- The Washington Times - Saturday, February 24, 2007

ASSOCIATED PRESS

As a 32-year-old helicopter pilot, Bruce Crandall flew through a gantlet of enemy fire, taking ammunition in and wounded Americans out of one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War, Army records say.

Tomorrow, a week after his 74th birthday, Mr. Crandall will receive the nation’s highest military honor in a White House ceremony with President Bush.

“I’m still here,” he said of his 41-year-wait for the Medal of Honor. “Most of these awards are posthumous, so I can’t complain.”

Mr. Crandall’s actions in the November 1965 battle at Ia Drang Valley were depicted in the Hollywood movie “We Were Soldiers,” adapted from the book “We Were Soldiers Once … And Young.”

At the time, Mr. Crandall was a major commanding a company of the 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile).

“We had the first airmobile division … the first one to use aircraft as a means of transportation and sustaining combat,” he said. His unit was put together earlier that year to go to Vietnam and “wasn’t as thought out as things are today.”

He didn’t have gunners for his aircraft, so he flew unarmed to the battlefield. He didn’t have night-vision equipment and other later technology that lessens the danger of flying.

The unit had “minimum resources and almost no administrative people” — thus the lack of help to do the reams of paperwork that had to be sent to Washington for the highest medals, Mr. Crandall said.

Generals in-theater could approve nothing higher than the Distinguished Flying Cross, Mr. Crandall said from his home in Manchester, Wash., so he received that award. Through the years, he was able to get that upgraded to a Distinguished Service Cross and now to the Medal of Honor.

Without his actions, the embattled men at Ia Drang would have been “cut off, surrounded by numerically superior forces, overrun and butchered to the last man,” the infantry commander, Lt. Col. Harold Moore, wrote in recommending Mr. Crandall for the medal.

Mr. Moore, now a retired three-star general, later wrote the book about the battle along with Joseph L. Galloway, a former war correspondent now with McClatchy Newspapers.

“This unit, taking some of the heaviest casualties of the war, out of water and fast running out of ammunition, was engaged in one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War against a relentlessly attacking, highly motivated, vastly superior force,” said U.S. Army documents supporting Mr. Crandall’s medal.

The fighting became so intense that the helicopter landing zone for delivering and resupplying troops was closed, and a unit assigned to medical evacuation duties refused to fly. Mr. Crandall volunteered for the mission and with wingman and longtime friend Maj. Ed Freeman made flight after flight over three days to deliver water, ammunition and medical supplies. They are credited with saving more than 70 wounded soldiers by flying them out to safety. Mr. Freeman received the Medal of Honor in July 2001.

Mr. Crandall is modest when he thinks about his actions.

“I’m so proud that I didn’t screw it up,” he said.

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