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Bruce P. Crandall
A monochrome image of a man in a military dress uniform. He is facing the camera and turned slightly to the left.
Crandall in the mid-1960s
Nickname(s) "Snake", "Snakeshit"
Born (1933-02-17) February 17, 1933 (age 91)
Olympia, Washington
Allegiance United States
Service/branch United States Army
Years of service 1953–1977
Rank Colonel
Battles/wars Operation Power Pack
Vietnam War
  • Battle of Ia Drang
Awards Medal of Honor
Distinguished Flying Cross (4)
Bronze Star Medal
Purple Heart
Meritorious Service Medal (3)
Air Medal (23)
Arlene Shaffer
(m. 1956; died 2010)
Relations 3 children, 5 grandchildren
Other work City Manager of Dunsmuir, California
Public Works Manager of Mesa, Arizona

Bruce Perry Crandall (born February 17, 1933) is a retired United States Army officer who received the Medal of Honor for his actions as a pilot during the Battle of Ia Drang on November 14, 1965, in South Vietnam. During the battle, he flew 22 missions in a Bell Huey helicopter into enemy fire to evacuate more than 70 wounded and bring ammunition and supplies to United States forces. His actions in the battle of the Ia Drang valley were portrayed by actor Greg Kinnear in the Mel Gibson film, We Were Soldiers. By the end of the Vietnam War, he had flown more than 900 combat missions. He retired from the army as a lieutenant colonel and worked several jobs in different states before settling down with his wife in his home state of Washington.

Personal life

Crandall was born in 1933 and raised in Olympia, Washington, the capital of the state. He attended public schools and became an All-American baseball player in high school. He attended the University of Washington in Seattle until being drafted into the United States Army in 1953 during the Korean War.

Crandall married Arlene Shaffer on March 31, 1956, and they had three sons and five grandchildren. Arlene died on November 2, 2010, from cancer. As of 2011, he lives in Washington.

Military career

Crandall graduated from Engineer Officer Candidate School, Fort Belvoir, Virginia, in 1954. He was sent to fixed-wing and helicopter training conducted by the air force and army, then he was assigned to an Army Aviation mapping group headquartered at the Presidio of San Francisco. It was then "the largest flying military aviation unit in the world". He began to pilot Cessna L-19 Bird Dogs and de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beavers in Alaska for military topographic studies. His first overseas flying assignment was to Wheelus Air Base in Tripoli, Libya. There he mapped the desert for two years, flying de Havilland Canada DHC-3 Otter, DHC-2 Beaver, L-19 Birddog, and OH-23 Raven aircraft as an instructor pilot and unit test pilot.

Crandall's next overseas tours were flying over thousands of square miles of previously unmapped mountains and jungles in Central and South America. For this mission, he was based at Howard Air Force Base, Panama, and Costa Rica. He helped to develop air-assault tactics as a platoon leader while assigned to the 11th Air Assault Division. In early 1965, he joined the Dominican Republic Expeditionary Force as a liaison to the XVIII Airborne Corps. Later that year, he was assigned to South Vietnam, where the United States had entered the civil war defending South Vietnam against the Communist North Vietnamese. He commanded the 1st Cavalry Division's Company A, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion at Camp Radcliff, An Khe, Vietnam. He led a flying unit supporting eight battalions on the ground, using the call sign "Ancient Serpent 6".

Battle of Ia Drang

Bruce Crandall's UH-1D
Crandall's UH-1 Huey dispatching infantry in the Ia Drang operation

On November 14, 1965, Crandall led the first major division operation of the Vietnam War, landing elements of the 1st Battalion and 2nd Battalion of the 7th Cavalry Regiment and the 5th Cavalry Regiment into Landing Zone X-Ray in the Battle of Ia Drang. During the fierce battle that followed, he was credited with evacuating some 70 wounded soldiers, along with his wing man Major Ed Freeman. Twelve of these fourteen flights (another source reports 18) were made after the Medevac unit refused to land in the landing zone which was under intense fire. Crandall evacuated more than 75 casualties in his helicopters, during a flight day that started at 6 am and ended at 10:30 pm, more than 16 hours later. "It was the longest day I ever experienced in any aircraft," he said. He had to use several helicopters throughout the day because each aircraft became badly damaged.

Crandall and Freeman were also credited with flying in the ammunition needed for the 7th Cavalry to survive. The craft that he was flying was unarmed. He was initially awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, but this was upgraded to the Medal of Honor, awarded by President George W. Bush in a ceremony in the East Room of the White House on February 26, 2007.

Operation Masher

Crandall had just finished a full day supporting the 12th Infantry Battalion on January 31, 1966, during the first combined American and Army of the Republic of Vietnam operation called "Operation Masher". He returned to refuel and shut down for the night when he learned that a company was in heavy enemy contact and had 12 wounded soldiers who needed evacuation. The soldiers were pinned down in a tight perimeter. The unit was led by Captain Tony Nadal, his friend and fellow veteran of the Battle of la Drang.

Crandall refueled and flew to the area. He learned that the pick-up zone was surrounded by trees on three sides, and he was told that the Medevac had refused to land there. To minimize the chances of hitting the trees, he decided to descend vertically. The night was pitch dark with an overcast sky, making flying extremely difficult. He wanted to avoid giving the enemy an illuminated target and risk back-lighting the soldiers defending the landing zone and the wounded soldiers. Instead of using search or landing lights, he instructed Nadal to point a flashlight up in the center of the touchdown area. He landed twice under intense enemy fire and successfully evacuated all 12 wounded soldiers.

Later service

After an assignment in Colorado, Crandall attended the Armed Forces Staff College. Soon he was back in South Vietnam, this time flying UH-1 Huey gunships and supporting the 1st Battalion, 9th Cavalry Squadron, 1st Cavalry Division.

Crandall's helicopter was shot down during another rescue attempt in January 1968, four months into his second tour, due to air force bombs going off too close to where he was flying. He spent five months in the hospital recovering from a broken back and other injuries, then resumed his career as a student at the University of Nebraska, graduating in 1969. He became a facility engineer assigned to Bangkok, Thailand where he managed 3,800 people. He subsequently served as deputy chief of staff, deputy installation commander, and commander of the 5th Engineer Combat Battalion, all at Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri.

South America was to be his next assignment, and he and his wife Arlene attended the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California, as Spanish-language students in preparation. He was to be aviation and engineering adviser to Argentina, but the assignment did not take place as Crandall suffered a stroke which ended his flying career. After his recovery, the Crandalls found the language training useful when he was sent to Caracas, Venezuela, as the Defense Mapping Agency's director for the Inter-American Geodetic Survey. In his final army assignment, he served as senior engineer adviser to the California Army National Guard. In 1977, he retired from the army as a lieutenant colonel.

Later life

Medal of Honor winners Leroy Petry (left) and Bruce Crandall, (right)
Crandall (right) and Medal of Honor recipient Leroy Petry (left) in Santa Fe, New Mexico, June 24, 2013

After retiring from the army, Crandall earned a master's degree in public administration from Golden Gate University in 1977. He then worked in public service jobs, including three years as the city manager of Dunsmuir, California. After leaving California, he and his wife Arlene Louise Shaffer moved to Mesa, Arizona, where he worked for 17 years in the Public Works Department, the last four as the public works manager. His wife died on November 2, 2010, and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Crandall was promoted to colonel on April 15, 2010, more than 30 years after retiring from the army, in recognition of his accomplishments and receiving the Medal of Honor. The ceremony was held at the Army Aviation Association Convention in Fort Worth, Texas. He attended the June 24, 2013 unveiling of Medal of Honor recipient Leroy Petry's statue in Santa Fe, New Mexico. He raised the "12th Man" flag for the Seattle SeahawksMinnesota Vikings football game on November 17, 2013, as part of the Seahawks "Salute to Service".

Awards and decorations

Crandall has received the following military decorations:

US Army Master Aviator Badge.png
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Bronze oak leaf cluster
Award numeral 2.svgAward numeral 3.svg
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Award star (gold).pngAward star (gold).pngAward star (gold).png
Master Army Aviator Badge
Medal of Honor Distinguished Flying Cross
w/ 3 bronze oak leaf clusters
Bronze Star Medal Purple Heart Meritorious Service Medal
w/ 2 bronze oak leaf clusters
Air Medal
w/ award numeral 23
Army Commendation Medal Army Good Conduct Medal
National Defense Service Medal
w/ 1 bronze service star
Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal Vietnam Service Medal
w/ 4 bronze campaign stars
Armed Forces Reserve Medal Vietnam Cross of Gallantry
w/ Palm and 3 Gold Stars
Republic of Vietnam Campaign Medal
Army Presidential Unit Citation Valorous Unit Award
Meritorious Unit Commendation Vietnam Gallantry Cross Unit Citation Vietnam Civil Actions Unit Citation
Army Expert Marksmanship Badge Army Sharpshooter Badge

Other honors

Crandall was inducted into the United States Air Force's "Gathering of Eagles" in 1994, one of only seven Army aviators so honored, and the Army Aviation Hall of Fame in 2004.

For his courage during Operation Masher, Crandall received the Aviation & Space Writers Helicopter Heroism Award for 1966. At the 20th annual award ceremony, his rescue flights were ranked highest over the first 20 years of the award.

The Olympia High School Baseball Field was named after Lt. Col. Crandall in a ceremony during the 2003 season. Crandall was a High School All-American baseball player for Olympia High School.

Crandall served as the honorary starter for the 2011 Indianapolis 500.

On April 15, 2011, Crandall was inducted as an honorary member of 1st Squadron, 6th Cavalry Regiment. Col. Crandall signed the Squadron rolls during a Squadron Ball where he helped induct officers and NCO's into the Order of St. Michael and received a 1st Sqdn., 6th Cav. Regt. belt buckle. 1–6 CAV recently returned from a successful deployment to support Operation Iraqi Freedom and Operation New Dawn.

Crandall's exploits (along with those of many others) at the Battle of Ia Drang, are depicted in the 1992 book We Were Soldiers Once...And Young (by Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway), and in the related 2002 movie, We Were Soldiers, where he is portrayed by Greg Kinnear. Crandall served as an aviation consultant during filming in 2001.

University of Washington Medal of Honor Memorial

University of Washington Medal of Honor Memorial - Flickr - brewbooks
Medal of Honor memorial at the University of Washington

The student senate at the University of Washington rejected a resolution in February 2006 recommending that a memorial be erected to honor fighter ace and alumnus Pappy Boyington for his service during World War II. Some people did not believe that the resolution's sponsor had fully addressed the financial and logistical problems of installing a memorial, and some were questioning the assumption that all warriors and acts of war are automatically worthy of memorialization. The story was picked up by some blogs and conservative news outlets, focusing on two statements made by student senators during the meeting. Ashley Miller said that the University of Washington already had many monuments to "rich, white men"; she claimed to have partial Sioux ancestry. Jill Edwards questioned whether the university should memorialize a person who killed others, summarized in the minutes as saying "she didn't believe a member of the Marine Corps was an example of the sort of person UW wanted to produce." A new version of the original resolution was submitted which called for a memorial to all eight alumni who received the Medal of Honor. The resolution passed on April 4, 2006 by a vote of 64 to 14 with several abstentions. The University of Washington Medal of Honor memorial was constructed at the south end of Memorial Way (17th Ave NE), north of Red Square, in the interior of a traffic circle between Parrington and Kane Halls (47°39′26″N 122°18′35″W / 47.6573°N 122.3097°W / 47.6573; -122.3097). It was privately funded and was completed in time for a Veterans Day dedication in November 2009. It honors Greg Boyington, Deming Bronson, Bruce Crandall, Robert E. Galer, John D. Hawk, Robert Leisy, William Kenzo Nakamura, and Archie Van Winkle.

See also

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