On a rain drenched Friday, when the city laid to rest one of Philly's Finest, Kevin Ferris reminds us of a hero from a bygone era:
Back Channels: Long-awaited honor for vet
I believe he is the only soldier from the state of Pennsylvania ,who served in Vietnam, to have been awarded this Medal - and this is why:
Last Friday in Holy Sepulchre Cemetery, people kept referring to "Michael's day." As in Michael J. Crescenz, a 19-year-old from the West Oak Lane neighborhood and St. Athanasius parish who was killed in action in Vietnam, and whose valor earned him the Medal of Honor.
There was a brief ceremony Friday afternoon at his grave site as the family prepared to have him moved to Arlington National Cemetery.
*CRESCENZ, MICHAEL J.
Rank and Organization: Corporal, U.S. Army, Company A, 4th Battalion,31st Infantry, 196th Infantry Brigade, Americal Division. Place and date: Hiep Duc Valley area, Republic of Vietnam, 20 November 1968. Entered service at: Philadelphia, PA. Born: 14 January 1949, Philadelphia, Pa.
Citation: Cpl. Crescenz distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action while serving as a rifleman with Company A. In the morning his unit engaged a large, well-entrenched force of the North Vietnamese Army whose initial burst of fire pinned down the lead squad and killed the 2 point men, halting the advance of Company A. Immediately, Cpl. Crescenz left the relative safety of his own position, seized a nearby machine gun and, with complete disregard for his safety, charged 100 meters up a slope toward the enemy's bunkers which he effectively silenced, killing the 2 occupants of each. Undaunted by the withering machine gun fire around him, Cpl. Crescenz courageously moved forward toward a third bunker which he also succeeded in silencing, killing 2 more of the enemy and momentarily clearing the route of advance for his comrades. Suddenly, intense machine gun fire erupted from an unseen, camouflaged bunker. Realizing the danger to his fellow soldiers, Cpl.Crescenz disregarded the barrage of hostile fire directed at him and daringly advanced toward the position. Assaulting with his machine gun, Cpl. Crescenz was within 5 meters of the bunker when he was mortally wounded by the fire from the enemy machine gun. As a direct result of his heroic actions, his company was able to maneuver freely with minimal danger and to complete its mission,defeating the enemy. Cpl. Crescenz's bravery and extraordinary heroism at the cost of his life are in the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit on himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army.
The solemn words of this citiation are brought to life as Bill Stafford, a medic with Michael's platoon, describes the events of that fateful day in November 1968:
When his platoon was ambushed on Nov. 20, 1968, in Vietnam's Hiep Duc Valley, Michael grabbed an M-60 and single-handedly charged three enemy machine-gun positions, killing the crews.
"He definitely stood up that day and broke the logjam we were in," says Stafford, a medic with Michael's platoon in the 196th Infantry Brigade, Americal Division. "I was able to get to one wounded guy because of Michael."
While Michael drew the enemy's fire, Stafford advanced to help a wounded soldier who couldn't pull himself to safety. As Stafford tended to the man's injuries, Michael put himself between the medic and the enemy. That's when Michael was killed.
"Things happen so quickly in a war, and you wonder why certain things happen to some but not others," Stafford says. "I figured out after many years that it just wasn't my time.
"But Michael's day was that day - to help his comrades - and that was it."
It is amazing how this verified account of bravery and sacrifice never made it into the Congressional Record in 1971. I look forward to the day when the entire story of Vietnam is known. It is the least we can do to honor the memory of Cpl. Michael Crensenz and all those who served honorably in Vietnam.
Friday was the feast day of the family's old parish saint, Athanasius, a defender of the faith of whom it has been said, "His courage was of the sort that never falters."
Truly Michael's day.