Rank, duty position and unit at time of action:
Major, Commanding Officer, Company A, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile)
Place and date of action:
Ia Drang Valley, Republic of Vietnam, 14 November 1965
In the film:
CRANDALL, BRUCE P.
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty:
Major Bruce P. Crandall distinguished himself by extraordinary heroism as a Flight Commander in the Republic of Vietnam, while serving with Company A, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). On 14 November 1965, his flight of sixteen helicopters was lifting troops for a search and destroy mission from Plei Me, Vietnam, to Landing Zone X-Ray in the la Drang Valley. On the fourth troop lift, the airlift began to take enemy fire, and by the time the aircraft had refueled and returned for the next troop lift, the enemy had Landing Zone X-Ray targeted. As Major Crandall and the first eight helicopters landed to discharge troops on his fifth troop lift, his unarmed helicopter came under such intense enemy fire that the ground commander ordered the second flight of eight aircraft to abort their mission. As Major Crandall flew back to Plei Me, his base of operations, he determined that the ground commander of the besieged infantry batallion desperately needed more ammunition. Major Crandall then decided to adjust his base of operations to Artillery Firebase Falcon in order to shorten the flight distance to deliver ammunition and evacuate wounded soldiers. While medical evacuation was not his mission, he immediately sought volunteers and with complete disregard for his own personal safety, led the two aircraft to Landing Zone X-Ray. Despite the fact that the landing zone was still under relentless enemy fire, Major Crandall landed and proceeded to supervise the loading of seriously wounded soldiers aboard his aircraft. Major Crandall's voluntary decision to land under the most extreme fire instilled in the other pilots the will and spirit to continue to land their own aircraft, and in the ground forces the realization that they would be resupplied and that friendly wounded would be promptly evacuated. This greatly enhanced morale and the will to fight at a critical time. After his first medical evacuation, Major Crandall continued to fly into and out of the landing zone throughout the day and into the evening. That day he completed a total of 22 flights, most under intense enemy fire, retiring from the battlefield only after all possible service had been rendered to the Infantry battalion. His actions provided critical resupply of ammunition and evacuation of the wounded. Major Crandall's daring acts of bravery and courage in the face of an overwhelming and determined enemy are in keeping with the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army.
Lieutenant Colonel (Retired) Bruce P. "Snake" Crandall was presented his Medal of Honor by President George W. Bush on 26 February 2007, over 41 years after the actions for which he earned it and 5 years after those actions were depicted by Greg Kinnear in We Were Soldiers. [As is pointed out in the film, the nickname "Snake" is actually an abbreviated form of a more scatological nom de guerre, but the authors have decided to keep this website at a PG rating. The obscuration of the helmet in the vidcap of Greg Kinnear is for the same reason.]
Then-Major Crandall and his close friend and second-in-command, Captain Ed W. "Too Tall" Freeman (portrayed in the film by Mark McCracken), have both been awarded the Medal of Honor for leading Company A, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion during the Battle of Ia Drang Valley in November 1965, the first major engagement between the US Army and the North Vietnamese Army.
Both pilots logged 14 hours of nearly continuous flying time in their UH-1 Iroquois (aka Huey) helicopters on 14 November 1965, beginning with the insertion of the first wave of troops of the 1st Battalion 7th Cavalry into the clearing in the Ia Drang Valley (which had been code-named Landing Zone X-Ray), and then flying in reinforcements, ammunition, medical supplies, rations and water, and flying out casualties under intense enemy fire. The two crews are estimated to have saved the lives of some 80 wounded soldiers by assuming the Medevac role. The two men and their crews continued to fly in and out of LZ X-Ray even after they had allowed the other crews of Company A to stand down. The task of medical evacuation was forced upon Company A after the pilots of an actual Medevac unit tasked to support the operation refused to follow Company A into the hot LZ. This resulted in a bitter confrontation on the ground afterward when the Medevac commander verbally blistered Crandall for leading his crews into hostile fire; whether Crandall actually ended up pulling his pistol on the Medevac commander as Greg Kinnear does in the film is uncertain, but Crandall does admit to having had to be physically restrained by his subordinate pilots at his outrage over the Medevac commander's willingness to face him but not the enemy.
Both Medal of Honor recommendations had previously been downgraded to lesser awards. (One can speculate that the above-mentioned confrontation may have come back to haunt Crandall.) A change in regulation allowed Crandall to resubmit Freeman's recommendation, and Freeman was awarded his medal by President Bush in July 2001, while We Were Soldiers was still in production. Release of the film evidently sparked interest in the chain of command resubmitting the recommendation for Crandall's own medal as well. (After the release of the film, the authors were, in fact, in the process of attempting to confirm that Lt Col Crandall had been previously nominated for the Medal of Honor so that we could create a page on this website on him under the Rejected Nominations category, but Lt Col Crandall himself contacted us and specifically asked us not to do so. We hope he forgives us for creating this page!)
Crandall survived the Battle of Ia Drang Valley and the remainder of his first Vietnam tour unhurt, but was severely wounded during another heroic act on his second tour in January 1968; while searching for a downed command helicopter, his own Huey was accidentally knocked out of the sky by "Friendly Fire" in the form of the blasts of a US Air Force airstrike, and he spent 5 months in the hospital with a broken back. He flew a total of 756 missions on his two tours, received a number of aviation awards, and retired from the Army in 1977.
The authors wish to restate (as we had originally stated on our page on Too Tall Freeman) that we consider We Were Soldiers to be the best Vietnam War movie ever made, and one of the greatest war movies of all time. We are pleased that, along with Black Hawk Down, this film appears to be part of what we hope is a new trend in fact-based films that stress factual/historical accuracy and faithfulness to the original literary sources, in this case the outstanding original 1992 book We Were Soldiers Once... and Young by retired Lieutenant General Harold G. Moore (a Lieutenant Colonel in command of the 1st Battalion 7th Cavalry at the time of the action, played in the film by Mel Gibson) and Joseph L. Galloway (a UPI correspondent at the time of the action, played by Barry Pepper). This film doubtless further owes much of its success to the participation of Moore, Galloway, Bruce Crandall himself (who is credited as the aviation advisor to the film), Basil Plumley (the Command Sergeant Major of 1st Battalion 7th Cavalry, played in the film by Sam Elliott) and several other veterans of the Battle of Ia Drang Valley. The authors further recognize that even in the greatest of historical fact-based films, such as Gettysburg, The Longest Day and Thirty Seconds Over Tokyo, the limitations of the medium of film make the compression of time, condensation of events, creation of composite chartacters and the use of dramatic license unavoidable, and we do consider this film in the same class with these others. [One of the "dramatic license" moments, involving Crandall and Freeman, was their participation as the close air support for the final bayonet charge by Moore and his battalion to drive the North Vietnamese from LZ X-Ray; the book specifically states that fixed-wing aircraft provided the close air support, and it would have been quite impossible for their Hueys to have been changed from "Slick" (troop transport) configuration to "Hog" (gunship) configuration and then back to "Slick" in the time depicted.] Having said all that, since during most of the fighting in the film Freeman disappears from the screen and becomes for the most part a disembodied voice on the radio, by the same objective criteria by which we've classified other films and depictions on this website, the authors had to reluctantly place this film's coverage of Too Tall Freeman in the Blown Opportunities category, along with that of 2nd Lieutenant Walter Joseph Marm, who was omitted from the film and whose Medal of Honor-earning actions were composited with the actions of 2nd Lieutenant John L. Geoghegan (played by Chris Klein).
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