The Medal of Honor Recipient who Became a Janitor: The Story of MSG William Crawford
Today we’re joining Bravo Sierra in a special salute to Veterans Day. If you’ve followed them for any length of time, you’ll know they’re passionate about the military and our veterans, using feedback from their community to create exceptional products for demanding users. Here at CIVVIESUPPLY, we’ve taken the same approach with our apparel, building a military-focused heritage brand that honors the legacies of American warriors, past and present.
We think about our veteran community on a daily basis, and on Veteran’s Day we’re excited to join Bravo Sierra in reflecting on a single veteran, MSG William Crawford, who we believe represents the best of what service and selflessness is all about, both in and out of uniform. Enjoy the story of this Medal of Honor recipient who became a janitor...and remember to thank a veteran, today on Veterans Day and every day, since you never know when that custodian or bus driver might be someone who willingly risked their life in order to preserve your way of life.
THE STORY OF BULLETPROOF BILL CRAWFORD:
It was Italy, 1943, and Crawford’s squad was pinned down by machine gun fire. Without waiting for orders or to be told what to do, Crawford leapt up and rushed the enemy, knocking out the machine gun nest single-handedly. But there were two more nests still pinning them down, further up the hill. So he did it again. And then again.
Selfless and bulletproof, by the end of his charge Crawford was the one firing on the enemy, turning their own weapons against the Nazis as they ran away. He was still covering his squad when he was captured and taken POW. Unable to find him, his battle buddies assumed he hadn’t made it.
But he wasn’t dead, and he would survive the war, making it through the horrors of a Nazi prison camp with the same steadfastness of purpose that had led him to charge three enemy machine guns nests single-handedly.
After his camp was liberated, he returned to his family, who’d just received a “posthumous” Medal of Honor in the mail recognizing his actions that day in Italy in 1943. Crawford's return was a miracle, his family rejoiced, and he soon re-enlisted, serving the soldiers he loved for many more years before he retired.
But as many of us know, life for an enlisted retiree goes on — veterans return from war; mouths must be fed; bills must be paid...
So Crawford got a civilian job.
He got a quiet job, a humble job — Bill Crawford became a janitor, at the US Air Force Academy, where the cadets knew him simply as “Mr. Crawford.” He never brought up his own story, never told them of his experiences...never told them it was a Medal of Honor Recipient who was taking out the trash from their classrooms each day and cleaning their bathrooms. A student later reflected on "Mr. Crawford," describing him as “unimpressive” and “easily overlooked.”
But Crawford was comfortable being a servant to others. He had nothing to prove to anyone. He simply served, quietly and professionally. He wore a new uniform, the blue collar uniform of the civilian, but he hadn’t stopped serving others.
It was years before a cadet happened to be reading an assignment for class one day, and read about the amazing feats of one “William Crawford,” who had received a Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry during the Second World War. The grainy black and white photo looked just a bit like “Mr. Crawford,” the janitor.
“Yep, that’s me,” replied Mr. Crawford when the cadet showed him the book. And then he kept sweeping.
A Toast to All the Bill Crawford's Out There
Ultimately, Crawford would go on to become a celebrated figure within the campus community at the Air Force Academy, but he never lost his quiet humility and others-first mentality. One of the cadets, now known as COL James E. Moschgat, knew Mr. Crawford from the hallways and would go on to immortalize the lessons learned from his humble service in the "Ten Leadership Lessons" listed below.
It’s now 2020, and much has changed since Mr. Crawford humbly swept the halls of the Air Force Academy. Crawford himself passed away in 2000, but his spirit lives on today in the quiet lives of millions of veterans all across this great country, many of whom have — like Crawford — traded their weapons for mops, for forklifts, for semi-trucks and hand-trucks as they go about making a new life for themselves.
It’s not always easy, but there’s a dignity in the service that continues to others, long after we’ve hung up our uniforms. On Veterans Day we raise a glass to all of the Bill Crawford’s out there – to all of you who, in steadfastly serving your families and communities after your uniformed service to our Nation is complete, remind us of what honorable service and selfless leadership is all about.
So thank a veteran today – today and every day. Because you never know when that janitor or waitress might be someone who fought and bled for you somewhere thousands of miles away.
The CIVVIESUPPLY Brothers
10 LEADERSHIP LESSONS from Bill Crawford, by COL James E. Moschgat:
- 1. Be Cautious of Labels. Labels you place on people may define your relationship to them and bound their potential. Sadly, and for a long time, we labeled Bill as just a janitor, but he was so much more. Therefore, be cautious of a leader who callously says, "Hey, he's just an Airman". Likewise, don't tolerate the O-1, who says, "I can't do that, I'm just a lieutenant.
- 2. Everyone Deserves Respect. Because we hung the "janitor" label on Mr. Crawford, we often wrongly treated him with less respect than others around us. He deserved much more, and not just because he was a Medal of Honor winner. Bill deserved respect because he was a janitor, walked among us, and was a part of our team.
- 3. Courtesy Makes a Difference. Be courteous to all around you, regardless of rank or position. Military customs, as well as common courtesies, help bond a team. When our daily words to Mr. Crawford turned from perfunctory "hellos" to heartfelt greetings, his demeanor and personality outwardly changed. It made a difference for all of us.
- 4. Take Time to Know Your People. Life in the military is hectic, but that's no excuse for not knowing the people you work for and with. For years a hero walked among us at the Academy and we never knew it. Who are the heroes that walk in your midst?
- 5. Anyone Can Be a Hero. Mr. Crawford certainly didn't fit anyone's standard definition of a hero. Moreover, he was a private on the day he won his Medal. Don't sell your people short, for any one of them may be the hero who rises to the occasion when duty calls. On the other hand, it's easy to turn to your proven performers when the chips are down, but don't ignore the rest of the team. Today's rookie could and should be tomorrow's superstar.
- 6. Leaders Should Be Humble. Most modern day heroes and some leaders are anything but humble, especially if you calibrate your hero meter on today's athletic fields. End zone celebrations and self-aggrandizement are what we've come to expect from sports greats. Not Mr. Crawford-he was too busy working to celebrate his past heroics. Leaders would be well-served to do the same.
- 7. Life Won't Always Hand You What You Think You Deserve. We in the military work hard and, dang it, we deserve recognition, right? However, sometimes you just have to persevere, even when accolades don't come your way. Perhaps you weren't nominated for junior officer or airman of the quarter as you thought you should; don't let that stop you.
- 8. Don't pursue glory; pursue excellence. Private Bill Crawford didn't pursue glory; he did his duty and then swept floors for a living.
- 9. No job is beneath a Leader. If Bill Crawford, a Medal of Honor winner, could clean latrines and smile, is there a job beneath your dignity? Think about it. Pursue Excellence. No matter what task life hands you, do it well. Dr. Martin Luther King said, "If life makes you a street sweeper, be the best street sweeper you can be." Mr. Crawford modeled that philosophy and helped make our dormitory area a home.
- 10. Life is a Leadership Laboratory. All too often we look to some school or PME class to teach us about leadership when, in fact, life is a leadership laboratory. Those you meet everyday will teach you enduring lessons if you just take time to stop, look and listen. I spent four years at the Air Force Academy, took dozens of classes, read hundreds of books, and met thousands of great people. I gleaned leadership skills from all of them, but one of the people I remember most is Mr. Bill Crawford and the lessons he unknowingly taught. Don't miss your opportunity to learn.