By Kay Caldwell
The 4th of July has come and gone and our freedom still exists. I had more people say to me “Have a happy 4th of July” than ever before. My brother-in-law said a clerk at the store smiled at him and said “enjoy your freedom.” He loved that. Freedom is an incredible thing that we often take for granted. A close friend of mine shared a story with me with a great lesson. The author is Colonel James Moschgat, 12th Operations Group Commander. I hope he will forgive me for condensing this true story for our readers. I want to share it with you. It has a great lesson.
The main character is William “Bill” Crawford. Bill seemed to be an unimpressive figure, one you could easily overlook during a hectic day at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Mr. Crawford, as most of the cadets referred to him back in the late 1970s, was the squadron janitor. He did his job well and mostly went unnoticed.
One Saturday afternoon in 1976, the young Mr. Moschgat 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 presents …”
In amazement he shared the story with his roommate. “I think our janitor is a “Medal of Honor winner.” They knew Mr. Crawford was a WWII Army vet. They met Mr. Crawford bright and early Monday, and showed him the page in question from the book, anticipation and doubt on their faces. He stared at it for a few silent moments, and then said, “Yep, that’s me.” Mouths agape, he and his roommate looked at one another, then at the book, and quickly back at their 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.” The cadets were at a loss for words after that.
However, after that brief exchange, things were never again the same around the squadron. Word spread like wildfire among the cadets that we had a hero in our midst — Mr. Crawford, our janitor, had won the Medal! Cadets now greeted him with a smile and a respectful, “Good morning, Mr. Crawford.” Everyone started inviting him to the formal squadron functions. He would attend and the only sign of his heroics was a simple blue, star-spangled lapel pin. Almost overnight, Bill went from being a simple fixture in our squadron to one of our teammates.
What an awesome story. A wise person once said, “It’s not life that’s important, but those you meet along the way that make the difference.” Can you think of those you have met along the way that made a difference?
From Mr. Crawford there are 10 lessons Colonel Moschgat learned. He shares these with his leaders:
1) Be cautious of labels. Labels you place on people may define your relationship to them and bind their potential. 2) Everyone deserves respect. 3) Courtesy makes a difference. 4) Take time to know your people. 5) Anyone can be a hero. 6) Leaders should be humble. 7) Life won’t always hand you what you think you deserve. 8) No job is beneath a leader. 9) Pursue excellence. 10) Life is a leadership laboratory.
As leaders, use these 10 lessons to give your people the respect and freedom to be themselves. Let freedom ring!