In observance of Veterans Day, the University of Washington will dedicate a new memorial to eight UW alumni who have received the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest honor for valor in battle.
Earning a medal, of any sort, was the furthest thing from Bruce Crandall’s mind on the morning of Nov. 14, 1965, as he repeatedly flew his Huey helicopter through a hail of enemy fire in Vietnam. Only this mattered: His comrades needed him.
Likewise, John “Bud” Hawk wasn’t looking for glory on Aug. 20, 1944, when he stayed exposed in a French orchard, taking a shot in the thigh as he directed fire against German tanks. Fact is, Hawk didn’t know if he’d live to see sunset.
On Wednesday, Veterans Day, the University of Washington will dedicate a new memorial to eight UW alumni who have received the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest honor for valor in battle.
Medal recipients from as long ago as World War I will be honored by a short parade and ceremony at the $152,000 memorial, funded by private donations in a traffic circle along Memorial Way in the heart of the campus. Speakers will include Gen. Peter W. Chiarelli, Army vice chief of staff who has degrees from Seattle University and UW.
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Laid out on a five-pointed star, the memorial includes eight large stones standing as sentinels around its perimeter. “The stones become a metaphor for who we’re honoring,” said artist Michael Magrath. “They’re common. They’re indigenous. And they’re incredibly strong.”
One split stone of green-gray serpentine carries the names of the medal recipients, with room to add more in the future. It praises “ordinary individuals facing extraordinary circumstances with courage and selflessness.”
Crandall and Hawk — the only two of the eight still living — served in different eras but agree on this: No one “wins” the Medal of Honor.
“You’re doing the job, doing the best job you can, and the accomplishment is to get the damned thing over with,” said Hawk, 85, of Bremerton.
He was honored to receive the award from President Truman in 1945 but says many men in his infantry unit could have qualified for it, especially some who didn’t come home.
Crandall, 76, who received the award from President George W. Bush in 2007, said it carries an obligation to do nothing to disgrace it. “Those that get the award safeguard the award for the ones that didn’t,” said Crandall, who lives in Manchester, Kitsap County, with his wife, Arlene.
Setting the stage
Fewer than 3,500 Medals of Honor have been awarded since the award’s creation in 1862. Of those given for actions in World War II and later, more than half have been awarded posthumously.
Perhaps ironically, the stage for this memorial was set by a UW Student Senate vote in 2006 against a proposal to spotlight the school’s most famous Medal of Honor recipient, Marine Col. Gregory “Pappy” Boyington, a World War II flying ace who died in 1988.
Boyington, whose autobiography inspired the 1970s TV series “Baa Baa Black Sheep,” shot down 28 enemy planes and was himself shot down and held as a prisoner of war.
When the resolution to honor Boyington died by a single vote, some reports highlighted comments by two student senators, one who said she didn’t believe a Marine was the sort of person the UW should want to produce, and another who said the school had enough monuments to “rich white men.”
The remarks triggered an uproar, but Lee Dunbar, student-body president at the time, said the senate’s broader concern was about honoring just one alumnus.
“We didn’t want to overlook those who may not have had the same public exposure he had,” Dunbar said. “Despite all the stress that might have happened,” he said, “it ended up being a much better memorial.”
“Service worth doing”
In Crandall’s mind, the memorial will succeed if students see “that service is worth doing.”
Crandall took his name out of consideration for the Medal of Honor the first time he heard he was a candidate because he wanted it to go to another pilot, Capt. Ed Freeman, who flew alongside him.
Freeman, of Boise, Idaho, received the medal in 2001 and died last year.
Crandall, drafted into the Army in 1953, became an experienced pilot even before the Vietnam War, in which he flew more than 900 combat missions and commanded a helicopter battalion.
His Medal of Honor stems from a long day in South Vietnam’s remote Ia Drang Valley, when he was ferrying troops to a landing spot from which they were to begin an attack.
After several lifts, a massive force of North Vietnamese troops surged into the area. “I knew we were in really deep trouble,” Crandall recalls, “because there were people that weren’t wearing our uniforms in the landing zone.”
Gunfire erupted around the unarmed helicopter, but Maj. Crandall pressed on, setting down long enough to let soldiers out of his chopper, and departing with three dead and three injured men aboard.
For the rest of the day, Crandall and Freeman made repeated flights into the combat zone, taking in ammunition and water, carrying out more than 70 wounded. Not once, said Crandall, did he have time to consider whether his actions were praiseworthy.
“My thinking — and I’m not sure I’m any different from anyone else in that job — is that I don’t want to screw it up. I don’t want to be the cause of those people dying down there,” said Crandall, who retired as a lieutenant colonel in 1977.
He served as an aviation consultant on the 2002 Mel Gibson movie “We Were Soldiers,” based on the battle at Ia Drang.
Chasing the enemy
Hawk, also a draftee, entered the Army in 1943, shortly after graduating from Bainbridge High School.
His infantry unit was flown to France a week after the D-Day invasion in the summer of 1944.
The objective: to pursue the retreating German forces and capture as many prisoners as possible before the Germans — and especially their tanks — could be deployed elsewhere.
One morning near the village of Chambois, France, Sgt. Hawk’s unit woke up to see that German forces, including a couple of tanks, were barely 100 yards away.
Both sides began firing, and though the Americans had heavy-duty tank destroyers nearby, their operators couldn’t see the German tanks and couldn’t pursue them across a ditch and stream that ran alongside.
That’s when Hawk, then 19, decided he could help by rushing out into an orchard and pointing out the German tanks, showing the tank destroyers where to fire.
He insists it wasn’t heroism that motivated him, but expediency. “The idea was that if you don’t catch them here you’re going to have to chase them clear to Berlin, and that wasn’t a pleasant prospect.”
The gambit worked, but not before Hawk felt a searing pain in his thigh, knocking him flat. Fortunately, the German bullet had hit an apple tree first. It bored into Hawk’s upper leg but didn’t penetrate a bone or major blood vessel.
Hawk refused treatment in a field hospital because he didn’t want to leave his unit. Three more times over the next several months, Hawk was wounded by shrapnel, and he has four Purple Hearts to show for his service.
Back in the U.S., he completed a biology degree at the UW, and he went on to become an elementary schoolteacher and principal near Bremerton. His wife, Natalene, died in 1985.
The Medal of Honor, Hawk says, “belongs to everybody that served, and what it stands for belongs to the guys that are in the service now, and are going to serve.”
Jack Broom: 206-464-2222 or seattletimes.com“>firstname.lastname@example.org