Bill Crawford a lesson in Life & Leadership

After retiring from the military, Crawford procured a job working as a janitor at the U.S. Air Force Academy. He was not openly eulogized by any of the cadets and staff because he was humble and liked to keep anonymous. "Mr. Crawford" was described as "an unimpressive figure, one you could easily overlook during a hectic day at the U.S. Air Force Academy." Crawford being shy and unassuming did his work well and "blended into the woodwork and became just another fixture around the squadron."

Cadet James Moschgat "was reading a book about World War II and the tough Allied ground campaign in Italy," when he read an incredible story of a private William Crawford

He was serving as a private with the 142nd Infantry Regiment 36th Infantry Division in southern Italy. On that day, he was acting as a squad scout when his company attacked Hill 424 near Altavilla Silentina. During the battle, Crawford twice moved forward through continuous fire and, using hand grenades and his rifle, destroyed machine gun nests which were holding back his platoon's advance. After the battle, Crawford was captured by the Germans and presumed dead. So in 1944 the Medal of Honor was presented posthumously to his father. Crawford was among a group of soldiers rescued from German captivity in late 1944 after his father had received the award. 

In that book was a picture of a man who resembled his squadron janitor. Moschgat shared this with the other cadets and confirmed the story with Mr. Crawford who at first was reluctant to say anything but than replied similar to "Yep, that's me." When asked why he did not talk about it, Crawford said, "That was one day in my life and it happened a long time ago." The word spread with new formed respect for Mr. Crawford.

In time, Crawford told his story and things he had learned in life to each academy class. His example also taught them many lessons. These sometimes subtle lessons became of great importance to many of the cadets. Here was a man presumed dead, whose father had received the Medal of Honor for his son from an Army general, then who returned with honor and continued to serve his country and later served them as a janitor.

After returning from WW2 Crawford re-joined the Army and served over 20yrs retiring at the rank of Master Sergeant. Throughout his career he reluctantly wore his medal. Crawford because he had been later captured and made a POW during WW2 never had a single ceremony or recognition regarding his Medal of Honor award. The cadets at the USAF Academy decided to change this. In 1984, Mr. Crawford was a guest for the graduating class. Many past graduates, generals and VIPs attended this graduation. President Ronald Reagan arrived and presented the Medal of Honor to Crawford and formally recognized Crawford's action. In his remarks, President Reagan cited a few leadership lessons they learned from their janitor. Later these lessons were formalized by the former cadet, now COL Ret. James E. Moschgat:

Bill Crawford, our janitor, taught me many valuable, unforgettable leadership lessons. Here are ten I'd like to share with you.

1. Be Cautious of Labels. Labels you place on people may define your relationship to them and bound their potential. Sadly, and for a long time, we labelled Bill as just a janitor, but he was so much more. Therefore, be cautious of a leader who callously says, "Hey, he's just an Airman". Likewise, don't tolerate the O-1, who says, "I can't do that, I'm just a lieutenant.

2. Everyone Deserves Respect. Because we hung the "janitor" label on Mr. Crawford, we often wrongly treated him with less respect than others around us. He deserved much more, and not just because he was a Medal of Honor winner. Bill deserved respect because he was a janitor, walked among us, and was a part of our team.

3. Courtesy Makes a Difference. Be courteous to all around you, regardless of rank or position. Military customs, as well as common courtesies, help bond a team. When our daily words to Mr. Crawford turned from perfunctory "hellos" to heartfelt greetings, his demeanour and personality outwardly changed. It made a difference for all of us.

4. Take Time to Know Your People. Life in the military is hectic, but that's no excuse for not knowing the people you work for and with. For years a hero walked among us at the Academy and we never knew it. Who are the heroes that walk in your midst?

5. Anyone Can Be a Hero. Mr. Crawford certainly didn't fit anyone's standard definition of a hero. Moreover, he was a private on the day he won his Medal. Don't sell your people short, for any one of them may be the hero who rises to the occasion when duty calls. On the other hand, it's easy to turn to your proven performers when the chips are down, but don't ignore the rest of the team. Today's rookie could and should be tomorrow's superstar.

6. Leaders Should Be Humble. Most modern day heroes and some leaders are anything but humble, especially if you calibrate your hero meter on today's athletic fields. End zone celebrations and self-aggrandizement are what we've come to expect from sports greats. Not Mr. Crawford-he was too busy working to celebrate his past heroics. Leaders would be well-served to do the same.

7. Life Won't Always Hand You What You Think You Deserve. We in the military work hard and, dang it, we deserve recognition, right? However, sometimes you just have to persevere, even when accolades don't come your way. Perhaps you weren't nominated for junior officer or airmen of the quarter as you thought you should; don’t let that stop you.

8. Don't pursue glory; pursue excellence. Private Bill Crawford didn't pursue glory; he did his duty and then swept floors for a living.

9. No job is beneath a Leader. If Bill Crawford, a Medal of Honor winner, could clean latrines and smile, is there a job beneath your dignity? Think about it. Pursue Excellence. No matter what task life hands you, do it well. Dr. Martin Luther King said, "If life makes you a street sweeper, be the best street sweeper you can be." Mr. Crawford modelled that philosophy and helped make our dormitory area a home.

10. Life is a Leadership Laboratory. All too often we look to some school or PME class to teach us about leadership when, in fact, life is a leadership laboratory. Those you meet every day will teach you enduring lessons if you just take time to stop look and listen. I spent four years at the Air Force Academy, took dozens of classes, read hundreds of books, and met thousands of great people. I gleaned leadership skills from all of them, but one of the people I remember most is Mr. Bill Crawford and the lessons he unknowingly taught. Don't miss your opportunity to learn.

The bold print in 9 & 10 are comments made by President Ronald Regan during the ceremony that presented Bill with his Congressional Medal of Honor.

Crawford died at age 81 on March 15, 2000, in his residence at Palmer Lake. Upon his death Governor Bill Owens authorized all Colorado flags to be lowered to half-staff in his honor. He is buried at the United States Air Force Academy Cemetery in Colorado Springs. He is the only non-USAF US Army enlisted person buried there.