.S. Army, rising to the rank of master sergeant. He retired to a town near the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, and he worked there in his retirement. Each spring he would present the "Outstanding Cadet" award to one member of that year's class.
He got a special surprise in 1984 when, thanks to the efforts of the cadets, he was awarded the same Medal of Honor which his dad had received for him 40 years earlier.
This time, however, he was there to receive it in person. The presenter was President Ronald Reagan.