For heroic acts in the 1965 battle of Ia Drang, Bruce P. Crandall receives the Medal of Honor on February 26, 2007.

  • By Duane Colt Denfeld, Ph.D.
  • Posted 5/20/2015
  • Essay 11069
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On February 26, 2007, President George W. Bush (b. 1946) presents retired Lieutenant Colonel Bruce P. Crandall (b. 1933) of Manchester, Kitsap County, with the Medal of Honor. The ceremony in the East Room of the White House comes more than 40 years after the actions for which Crandall is honored, which took place on November 14, 1965, in the Ia Drang Valley, during a fierce battle that historians consider one of the most significant of the Vietnam War. An army helicopter pilot, Major Crandall led the 16 helicopters that transported troops to the battle zone and then resupplied and rescued them. He and his wingman, Captain Ed Freeman, flew numerous missions under heavy fire and recovered 75 casualties. Both were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross for their valor at Ia Drang, but it was more than 40 years before these were upgraded to the Medal of Honor. Paperwork delays are described as the reason it took so long for the Medal to be awarded.

Olympia High Sports Star, Army Aviator

Bruce P. Crandall was born in Olympia, Washington's capital city, in 1933. He attended Garfield Grade School there and at a young age demonstrated athletic skill. He was a star end on the Garfield football team which in 1946 went undefeated in the Grade School Football League. At Olympia High School Bruce starred in baseball. In his senior year he played right field and batted nearly .600 for the Olympia High School Bears. Crandall was selected as the Olympia representative for the All-American Boy baseball team. The All-Americans played a Seattle squad at a doubleheader at Sicks' Stadium in Seattle's Rainier Valley on July 2, 1951. The teams split the doubleheader, with Crandall playing left field in one game. Bruce Crandall attended the University of Washington and was drafted into the army during his freshman year in 1953.

Crandall had basic training at Fort Lewis in Pierce County. In 1954 he graduated from the Engineer Officer School and earned his fixed-wing and helicopter pilot qualifications. Lieutenant Crandall married Arlene Shaffer (1936-2010) on March 31, 1956, in Kent, King County. The couple had three sons. Crandall served with the Army Corps of Engineers conducting aerial topographical mapping. He had tough flying assignments in Alaska, North Africa, and South America. In 1963 he served at Fort Benning, Georgia, in the development of the air cavalry that would become a central element in the American war effort in Vietnam. Crandall was then assigned to Company A, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division, at An Khe, Vietnam.

Ia Drang Valley

On November 14, 1965, Major Crandall flew missions in the Ia Drang Valley in the first major battle of the Vietnam War between American forces and the People's Army of Vietnam, the North Vietnamese regular army. Crandall led 16 helicopters that transported troops of the 7th Cavalry and 5th Cavalry regiments into the valley. His unarmed helicopter had the call sign "Ancient Serpent 6." The cavalry troops encountered fierce enemy reaction. Soon there were heavy casualties and Crandall and his wing man Captain Edward Freeman (1927-2008) returned to the landing zone to recover the wounded and resupply the fighting force with water and ammunition. The helicopters under Crandall's leadership evacuated more than 75 casualties.

Crandall and Captain Ed Freeman received the Distinguished Service Cross for their valor in rescuing troops at Ia Drang. (Both awards would be upgraded to Medals of Honor years later.) The 1992 book We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young, by Lieutenant General Hal Moore, who as a lieutenant colonel had commanded the 7th Cavalry at Ia Drang, and Joe Galloway, who witnessed the battle as a reporter, included an account of Crandall and Freeman's actions. Crandall was a technical advisor for the 2002 movie loosely based on the book.

Vietnam to Venezuela

In January 1966 during Operation Masher, a joint American and South Vietnamese operation, Crandall used his helicopter in the rescue of 12 wounded while under heavy fire. He had only a spotlight to guide him through thick jungle canopy for two rescue efforts. A short stateside tour and graduation from the Armed Forces Staff College followed. In late 1967 Crandall returned to Vietnam. This time he flew helicopter gunships in support of the 1st Cavalry Division. During a January 1968 rescue mission his helicopter was downed by U.S. Air Force bombs hitting too close. Crandall was seriously injured and spent five months in the hospital.

He resumed his education at the University of Nebraska, earning a bachelor's degree in 1969. His next military assignments were as a facility engineer and engineer battalion commander at Fort Leonard Wood in Missouri. In preparation for an assignment in South America, both Bruce and Arlene Crandall attended the Defense Language Institute in Monterey, California. After Crandall suffered a stroke, his orders were canceled and his flight career ended. An assignment to Venezuela did make use of the language training. His final army duty had him in the role of senior engineer advisor to the California Army National Guard. Bruce Crandall retired from the army as a lieutenant colonel in 1977.

Civilian Life and Medal of Honor

In 1977 Crandall earned a Master's of Public Administration degree. He became the City Manager of Dunsmuir, California. After three years in that position he took a position with the Mesa, Arizona, Public Works Department, where he worked for thirteen years, the last four as director of Public Works. After he retired, the Crandalls returned to Washington.

On February 26, 2007, in a White House East Room ceremony, President George W. Bush presented Bruce P. Crandall with the Medal of Honor. Paperwork and other elements of the Medal of Honor process had delayed the award until 2007. The president recognized Arlene Crandall and praised her as a military spouse, noting the couple's 50 years of marriage. Arlene Crandall received many awards for her caring and assistance to young military spouses trying to adjust to army life.

Bruce Crandall was promoted to colonel (retired) on April 13, 2010. Arlene Crandall died of cancer in November 2010 and was buried in Arlington National Cemetery in a plot that she would share with her husband at some future date. As of 2015 Colonel Crandall continued to live in Manchester, Kitsap County. A strong advocate for service members, he used his prestige in efforts to create public awareness and support those who served. One example came on November 17, 2013, when Crandall raised the "12th Man" flag at a Seattle Seahawks game as part of the football team's Salute to Service honoring service members.

Sources: Harold G. Moore and Joseph L. Galloway, We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young (New York: Random House, 1992); Rick Newman, "The Story Behind 'We Were Soldiers Once ... and Young,'" U.S. News & World Report, May 16, 2008 (; "Lt. Col. Bruce P. Crandall Medal of Honor Citation," U.S. Army website accessed May 4, 2015 (; "Garfield Takes Title in City Grid League," Morning Olympian, November 10, 1946, p. 3; "Young Prepster Set for Play in Suds' Park," Ibid., June 8, 1951, p. 5; "Rabung's No-Hitter Gives All-State Win," Ibid., July 3, 1951, p. 2; "Episcopal Rites," The Seattle Times, May 4, 1956, p. 22; Ernest Zaugg, "Kent Pilot Flirts With Death," Ibid., March 13, 1967, p. 48; "Writers Cite Copter Pilot," Oregonian, September 17, 1967, p. 14; "Arlene Louise Crandall," Kitsap Sun, November 30, 2010, p. A-5.

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