A new William J. Crawford Memorial will be constructed at the North end of Palmer Lake, replacing the current memorial honoring the late Army Master Sgt. and Medal of Honor recipient.
Crawford lived in Palmer Lake, Colorado for 54 years, working as a janitor at the U.S. Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs and also as a curator for the Lucretia Vaile Museum in Palmer Lake.
He is best known for his valiance during WWII in 1943, when the 36th Infantry Division, which Crawford was assigned to, attacked an enemy-held hill near Altavilla, Italy.
Enemy soldiers were dug in on the hill and their positions fortified with several machine gun nests. Before reaching the crest of the hill, Crawford and his fellow soldiers of the 3rd platoon found themselves pinned down in an intense firefight.
Of his own initiative and “with no regard for personal safety,” according to accounts from that day, Crawford crawled to one of the positions under direct fire and destroyed it with a grenade, killing three enemy soldiers.
After advancing to the top of the hill, Crawford’s platoon was once again pinned down, this time by three machine guns. Crawford again risked his life and destroyed the first with a grenade, quickly moving to the second.
He cleared the second using a grenade and his rifle. The remaining German soldiers retreated as Crawford fired on them with their own machine gun, facilitating the advance of his platoon.
He was the recipient of the Medal of Honor for his bravery, but was captured by the Germans and remained a prisoner of war for two years. At some point during that time, he was forced to march 500 miles over 52 days.
Back in the states, Crawford’s father accepted the medal on his behalf because the U.S. Army considered him dead. Traditionally, presidents present the medal of honor to a soldier personally. This did not occur until 1984, when Ronald Reagan called the 66-year-old up to the stage during a commencement speech at the Air Force Academy.
After the war, Crawford married in 1946 and moved to Palmer Lake, where he remained until his death on March 15, 2000. He served a full career as a non-commissioned officer in the Army and retired after 23 years of service.
Although he was surrounded by those who would respect his legacy, he was quiet and diligent in his work at the academy, speaking not of his service or his medal.
James Moschgat, who was attending the academy in 1976, remembers Crawford as a very quiet old man who shuffled about the hallways, ensuring everything was spotless.
Moschgat was in school reading a book about WWII when he discovered Crawford’s story. Astonished, he told his room mate what he had found. The two approached Crawford, who replied, “Yes, that’s me.”
Although Crawford remained humble, the cadets’ behavior toward him changed when they learned of his story. Previously, most young men would pass him by with merely a good morning or a nod. Afterwards, he was shown a little more appreciation for the work he did around the dorms.
Crawford’s behavior changed a bit too. Witnesses said his posture improved and he didn’t seem to shuffle so much, he smiled more, and he learned everybody’s name.
The Crawford Memorial Committee was granted permission to build the memorial by the El Paso County Commissioners and the Town of Palmer Lake at the north end of Palmer Lake. The completion date is October 15, 2017 or before. Dedication is set for Veterans Day, Saturday, November 11, 2017 at the North end of Palmer Lake.
Donations for the project: Checks can be made to the Crawford Memorial Committee at 224 S. Highway 105, Palmer Lake, CO 80133. Use credit card for donation on line at: http://wjcrawfordmemorialfund.com/ Select DONATE using PayPal.
All donations are 501C3 tax deductible. Consult your Tax Agent.