William "Bill" Crawford certainly was an
impressive figure, one you could easily overlook during a hectic day at the U.S.
Air Force Academy. Mr. Crawford, as most referred to him back in the late 1970s,
was a squadron janitor.
While the cadets busied themselves
preparing for academic exams, athletic events, Saturday morning parades and room
inspections, or never ending leadership classes, Bill quietly moved about the
squadron mopping and buffing floors, emptying trash cans, cleaning toilets, or
just tidying up the mess 100 college age kids can leave in a dormitory.
Sadly, and for many years, few of them
gave him much notice, rendering little more than a passing nod or throwing a
curt, "G'morning!" in his direction as they hurried off to their daily duties.
Why? Perhaps it was because of the way
he did his job, he always kept the squadron area spotlessly clean, even the
toilets and showers gleamed. Frankly, he did his job so well, none of them had
to notice or get involved. After all, cleaning toilets was his job, not theirs.
Maybe it was his physical appearance
that made him disappear into the background. Bill didn't move very quickly and,
in fact, you could say he even shuffled a bit, as if he suffered from some sort
of injury. His gray hair and wrinkled face made him appear ancient to a group of
young cadets. And his crooked smile, well, it looked a little funny. Face it,
Bill was an old man working in a young person's world. What did he have to offer
the cadets on a personal level?
Finally, maybe it was Mr. Crawford's
personality that rendered him almost invisible to the young people around him.
Bill was shy, almost painfully so. He seldom spoke to a cadet unless they
addressed him first, and that didn't happen very often. Our janitor always
buried himself in his work, moving about with stooped shoulders, a quiet gait,
and an averted gaze. If he noticed the hustle and bustle of cadet life around
him, it was hard to tell.
So, for whatever reason, Bill blended
into the woodwork and became just another fixture around the squadron. The
Academy, one of our nation's premier leadership laboratories, kept us busy from
dawn till dusk. And Mr. Crawford...well, he was just a janitor.
That changed one fall Saturday afternoon
in 1976. One of the cadets was reading a book about World War II and the tough
Allied ground campaign in Italy , when he stumbled across an incredible story.
On Sept. 13, 1943, a Private William Crawford from Colorado , assigned to the
36th Infantry Division, had been involved in some bloody fighting on Hill 424
near Altavilla , Italy .
The words on the page leapt out at him:
"in the face of intense and overwhelming hostile fire ... with no regard for
personal safety ... on his own initiative, Private Crawford single handedly
attacked fortified enemy positions." It continued, "for conspicuous gallantry
and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty, the President
of the United States ..."
"Holy cow," He said to his roommate,
"you're not going to believe this, but I think our janitor is a Medal of Honor
winner." We all knew Mr. Crawford was a WWII Army vet, but that didn't keep his
friend from looking at him as if he was some sort of alien being. Nonetheless,
they couldn't wait to ask Bill about the story on Monday.
We met Mr. Crawford bright and early
Monday and showed him the page in question from the book, anticipation and doubt
on their faces. He starred at it for a few silent moments and then quietly
uttered something like, "Yep, that's me." Mouths agape, they looked at one
another, then at the book, and quickly back at the janitor. Almost at once they
both stuttered, "Why didn't you ever tell us about it?" He slowly replied after
some thought, "That was one day in my life and it happened a long time ago." I
guess we were all at a loss for words after that. We had to hurry off to class
and Bill, well, he had chores to attend to.
However, after that brief exchange,
things were never again the same around our squadron. Word spread like wildfire
among the cadets that they had a hero in their midst Mr. Crawford, the janitor,
had won the Medal! Cadets who had once passed by Bill with hardly a glance, now
greeted him with a smile and a respectful, "Good morning, Mr. Crawford."
Those who had before left a mess for the
"janitor" to clean up started taking it upon themselves to put things in order.
Most cadets routinely stopped to talk to Bill throughout the day and we even
began inviting him to our formal squadron functions. He'd show up dressed in a
conservative dark suit and quietly talk to those who approached him, the only
sign of his heroics being a simple blue, star spangled lapel pin. Almost
overnight, Bill went from being a simple fixture in their squadron to one of
Mr. Crawford changed too, but you had to
look closely to notice the difference. After that fall day in 1976, he seemed to
move with more purpose, his shoulders didn't seem to be as stooped, he met their
greetings with a direct gaze and a stronger "good morning" in return, and he
flashed his crooked smile more often.
The squadron gleamed as always, but
everyone now seemed to notice it more. Bill even got to know most of them by
their first names, something that didn't happen often at the Academy. While no
one ever formally acknowledged the change, They became Bill's cadets and his
As often happens in life, events sweep
us away from those in our past. The last time I saw Bill was on graduation day
in June 1977. As I walked out of the squadron for the last time, he shook my
hand and simply said, "Good luck, young man."
With that, I embarked on a career that
has been truly lucky and blessed. Mr. Crawford continued to work at the Academy
and eventually retired in his native Colorado where he resides today, one of
four Medal of Honor winners living in a small town.
A wise person once said, "It's not life
that's important, but those you meet along the way that make the difference."
Bill was one who made a difference for me. While I haven't seen Mr. Crawford in
over twenty years, he'd probably be surprised to know I think of him often. Bill
Crawford, our janitor, taught me many valuable, unforgettable leadership
lessons. Here are ten I'd like to share with you.
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 labeled 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 1, who says, "I can't do that, I'm
just a lieutenant."
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.
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 demeanor
and personality outwardly changed. It made a difference for all of us.
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?
Anyone Can Be a Hero. Mr. Crawford
certainly didn't fit anyone's standard definition of a hero. Moreover, he was
just 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
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.
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 airman of the quarter as you thought you should don't let that stop you.
Don't pursue glory; pursue excellence. Private Bill Crawford didn't pursue
glory; he did his duty and then swept floors for a living.
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 modeled
that philosophy and helped make our dormitory area a home.
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 everyday 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.
Bill Crawford was a janitor. However, he
was also a teacher, friend, role model and one great American hero. Thanks, Mr.
Crawford, for some valuable leadership lessons.
I found more to this story from http://www.pueblomohfoundation.com/
At a young age Bill Crawford learned to
defend himself by boxing. As a soldier during World War II his fighting skills
were put to the ultimate test. Crawford's path to the Medal of Honor began in
1943 in Italy . As the company scout, Army Private Crawford discovered three
hidden German machine gun nests. Alone and unable to alert his fellow soldiers
of the awaiting ambush, Crawford took matters into his own hands. He single
handedly engaged the enemy, with only his rifle and grenades he destroyed all
three enemy emplacements. As his company advanced, he volunteered to stay behind
to aid a wounded friend only to be captured by enemy troops.
Dedicated to the memory of
William (Bill) Crawford