In our everyday lives, we cross paths with different kinds of people unaware of their past. It’s just how life is. At work or in school, we get to see the same familiar faces every day without getting to know who they really are.
Just like this seemingly ordinary hard working janitor who is more often than not easily looked over because of his humble job. But little did the people around him know, that this quiet janitor had a secret past so great he was considered as a hero.
You only get to meet a few people who’ve done heroic acts in the past, especially during World War II. Let’s find out this janitor’s incredible secret heroic past.
10. Present Time
As groups of young men crowd the hallways of a busy military academy, a solitary figure makes his way through the crowd. An older man, who is busy sweeping floors and cleaning up the mess the cadets frequently make. Only a few stop to give him a second look but little did they know this janitor is hiding a secret past that’s almost too incredible to believe.
In the late 1960s, a Colorado native named William Crawford started working as a janitor at the USAF Academy in Colorado Springs. He works hard to keep the building clean, taking care of everything from emptying the trash to cleaning bathrooms.
By the 1970s William Crawford, known to his friends as Bill had become a familiar figure to the cadets who called the academy home. Many of those who have crossed his path have even said that he was good at his job. But he still wasn’t memorable to the young men who goes to the academy.
Colonel James Moschgat, who was a cadet at the Colorado complex in the late 1970s, has recalled a man who was easily overlooked. “Bill didn’t move too quickly,” he wrote in a 2016 article for the United Service Organizations’ On Patrol magazine. “And in fact, you could say he even shuffled a bit.”
8. An Accidental Discovery
Although the young cadets did not see Bill as anyone of importance, a chance find in a military history book would change their opinions of him forever. As Colonel Moschgat would soon discover the humble janitor was keeping a heroic past.
It was in the fall of 1976 that Moschgat was going through a book about World War II. In it he came across some interesting details about the difficult ground campaign that Allied forces had fought in Italy in 1943.
7. The Brave Soldier
Colonel Moschgat’s attention was grabbed by the story of one man. He had been a private belonging to the U.S. Army’s 36th Infantry Division. And on September 13, 1943, that private had found himself in the middle of a brutal battle at Hill 424, an enemy-held position close to Altavilla, Italy.
While the rest of his platoon came under heavy machine gun fire, this private carried it upon himself to take down the enemy gun arrangement solo. Even more amazing, he managed to crawl close to the gun and throw a hand grenade in its direction. And as a result, he destroyed the weapon and killed its crew.
6. The Fearless One
He then attacked a third machine gun post and defeated the crew once more. Then he took control of the enemy weapon and turned its firepower on the fleeing German forces. Just like that, he had secured the advance of his platoon.
5. Military Honor
Unfortunately, the private was captured later on in the battle and was assumed dead by his company. But the news of his bravery soon spread like wildfire. His father even accepted a Medal of Honor on his behalf. The highest military honor awarded in the United States. Miraculously, the private appeared unharmed from captivity in 1944 and found himself a hero of the first order.
When Colonel Moschgat came across this incredible story, he couldn’t believe his eyes because the name of the private was none other than William Crawford or Bill as he’s called. The same name as the janitor he had been walking past the academy.
4. Glorious Past
Out of curiosity, Colonel Moschgat approached the janitor with the book. And after staring at it in silence for some time, William Crawford confirmed that he was the private in the book. According to Colonel Moschgat, Bill’s response was simple. “That was one day in my life and it happened a long time ago.”
William Crawford stayed in the military until 1967 and retired as a Master Sergeant. When he returned to civilian life, he started to work cleaning the hallways of the academy. In fact, he had lived a quiet life ever since and had never even attended an official ceremony for his Medal of Honor.
3. Confidence Booster
Upon Colonel Moschgat’s discovery, his situation was about to change. The news that the quiet janitor had a secret past as a war hero spread quickly and cadets who had previously ignored him were suddenly anxious to share their time.
With the recognition, Colonel Moschgat believes that the discovery also had a great effect on William Crawford. “After that fall day in 1976,” he wrote in the On Patrol article, “he seemed to move with more purpose. His shoulders didn’t seem to be as stooped [and] he answered our greeting with a direct stare and a stronger ‘good morning’ in return.”
2. Still Humble
Despite his newfound acknowledgment Bill continued working as a janitor, cleaning up after the cadets. Colonel Moschgat has also remembered his graduation ceremony in June 1977, when the aging janitor wished him luck in his future career.
Eventually, William Crawford retired to the town of Pueblo, Colorado and was in good company. During his time, the community was home to no fewer than four living recipients of the Medal of Honor.
1. A True Hero
But William Crawford’s story still wasn’t over yet. In 1984, more than four decades after the battle of Hill 424, he was invited to attend a special graduation event at the United States Air Force Academy. There, in front of the cadets and officers, President Ronald Reagan formally presented him with his Medal of Honor.
In March 2000, at 81-years-old, William Crawford passed away. And in recognition of his status, flags were flown at half-mast across the state. And, fittingly, he was buried in the USAF Academy Cemetery in Colorado Springs. He was the only non-enlisted soldier ever to be bestowed with such an honor. It’s a fitting end for a hero who could so easily have been forgotten if not for Colonel Moschgat’s accidental discovery.
Sometimes greatness is not always flashed right before our eyes. Just like the inspiring story of William Crawford, who risked his life during World War II and was unrecognized for his bravery.
He continued to live a quiet and humble life after his heroic past but still with dignity. If it wasn’t for one cadet’s curiosity this hero would remain unrecognized all his life. So let’s not judge other people according to how they live now, we don’t know what greatness they could be hiding. Let’s be kind to everyone we meet, whether a hero or not.