Heroism Honored -- at Last

At a White House ceremony today, a retired 74-year-old Army helicopter pilot, Lt. Col. Bruce Crandall received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions in 1965 when he repeatedly flew his unarmed helicopter into one of the bloodiest battles of the Vietnam War to evacuate wounded soldiers and resupply a besieged Army battalion at Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley.

Crandall was in the East Room of the White House today wearing the blue Stetson hat worn by Cavalry officers as President Bush said, "Today, the story comes to its rightful conclusion, Bruce Crandall receives the honor he always deserved."

For three days in November 1965, 450 soldiers from the 1st Cavalry Division were nearly overrun by 2,000 North Vietnamese soldiers. When airlifts were deemed too risky, then-Maj. Crandall and his wingman Capt. Ed Freeman volunteered to fly their helicopters to continue to drop supplies to the besieged troops and evacuate the wounded.

For 14 hours, they flew their helicopters on 22 missions that rescued more than 70 wounded soldiers. The intensity of the ground fire forced Crandall and Freeman to switch helicopters three times to continue their missions.

In presenting the Medal of Honor to Crandall, President Bush said, "The suffering and grief could have been far worse. One of the reasons it was not was because of the man we honor today . For the soldiers rescued, for the men that came home, for the children they had and the lives they made, America is in debt to Bruce Crandall."

Crandall's actions were depicted in the Mel Gibson movie ''We Were Soldiers,'' adapted from the book ''We Were Soldiers Once … And Young.'' Crandall was played by Greg Kinnear.

Crandall becomes the third soldier from the 1965 battle in Vietnam's Central Highlands to be awarded the nation's highest military decoration, Lt. Walter Marm and Crandall's wingman Ed Freeman were the prior recipients.

Shortly after the battle, both Crandall and Freeman were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for their heroism. But, friends and family believed their actions merited the Medal of Honor.

In 1995, Congress allowed for the reconsideration of medal requests. The cases for both Crandall and Freeman came up for review.

At today's awards ceremony President Bush said Crandall had insisted that his name be withdrawn from consideration when he learned that both he and Freeman were up for the medal saying. "If only one of them was to receive the Medal of Honor, he [Crandall] wanted it to be his wingman," Bush said.

Freeman was awarded the Medal of Honor in July 2001.

In recommending Crandall for the Medal of Honor, the commander of ground forces at Landing Zone X-Ray, Lt. Col. Harold "Hal" Moore wrote that without Crandall's heroic actions, his men would have been ''cut off, surrounded by numerically superior forces, overrun and butchered to the last man.''

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