We all have our life stories that are filled with some good moments, some bad ones and yeah with some dark secrets. This story is about an ordinary looking old janitor who shook the entire country with his long kept secret. His life had been a subject of several unannounced incidents that remained a mystery until a boy took upon himself to unravel them all. His life journey is nothing short of a thriller movie that keeps you riveted till the end. Read the story of this enigmatic janitor who kept deceiving people with its ordinary profile and eventually emerged as someone anyone had no idea about. And also find out what this ordinary janitor actually did that made him the prime subject of a world famous piece of wrieing and even compelled the honorable president of the country to meet him. And how that legendary moment moved everyone who witnessed it even the president himself.
William “Bill” Crawford was a janitor working at the US Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs. Normally, ignored by many and greeted by few, this janitor had the responsibility of keeping the whole of the building clean. You could see him buffing mirrors, mopping floors or spraying or just merely tinkering with the stuff all around the academy. He was cleaning up after some 100 young cadets. Despite his round the clock appearance on the campus, his presence to others was as silent as grave. Perhaps, he was the most ignored person in the academy. This janitor had a very ordinary life like other janitors until a secret from his past got busted that drastically changed his present and future!
Discreet And Diligent
The Odd One In
Another reason behind the unnoticed presence of the janitor was his appearance. His grey hair that signified his oldness kept the young blood from approaching him. Along with that due to growing grey, he had wrinkles on his face that made him look even more disinteresting for the students. Who likes to talk to an introvert old janitor? Who would want to know their life story? Nobody. The sole thing that amused students about him was his crooked smile, it was quite funny. The one thing was clear that he looked completely odd in the school of young cadets.
An Enigmatic Presence
Crawford is the native of Pueblo, Colorado where he has been residing since his birth i.e 1918. The greying man had a very hectic lifestyle during his previous job that is why he decided to take up an easy going job post-retirement. That is why he embraced the profile of a janitor. Surprisingly, from there on he never talked about his previous profession to anyone. Nobody knew where this man had come from. He was always considered a mismatch to the campus that was teamed with the younger generation. The later-published accounts of those who met him stated about him “an old man working in a young person’s world.”
Not Just A Wallflower Janitor
Col. James Moschgat who is a retired Air Force personnel was one of the cadets when he met the janitor. He vividly remembers the shyness and introvert nature of Mr. Crawford. The wide age gap between the cadets and the janitor was always an invisible barrier between the cadet and the mysterious janitor. The impalpable hurdle prevented them from getting personal with him. Moschgat recounted “The Academy, one of our nation’s premier leadership laboratories, kept us busy from dawn till dusk. And Mr. Crawford … well, he was just a janitor.” At that time Mr. Moschgat was not aware of the unpredicted turn that his neigh future was going to take.
Ordinary Or Extraordinary
Not everything that looks ordinary is ordinary! Crawford seemed fundamentally common but in reality, he was anything but common. The reason usually considered by the people behind him taking this petty job up was his need to add to his pension. It is true that a very limited number of people knew his full name. However, it was easy for people to make out that he was very committed to his work owing to his highly disciplined nature and perfection in everything he did. What they could not guess was his unexpected past that was soon going to give them an adrenaline rush. On the other side, the janitor also never tried to reveal his past to anyone. But why?
Change In The Air
This janitor’s entire life was confined to his military family. Whereas Crawford used to spend his whole day doing menial works the cadets, on the other hand, had to prepare for their approaching athletic events and exams. Another reason that kept him from mixing up with the cadets was his introvert nature. In fact, he used to speak very rarely with anyone only responding to cadet’s addresses. This mysterious individual used to keep himself engaged with his daily chorus of sweeping, cleaning toilets and emptying dustbins. Who knew that this unnoticeable janitor was going to change lives of those students who did not even know about his existence. That shocking revelation was going to be made very soon.
A Dramatic Discovery
It was Saturday afternoon and the janitor was doing his everyday work of tidying up the infrastructure and cadets were busy preparing for their exams. Moschgat, one of the cadets was leafing through a book on World War II and Allied ground campaign in Italy when his eyes registered a surprising detail that made him utter “Holy cow!. He could not believe what he saw. He later wrote “The words on the page leapt out at me,” The hosteller who was going to become an F-16 pilot had unintentionally discovered a clue of long-held mystery about the janitor.
While further turning the pages, Moschgat captured the name “Private William Crawford” scribbled in big bold letters. He felt like he has heard this name somewhere before and then in a matter of minute the face of janitor flashed in front of his eyes. He began to wonder if the janitor William Crawford had any kind of connection with valorous “Private William Crawford.” It was a matter of days, soon the whole of the class was going to be acquainted with the startling connection the “old grandpa” had with the trooper.
A Tale Of Bravery
The name emerged in a story that Moschgat was reading while preparing for his approaching exams. It was about a battle that transpired about 30 years ago. The story depicted the life-risking US Army’s 36 Infantry Division’s confrontation with enemy forces near Altavilla. The piece of writing had also described the incredible bravery of a man called Private Crawford. The lines in the article read “in the face of intense and overwhelming hostile fire…with no regard for personal safety… on his own initiative, Private Crawford single-handedly attacked fortified enemy positions.”
Taking The Lead
Immensely intrigued by the details mentioned in the book, Moschgat resolved to find out if their Air Force Academy’s custodial had any kind of connection with the heroic Private Crawford. He decided to ask janitor if he was the same man. In no time Moschgat and his roommate were chasing Crawford with the very book in hand. They asked him if he is the same Crawford but janitor seemed disinterested in the conversation. For some unknown reason, he kept putting off the question. But the cadets were too determined to give up and they kept on insisting. They handed him the book they had seen his name on. After having the book in hand the expressions of janitor changed dramatically!
The Reluctant Truth
The moment cadets handed book to him, silence fell upon him. He kept staring at the book for few moments and then uttered something that astonished both the cadets. The janitor exclaimed, “Yep, that’s me.” Once again his reply kindled the flame of curiosity in them. It is not usual that a person having so big achievements in past would keep his accomplishments to himself only. Naturally, the next question that followed was how come he never talked about it to anyone? In reply, Crawford said “That was a long time ago and one day in my life,” Moschgat finally had his curiosity satiated, but what he did not know was it was not the end but the beginning of Crawford’s astounding story.
Returning To Past
Crawford got admitted to US Army in July 1942. Within a year of his admission, the men graduated to the position of private. He began to work with the 142nd Infantry Regiment 36 Infantry Division on the front lines of southern Italy. A year later, On September 13, 1943, he became a squad scout when his group ambushed an enemy position at Hill 424 near Altavilla Silentina. The enemy too was well prepared and was retaliating with the same potential. The American troops were in a pinch now as they had not expected such strong retaliation from the rival group. The environment soon turned smoky and the troops were facing the constant bombardment of mortar fire and machine gun. Needless to say, Crawford’s group were having toughest fight of their life.
A Superhuman Display of Bravery
Whereas other members of the group were busy saving their lives, Crawford rose high and decided to take on the enemies. Driven by determination and armored with courage, Crawford did not wait for any instruction and lobbed a grenade directing towards the enemy firing post that was repeatedly threatening his platoons. It was a successful try! The firing post razed in ashes. It was a big victory for the American troops. His valor prevented many lives from ending. But Crawford’s aggression was yet to be satiated, he paced towards the enemy’s place. In order to dodge the barrage of bullets, he crawled towards the German machine gun nests and destroyed them completely. Despite his heroic performance, he had to undergo something unexpected which was going to give his life an unbelievable turn.
It was due to Crawford’s spectacular courage that the enemy group beat a hasty retreat from the battle sight. They did not want to confront this man anymore as he single-handedly had devastated the three giant deep established posts. But unfortunately, before Allied advance could thank Crawford another tragedy struck the group! The spot where Crawford had been stationed and from where he made the opponents taste defeat, came under the control of opponents. Now, Crawford was in their captivity. There was no chance of survival for this valorous soldier as he had entered the killing list of his enemies since the time he bombarded their three prominent posts. He was declared MIA and eventually presumed dead by his fellow soldiers. This incident was the precursor of an unthinkable event that was going to take place in his life after many years.
Tragedy and Honor
The US government held Crawford’s valor actions in high esteem and awarded him posthumously with the Medal of Honor, America’s highly prestigious military decoration. The award was given to his father as according to the rules the honor was awarded to the father if the person in question has died. Apparently, everyone had accepted the tragic faith of Crawford as a German Prisoner of War.In this case, Crawford was taken as dead! The award was given in “a brief, impressive ceremony” and the medal was presented by US Maj-Gen Terry Allen to Crawford’s father George.
Months passed by and admiration for Crawford turned into a heroic story. Nobody knew if he was alive or dead. His family and friends had lots of questions in their mind about the fate of Crawford but unfortunately, there was no one who could answer them. Amid this hopelessness something unbelievable took place! It happened when a bunch of soldiers was freed from German captivity and surprisingly, Crawford was one among them. The prisoned man who was considered dead by the people, long time ago was actually alive and now free. The war hero after stepping on the soil of his country went straight to his home. He was not aware of the top honor he had been given nor did he have any hint about the unprecedented event that was going to take place in his life.
Back To Home
After getting freed from the prison Crawford began to live a civilian life and tied the knot with Eileen Bruce in January 1946. But his desire to serve in the military for the country soon overpowered him and once again he readmitted himself in the Army. His marriage hardly had been a year old when he got himself reenlisted. He continued to serve the country for 20 more years and embrace retirement in 1967 only. He took retirement as a master sergeant. After putting in the paper, Crawford got shifted to Palmer Lake, Colorado taking up the profile of director of the Lucretia Vaile Museum and also the job of a janitor in near Airforce Academy!
Another interesting fact about this soldier cum janitor is that he hardly donned his Medal of Honor during his military career as he considered himself undeserving of that. Perhaps, his humbleness knew no bound, that is why he took up the job of a janitor without qualms. Can you imagine a man having so many achievements under its belt doing this? In fact, this war hero did its work as a janitor as perfectly as he did as a soldier. The not anticipated story of this ordinary looking janitor reached every nook and cranny of the Academy. This revelation completely changed people’s behavior towards them. Highly impressed by his bravery, the cadets began interacting more with him. However, only destiny knew where these interactions were going to take them.
Change In Attitude
As mentioned earlier, the story of “janitor” spread like a wildfire in the academy. The cadets who once ignored him begun to talk to him and listen to his story of bravery. Crawford’s behavior also changed after the revelation. He looked more confident and would reply to cadet’s “good morning” in a stronger tone and would always have that crooked smile on his face. Now, Bill used to call cadets by their first name that was not usual in the academy. He influenced the cadets greatly. Moschet writes in his essay “While no one ever formally acknowledged the change, I think we became Bill’s cadets and his squadron.”
In response to cadets affection towards him, Crawford also began to open up to them. Once an almost neglected janitor now had become one of the prominent members of the academy. He started attending more squadron functions in is unflashy dark suits. No doubt, he had become a new friend to all the cadets. Once while interacting with his young friends Crawford mentioned his regret for not being able to personally receive the Medal of Honor from the president as he was considered dead. is unfulfilled desire had been haunting him from the time he knew he has received the award but now there was nothing that could be done about it. Or, was there something that could be done?
Crawford was invited to the Air Force Academy’s graduation day of the year 1984, as a guest. He went to the ceremony not knowing what was he going to witness today. Thousands of people had come to Colorado Springs Falcon Stadium only to see the commencement festivities of this historical ceremony. The day was going to be very memorable for the 66-year-old janitor. This is true that he had been given the awards and honors for his valor but this is true that something was still not there.The ceremony was going to fulfill that lacking of janitor’s life.
Long Overdue Recognition
The stadium was full of general, cadets, staff and their kins, alumni and President Ronald Regan. It was a historical moment as the commander in chief while delivering his speech mentioned Crawford’s incredible leadership, humility, and respect. Those who already knew and those who came to know about him that day only looked towards the janitor who had been called an inspiration for the future generation leaders. The President also admired him for being a soldier who had gone “above and beyond the call of duty.” Now the time was near when the Crawford was going to experience probably the best moment of his life.
The President ended his speech with a surprising note. He said, “Now, there’s something I want to do that means a lot to me and, I’m sure, will mean a lot to you.” Then the president went on to stress on the efforts made by Crawford in World War II. He asserted on Crawford’s service in Europe followed by his imprisonment.
Years In The Making
The President also took note of Crawford’s inability to receive his Medal of Honor on its own as he had been incarcerated by the German troops at the time honor was awarded. After that Reagan said something unexpected “Well, nearly 40 years have gone by, and it’s time to do it right.” After giving his thought a voice, the president called Crawford to the podium end. After having him there the president medalled Crawford with the Medal of Honor he deserved for so long. Finally, he had his wish come true.
Every individual witnessing this remarkable moment must have their heart beating very fast. As it was not an overwhelming moment for the Crawford only but for those too who had heard his story of bravery and sacrifices. As far as the award receiver is concerned, Bill Crawford received the award with an infectious smile during the entire procedure of receiving the award. That was a very emotional moment for Crawford and the President both. The viewers showed their joy by applauding hard after the completion of the procedure. Crawford was a man who believed in acting and not in merely talking. This introvert guy had spoken volume with his valor. He overcame all the hurdles coming his way with “conspicuous gallantry.”
Crawford never bragged about his achievements, in fact, he always kept it as a secret nor had he ever been a part of any official ceremony or recognition related to his Medical of Honor but history had some other plans. The president gives awards in the name of Congress. After receiving the honor, Crawford had become a member of an exclusive group who receives salutes from all members of the uniformed services no matter what the rank is.
Heartwarmingly Humble Hero
Crawford finally had got what he deserved for so long, the recognition for his remarkable job. Another good thing about Crawford was his modesty. He said “I was just glad that I was doing my part” he further added, “I figured it was just a normal call of duty.” Refusing to take the credit he stated: “I happened to be at the right place at the right time.”
Reflection On The Legend
Col. Moschgat described his inspiration in an essay post saying “Bill Crawford was a janitor. However, he was also a teacher, friend, role model and one great American hero.” The heart touching essay post soon got viral on the internet letting more people know about this legend. Col. Moschgat was the one who had brought this secret to the fore. He also said that the janitor taught them “some valuable leadership lessons.”
Life After Retirement
Even after receiving the medal from the hand of the president, the “Medal of Honor” recipient continued serving as a janitor in the Academy. Have you seen such humility ever? After a while, he embraced retirement to stay in Colorado, his native. It is intriguing that one of the four Medal of Honor decided to spend the rest of his life in a small town.
Making The Country A Safer Place To Live
The mysterious janitor said goodbye to the world on March 15, 2000, at the age of 81. He spent a big fraction of his life serving the country and died at his residence in Colorado leaving his wife Eileen behind. Even after death, he created history. Due to his exceptional service in the war, he was buried at the US Air Force Academy Cemetery in Colorado Springs. It made him the very first non -Air Force enlistee to be buried in an Air Force Academy. In 2009, his wife also died and was buried beside him.
An Icon Lives On
The day Crawford died, all Colorado flags were lowered to half-mast signaling the mourning and respect for Crawford. The order to lower the flag half-mast was issued by Governor Bill Owens. Moreover, a big bronze statue was made in his memory standing next to Raymond G. Murphy, Drew Dennis Dix, and Carl L. Sitter, the town’s other three recipients of Medal of Honor.
A Food For Thought
Crawford was a living legend who taught big lessons to the world with his humbleness, determination, and courage. Moschgat describes the skills of Crawford in his essay called “A Janitor’s Ten Lessons in Leadership.” that reads “Private Bill Crawford didn’t pursue glory; he did his duty and then swept floors for a living,” he further writes “If Bill Crawford, a Medal of Honor winner, could clean latrines and smile, is there a job beneath your dignity? Think about it.”
Many Valuable Lessons
Moschet has aptly described Crawford in his essay. His affection for the janitor is evident in his piece of writing. He writes “A wise person once said, “It’s not life that’s important, but those you meet along the way that make the difference.” Bill was one who made a difference for me. While I haven’t seen Mr. Crawford in over twenty years, he’d probably be surprised to know I think of him often. Bill Crawford, our janitor, taught me many valuable, unforgettable leadership lessons”
Not The Only Delayed Dedication
Did this story of Janitor pull your heartstring? If yes, then it may interest you to know that he was not the only man who was awarded Medal of Honor decades after his achievements. There are many in the line and one of them is Vernon Baker. The next slide tells the story of a soldier from Wyoming who stood firm to all the hardships in life and made history just like Crawford.
This legend was born in Cheyenne, Wyoming in 1919. The life became brutal to him when he became orphan at the mere age of four as his parents died in a car accident. After the demise of his parents, he with his two sisters were taken in by his grandparents. He did his graduation from high school in Clarinda, Iowa. His professional profile included many menial jobs that he took up after completing his graduation. It was in 1941 that he got a new direction to his career when he enlisted himself in the U.S. Army. Initially, the recruiter rejected him by saying “We don’t have any quotas for you people.” But he was far from giving up.
Determined For Duty
Vernon Baker did not budge and reappeared at the recruiter office. This time he got selected! The recruiter had immensely got impressed by his persistent nature. He wanted to be a quartermaster but was made an infantry soldier.
He had completed his military training by the time U.S. forayed into the World War II. In 1943, he was made the second lieutenant. The very next year, he got transferred to Italy with 92nd Infantry Division. However, Vernon got injured and was hospitalized near Pisa. But his injury did not stop him from rejoining the army in 1944.
A Bold Leader In Battle
Vernon Baker and his platoon ascended the medieval Castle Aghinolfi high of Italy’s Apennine Mountains. It was considered the stronghold of Germans. In order to demolish the power of Germans, it was mandatory for the Allies to break into their territory. Baker led 25 infantrymen into the territory of the enemies with heavy weapons. Facing snipers, barbed wire and mines Baker and his troops successfully broke into the inside of the fortified front.
It was under Vernon leadership only that his team managed to dodge fatal attacks and climbed a giant mountain that brought them closer to the sight of enemy’s position. Standing atop the mountain, Baker tracked several German posts. Then the American troops faced heavy firing and it was again the time for someone to take charge. Baker came forward and single-handedly demolished a couple of enemy observation posts, Third Reich telephone lines, two German bunkers, and a machine gun position.
A Loyal Hero Who Never Quit
Baker’s company asked for reinforcement during the attacks but unfortunately, no one came. Resultantly, his number of troops began to decrease. He led a battalion that conquered the enemy stronghold, the very next day. Due to multiple attacks, Vernon suffered several injuries but despite that, he continued to serve. He stayed put in Europe till 1947 as Allied occupation.
The Long List Of Achievements
Baker has many achievements during his tenure at the service such as a Bronze Star, Purple Heart, and Distinguished Service Cross. He also became the first black to lead a group of white people. He also took the training for the military parachutist.
A Defiant Role Model
He had many hardships in life. In 1953, Vernon Baker was relegated to the enlisted ranks despite his devotion towards his duty. However, he kept on serving in the army and one day his efficiency catapulted him to the rank of Master Sergeant. In 1968 he retired from the army and began to serve as a Red Cross counselor for underprivileged military families.
Serving His Country After Service
Baker’s personal life was also full of tragedies. He lost his first wife to death in 1968. However, the father of three children had his happiness returned to him when he married Heidy, a German tourist.
A Hero Makes History
And After about fifty-two years of World War II, finally, Berker was going to be awarded the medal he deserved the most. President Bill Clinton celebrated the incredible bravery of Berker by awarding him with Medal of Honor. It was a very emotional moment for Berker. Visibly, a drop of tear trickled down his left cheek. Later on, he shared his sentiments to the world by delivering a speech on that special day.
A Heroic Moment
It was a very picturesque moment. The Marine Corps band began to play “God Bless America” and was awarded standing ovation when he got into the East Room of the White House. Baker expressed his emotion by saying “I was thinking about what was going on up on the hill that day,” he later added “I was an angry young man. We were all angry. But we had a job to do, and we did it. My personal thoughts were that I knew things would get better, and I’m glad to say that I’m here to see it.”
A Revered Place In History
Along with being the highest military awardee, in the five decades, he also was the first African American to get medalled for this prestigious award.
A Lone Legend
Fighting Spirit And Daring Leadership
His Medal of Honor citation reads “Second Lieutenant Baker’s fighting spirit and daring leadership were an inspiration to his men and exemplify the highest traditions of the Armed Forces.” He was not a fighter only in professional life but in personal life too. He heroically battled against Cancer in 2004. But unfortunately, the disease returned!
Resting In Peace
Baker kissed his final goodbye to the world on July 13, 2010. He was 90 years old at the time of his death. Arlington National Cemetery in Virginia became the resting place of Berker where his fellow servicemen were also buried.