Perhaps it was the way he carried himself in an unassuming and humble manner, but day after day hundreds of Air Force Academy cadets would pass this janitor in the hall oblivious to the greatness that was among them.
In the mid-1970s, William Crawford might spend one day sweeping the halls and another cleaning the bathrooms, but it was a day approximately 30 years prior that would create for him a special place in the history of war. In 1943 in Italy, the only thing Private William Crawford was cleaning out was German machine gun nest and bunkers.
Under heavy fire and at great risk to himself, his gallantry was so audacious that it earned him the Medal of Honor and the respect of any man who witnessed his actions. And yet, for the cadets at the Air Force Academy, it would take a student’s study of the Allied campaign in Italy to realize who it was that walked among them.
Once the cadets realized the humble janitor was a recipient of the nation’s highest military honor, that would never be able to look at him the same and the secret was out.
A Humble Spirit
William Crawford was born in 1918 in Pueblo, Colorado. For Crawford, he would always call the state of Colorado home despite serving a long career in the military where he was assigned to various duty stations.
It was after retiring from the Army that he returned to Colorado and took up his job as a janitor at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs.
The cadets would report that the shy janitor they only knew as Mr. Crawford simply blended into the background as he did his job without much fanfare. However, when one of the cadets began reading a book detailing the Allied advance through Italy he came upon the story of a medal of honor recipient named William Crawford.
Talking to his roommate, Cadet James Moschgat, Class of ’77 made the connection and said: said, “Holy cow, you’re not going to believe this, but I think our janitor is a Medal of Honor [recipient].” The next day, the cadet took the book to Crawford and simply asked if this was him.
Perhaps weighing whether it was worth it to expose his gallantry, Crawford stared at the book for a while then simply said, “That was a long time ago and one day in my life.”
He would then be taken back to that fateful day in Italy and recount the story as only the man who lived it could do. By September 1943, the Allies were pushing through southern Italy slugging it out with a resilient German army.
For Crawford and the 36th infantry division, that would place them near Altavilla Silentina with orders to take Hill 424.
One Man Assault
On September 13th, Company I was assaulting enemy positions on the hill when the entire company was pinned down by intense machine-guns fire and mortars.
Serving as the squad scout for third platoon, Private Crawford was near the front of this assault and located the first of the gun positions wreaking havoc on the company.