You can never assume you know someone’s story just by looking at them. There are countless stories of people who have met someone important or famous—who seemed like just a normal, everyday person—and they had no idea until much later.
One cadet at the United States Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs found out that his janitor was much more than just a janitor: He was a recipient of the nation’s highest military honor, according to War History.
Cadet James Moschgat made the discovery in the mid-1970s when he started reading a book about the WWII Allied advance in Italy. He came across a man named William Crawford, who sounded very familiar.
“Holy cow, you’re not going to believe this, but I think our janitor is a Medal of Honor [recipient],” Moschgat excitedly told his roommate. He did not waste any time in going to the source to make sure his discovery was correct.
Before William Crawford was cleaning bathrooms, he was cleaning out the enemy’s machine guns.
The next day, Cadet Moschgat took the book to Crawford and asked him if the story was about him. In his humble way, Crawford confirmed Moschgat’s suspicions by simply saying, “That was a long time ago and one day in my life.”
However, Crawford’s heroic act was more important than he made it seem. In September 1943, the soldier single-handedly took out an entire cluster of enemy machine gun nests.
Their mission was to capture Hill 424. Private Crawford’s company was attacking the enemy’s position on the hill, when they were overwhelmed by heavy machine gun fire.
Crawford was acting as a scout near the front when he located the first of the enemy’s three machine gun positions. Crawford took it upon himself to abolish the threat by crawling forward amidst the gunfire and perfectly throwing a grenade right in the middle of the nest, destroying the machine gun and its defenders.
He was not once or twice, but three times a hero.
After he took out the first of the enemy positions, the rest of Crawford’s company were able to advance to the top of the hill, where they were still under fire from two more machine gun nests. Again, without any orders, Crawford crawled dangerously close and took out a second machine gun nest with his rifle.
Moving on to the third gun, he was able to take it out of action by sending a barrage of hand grenades right on top of them.
Because of Crawford’s heroism, Hill 424 was taken by the Allies, who continued to move forward. But due to his position at the front of the assault, Crawford was captured during the battle, and his company believed that he had been killed.
Crawford was later awarded the Medal of Honor, which was presented to his father during a ceremony in 1944.
In this case, a hero truly never dies. Later that year, William Crawford was located among a group of soldiers who were rescued from German captivity. Crawford did not know it at the time, but he had already been awarded the nation’s highest military honor.
After returning home and finding out the truth, he remained in the military and retired in 1967, leaving with the rank of Master Sergeant. The humble hero then took a job as a janitor at the Air Force Academy in Colorado.
Crawford later was given the respect he deserved.
After Crawford told the story of his courageous acts to Cadet Moschgat, the cadets realized that after 30 years, this man had never received his Medal of Honor with a ceremony, because everyone had thought he was dead. Soon, the staff and students of the academy crafted a plan to fix that.
President Ronald Reagan was scheduled to speak at the academy’s 1984 graduation ceremony, and it was then that the humble and courageous janitor finally stood next to the President of the United States and was officially awarded his Medal of Honor.
Army veteran William Crawford died in 2000 at the age of 81 and became the only person who was not enlisted in the U.S. Air Force to be buried at the United States Air Force Academy Cemetery.