FORT HOOD, Texas — The 166th Aviation Brigade was honored to host Medal of Honor recipient retired Col. Bruce R. Crandall at its recent spring formal.
Crandall was awarded the MOH for his actions in the first major conflict of the Vietnam War in the Ia Drang Valley during November 1965. He was immortalized by the movie “We Were Soldiers,” played by famous actor Greg Kinnear.
He regaled the crowd of 250 soldiers and families with his stories; from long-time friend and wingman, Ed “Too Tall” Freeman to Col. Hal Moore, to his wife Arlene, and their experiences as part of the Engineer Corps in Libya, Venezuela, Vietnam, and all places in between.
In anticipation of Crandall’s visit, the “Grey Wing” soldiers watched a screening of the movie. “I’d seen the movie before — I was really excited to meet him,” said Sgt. 1st Class Robert Farmer, a CH-47 Chinook helicopter standardization instructor with the 166th’s 2nd Battalion (Training Support), 291st Aviation Regiment.
Watching the movie was especially important for non-aviation soldiers in the brigade to whom Bruce Crandall is not a household name.
An engineer, Capt. Jason Kim, the event coordinator and Headquarters and Headquarters Company commander said, “I didn’t know who he was before this.”
Honored to meet an MOH recipient, Kim said, “I really appreciated (his speech). He was a humble man who had an incredible experience. He did a really good job portraying his experience and tying it into advice for the Army soldiers today.”
Crandall also took time to speak with soldiers of Troop B, 1st Squadron, 230th Air Cavalry Regiment, an OH-58D Kiowa Warrior helicopter unit of the Tennessee National Guard going through post-mobilization training with 166th’s 1st Battalion (Training Support), 291st Aviation Regiment.
Capt. Brendan Ballerd, Troop B commander, said, “He was awesome. He was like a grandfather figure with stories to share that anyone can listen to and enjoy and look up to.”
Ballerd especially appreciated having a role model for his soldiers to emulate before their upcoming deployment. “He’s an exemplary figure to all of us for what he did during his service,” he said. “It was a real morale boost.”
The common theme among those who met and heard Crandall speak was his humility and what he taught them. “Take care of your soldiers, and they’ll take care of you,” said Ballerd.
Quality Control Non-Commissioned Officer-in-Charge, Sgt. 1st Class Jackie Bailey agreed, and said, “He wasn’t arrogant; he was down to earth and genuine. And what it boils down to is taking care of each other.”
Farmer was struck the same way. “He said it could’ve been any of us in that situation and we would do the same,” he said. “I think it takes a certain kind of person, but he doesn’t think he’s above anyone else — that makes him a real person.”
Crandall also took the time to award the Army Aviation Association of America’s Order of St. Michael medal to two of the brigade’s warrant officers, Chief warrant Officer 4 (Retired) Carl Fox and Chief Warrant Officer 5 James O’Gorman. “It was such a surprise and honor to get the medal presented to me by Col. Crandall,” O’Gorman said.
Crandall’s impact on young and old soldiers alike, from aviation or logistician and everything in between is undeniable. His warm, unassuming demeanor speaks just as loudly as the medal around his neck; both signs of a true, humble hero who insists anyone would have done the same.
Well into his 80s, the aviator travels over 200 days each year, sharing his love for the Army, helicopters, and his comrades-in-arms, both past and present. Soldiers of 166th Aviation Brigade and all who have had the good fortune to spend a few moments with him have the unforgettable honor of experiencing a true hero.
The 166th Aviation Brigade’s mission is to train and validate National Guard and Reserve aviation units, including brigade, battalion, company, and theater- to unit-level maintenance formations. The four training battalions concentrate on attack, lift, heavy lift, and MEDEVAC post-mobilization training as part of First Army Division West. The brigade also has two Army Reserve battalions tasked to conduct personnel recovery training.