Chris Hill from Gathering of Eagles wrote this stirring account of the ceremony he participated in for Army hero Michael Crescenz, who was 19 years old when he was killed in action in Nov 1968. Michael is the sole Philadelphian to receive the Medal of Honor during the Vietnam War. You can visit the tribute and portrait of Michael at the American Legion Post 129 in Toms River, NJ.
Read more about Michael’s heroics, including testimony from his brothers and some soldiers he saved HERE.
Late last week I had the incredible honor of participating in a ceremony commemorating the sacrifice of Cpl. Michael Crescenz, Medal of Honor recipient. A mural and memorial for Michael was unveiled that completely honors his sacrifice, while at the same time tying together all of us whom have served. The mural was painted by two 17 year old high school art students as a service project. They knew nothing of Michael or even the significance of the Medal of Honor when they started the project. By the time they had completed it they were rightfully awed by Michael’s story. At 19, he was not much older than them when he disregarded safety and security to save the lives of his brothers. These two teenagers also got a new understanding of what connects all of us whom have ever served. They now understand how wearing the uniform extends back in an unbroken line to the earliest days of the United States.
As I carried the Medal of Honor into a packed room of American Legion Post 129, I could not help but think of the actions that brought about the poem that would eventually become my favorite song, the National Anthem, and how that relates to Cpl. Michael Crescenz. We have all heard of the attack on Fort McHenry, which began on September 13, 1814. Aboard a British ship, Francis Scott Key watched the battle. The British were using a new type of military bombshell that exploded into deadly fragments. Traveling 2½ miles, those “rockets” produced red streaks in the night sky.
To the utter shock of the British, Ft. McHenry held on through the night. Key could see its fifteen-star flag as the rockets lit up the sky. It was a huge flag, measuring thirty by forty-two feet. Major Armistead, the fort’s commanding officer, had ordered it that way so the “British would not have trouble seeing it from a distance.” For twenty-five hours the British mercilessly bombarded the fort. Major Armistead had refused to surrender the fort or take down the flag. At dawn’s first light, Francis Scott Key saw the huge flag. It was still flying over Ft. McHenry and Baltimore was saved.
Why that flag was still flying though, is not commonly known. During the night a British shell had struck the flag pole. American soldiers recognized that the flag must continue to fly and had rushed to the pole and physically held it aloft. As the British shells rained in, many of these brave men were killed or wounded, but as soon as one fell, he was replaced by another. The Americans inside Ft. McHenry knew that when the dawn came, our flag had to be flying. They knew that their sacrifice was for the greater good, so they died for their country. Around the base of the flag were numerous bodies of American soldiers and citizens.
154 years later, nearly to the day, a 19 year old Army Cpl named Michael Crescenz found himself pinned down by a large, well-entrenched force of the North Vietnamese Army. We have all seen his citation. We have all read how he disregarded his own safety and silenced 3 machine gun emplacements before being killed by a fourth. He personally saved the lives of scores of men. For his bravery and extraordinary heroism he was posthumously awarded the Medal of Honor. The Medal of Honor is awarded for actions that require such courage that no one could rightfully be expected to undertake them. No one would have faulted Michael for remaining under cover that day, but he knew what those early patriots from the War of 1812 knew. He knew that some things are bigger than us. Some things are worthy of sacrificing all. “Sometimes,” as Winston Churchill said, “it is not enough to do your best. Sometimes, you must do what is required.”
I doubt Michael considered any of those things as he charged up that hill. I believe he just realized that he must do what was required. Had he survived, I would bet that Michael would say what I have heard other Medal of Honor recipients say. They all say “you would have done the same.” I would like to think so, but cannot know for certain. What I can say for certain, is that Michael deserves to be remembered and honored for his deeds. Michael’s sacrifice makes us all stand a little taller. What American Legion Post 129 has done, honoring him, is a wonderful thing and I was so honored and so moved to be a part of it. Thank you Crescenz family and Post 129 for letting me as a light infantryman, honor another, and thank you Michael, my brother in arms, for doing what was required.
(click here to see photos of the Ceremony and Mural at the American Legion Post 129 for Michael Crescenz)