By admin | November 14, 2012
By Richard Allen
On November 14, 1965 forces from the United States Army engaged the North Vietnamese in the Ia Drang Valley near the Camobdian border in Vietnam. Under the command of Lt. Colonel Harold Moore, the forces of 1st Battalion, 7rth Cavalry found themselves outnumbered and in danger of annilation from a determined foe but the heroic actions of a brave helicopter pilot helped the Americans withstand the fierce attack and eventually inflict significant casualties on their enemy.
Bruce Crandall had airlifted the soldiers into the combat zone and knew what equipment the men had taken with them. When he realized the magnitude of the Vietnamese attack, he knew something had to be done to assist his fellow men. Throughout the day and night, the steadfast Huey helicopter pilot shuttled in ammunition and other supplies to his brothers in arms while at the same time also helping evacuate the wounded.
In all, Crandall flew 22 missions that day after other pilots became too fearful to re-enter the combat zone. And more, many of those missions were flown on an unarmed aircraft after Crandall’s initial helicopter was crippled by enemy gunfire. More than 70 wounded men were transported to safety on the Huey birds.
Crandall received the Medal of Honor for his heroic deeds in 2007 from President George W. Bush.
On Tuesday afternoon, Crandall paid a visit to Seymour High School, arriving in grand style aboard a Huey helicopter similar to those he flew in Vietnam. He landed on the school’s football field amid the cheers of students who had been allowed to witness the dramatic entry.
“That was a heck of a way to arrive,” Crandall declared after he disembarked from his ride. The 79 year old retired Colonel had come to the school to address students as part of a Medal of Honor character building program recently implemented by the Sevier County School System.
Crandall entered the Army in 1953. “They drafted me and only sent me twelve miles from home,” the native of Washington state said. “Then after my basic training they sent me to another fort that was only 40 miles from home. I wasn’t too happy about that. They could have at least sent me a little further away.
“I had hoped to be drafted… by the Yankees or Orioles,” the former high school All American baseball star continued. “I could have avoided the draft. I was already in a guard unit but I figured it was something I needed to go ahead and do.”
Crandall obviously enjoys his celebrity status and has even had a couple of moments in the racing spotlight as a result. In 2011, he was named as the honorary starter for the Indianapolis 500. “During their pre-race meeting I was shaking hands with all the drivers until I got to Danica Patrick,” he recalled during a reception prior to his addressing of the students. “I told her I wanted hug from her but she said ‘I don’t hug on the first date’ so I shook her hand then said ‘Now it’s our second date’ and I reached out and grabbed her before she could get away.”
With pride, Crandall added, “I set a record after I waved that green flag. I stayed up there in that (flagman’s) stand for 56 laps. No other honorary starter had ever watched that many laps like that.”
This past Memorial Day weekend, Crandall was on hand as part of the festivities leading up to the Coca-Cola 600 in Charlotte. Once again the Medal of Honor recipient was greeted by a number of admiring drivers. And again, he and Danica Patrick crossed pathes. “When I saw her coming I told her it was now our third date and I wanted another hug and she said ‘Oh no, you again’,” he joked. “She was a great sport about it.”
Once Crandall entered the gymnasium, the veteran held his audience of 1,300 students spellbound as he spoke on the Medal of Honor programs six points of emphasis. Courage, patriotism, commitment, sacrifice, integrity and citizenship have been taught this semester in the SHS social studies department through the program’s video series that uses interviews with the 80 currently survivng Medal of Honor recipients to demonstrate those values.
Crandall also won the students over when he brought out his small dog “Huey” to perform a few tricks. At the end of his speech, he fielded some questions from students who have participated in the program and he presented principal Kristy Wallen with an autographed copy of a book about the Medal of Honor.
All in all, it was a rewarding day for the school, its students and its faculty.
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