BAGRAM AIR FIELD, Afghanistan (4/7/2012) – In 1965, while serving with the 1st Cavalry Division during the Vietnam War, Col. Bruce Crandall, retired pilot, distinguished himself in battle by flying an unarmed helicopter under intense enemy fire to deliver supplies and evacuate wounded soldiers.
Retired U.S. Army Col. Bruce Crandall, a Medal of Honor recipient, addresses soldiers from the Army's 1st Cavalry Division during an award ceremony March 31, 2012. Crandall, 79, toured Afghanistan last week to meet with the troops. A former helicopter pilot with the Division, Crandall flew 22 missions in his unarmed Huey helicopter to evacuate wounded soldiers during the fierce Battle of la Drang, the first major division operation of the Vietnam War. U.S. Navy photo by MC1 Bill Steele, 7th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
“When it first got started, we didn't know any of this was going to happen,” said Crandall, from Manchester, Wash. “First four lifts in, everything stayed quiet until the very last aircraft coming up got hit. From that point on, we understood we were in a fight for the lives of the guys on the ground.”
Crandall and his team flew 14 and a half hours that day, even after the landing zone had been closed; successfully evacuated 70 wounded soldiers.
In 2007, four decades after the Battle of Ia Drang, Crandall received the Medal of Honor for his actions in Vietnam.
Even though the President's aide told him before the ceremony that his hat was inappropriate, Crandall, in true Cavalry fashion, wore his Stetson as President George W. Bush put the nation's highest award around his neck.
“I told him I'm sure it won't be the last inappropriate thing I do in my life,” Crandall recalled with a smile.
As a proud Cavalry man, Crandall jumped at the opportunity to come to Afghanistan and visit Combined Joint Task Force-1, headquartered by the 1st Cavalry Division.
“I couldn't be happier. I've been trying to get here to visit with the unit. I had a few things on the bucket list and this was one of them,” Crandall said.
“I wanted to get back with [the 1st Cav. Div.]. I've been with them at Fort Hood, but it's not the same as being with them when they're doing what they're doing here. I'm proud of them and no one is happier to be in Afghanistan.”
At the end of his visit with the 1st Cav. Div., Crandall signed photos and copies of the book, “We Were Soldiers Once and Young,” which tells the story of the 7th Cavalry Regiment's 1st and 2nd battalions during the Battle of Ia Drang.
Crandall retired from the military in 1977 and has since been immortalized in books and was portrayed by actor Greg Kinnear in the Hollywood movie “We Were Soldiers.”
In 2010, Crandall received a promotion to full Colonel and today is hailed as a “Cav Godfather” by soldiers in the 1st Cavalry Division.
“The Cav has always been the best unit in the Army and it's proving it again here,” Crandall said. “I'm Cav all the way through. It's the best assignment I ever had, military or civilian. The people in it, even though we keep changing them out, they still are the best people in the business.”
By Army Sgt. Andrea Merritt
7th Mobile Public Affairs Detachment
Provided through DVIDS
Comment on this article