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Bush praised Crandall's heroism during the Battle of Ia Drang Valley in November 1965, when he repeatedly flew into intensive enemy fire to rescue and resupply besieged 1st Cavalry Division ground troops.
Crandall proved himself "a daring pilot, a devoted soldier and a self-less leader" during the first major ground battle of the war at Landing Zone X-Ray near the Ia Drang River, he said.
The story of the mission is captured in the bestselling book and movie, "We Were Soldiers Once
Early on Nov. 14, 1965, Crandall, then a major commanding A Company, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), was transporting a battalion of soldiers into Landing Zone X-ray, Bush recounted. After several routine lifts into the area, the ground troops came under a massive attack from the North Vietnamese Army.
During Crandall's next flight — a flight that left three soldiers on his helicopter killed and three more wounded — he remained at the landing zone in direct line of enemy fire so four wounded troops could be loaded aboard, the president said.
After returning the wounded troops to base for treatment, Crandall knew his mission was finished, Bush said, but couldn't bring himself to abandon the ground troops who were outnumbered and low on ammunition. Crandall asked for volunteers to fly back to LZ X-ray, and Capt. Ed Freeman stepped forward.
"In their unarmed choppers, they flew through a cloud of smoke and a wave of bullets to deliver desperately needed supplies," the president said. "They carried out more of the wounded, even though medical evacuation was really not their mission."
Crandall would have been a hero if he had stopped there, Bush said. "But he didn't stop," he said. "He flew back into X-ray again and again — 14 times he flew into what they called the 'Valley of Death.'" He made those flights recognizing the extreme risk to his own life, he said.
Over the course of the day, Crandall flew three different choppers, with two of them damaged so badly they would no longer fly. "But he kept flying until every wounded man had been evacuated and every need of the battalion had been met," Bush said.
By the day's end, Crandall and Freeman had spent more than 14 hours in the air, evacuating 70 wounded men and providing a lifeline that allowed the battalion to survive, Bush said.