What I learned about life from a Medal of Honor recipient

In combat, you learn quickly: life is too short. As a war reporter, I often turn to our nation’s Medal of Honor recipients, not only for advice on surviving the front lines but also on leading a meaningful life.

As a fellow UW alum, there is no one better to ask than Col. Bruce Crandall, ’52 (U.S. Army, retired). Crandall (above) is one of eight UW Medal of Honor recipients honored by the stone monument on Memorial Way near Parrington Hall.

“Students need to understand that everyone, every name listed on that UW memorial to the Medal of Honor recipients … those names, those people had no idea that day (that they would do what they did to earn recognition),” Crandall says. “Any person, any one of us, can be called upon again to make a decision. They were just regular people. Those names on that memorial were just regular persons, just doing their duty.”

As a helicopter pilot in Vietnam, Crandall’s acts of valor were re-enacted by actor Greg Kinnear in the 2002 movie We Were Soldiers.

Crandall is the first to say that leaving a legacy away from combat is more important than fame or accolades. That is the message he and his fellow recipients share with school children around the country as part of the Medal of Honor Society’s Character Development Program.

“This is a legacy for young people: things you should do as a citizen and a human. It’s about doing the right thing,” Crandall says. “Check your moral compass. We must all encourage doing the right thing in everyday life, such as having the courage to say no when friends are saying yes.”

Crandall’s advice is not just for children but for students of all ages.“Continue your education for the rest of your life. Don’t think university is the end of your learning,” he says. “Formal education is important because it gives you opportunities and prepares you for a career. But what you learn afterward is, learning to be a father, a mother, a husband, a wife has a lot more to do with happiness.”

I am blessed to call Bruce Crandall not only my dear friend, but also part of my “adopted family.” He has shown me, by example, how important love and commitment (to his children, grandchildren and dear, late wife Arlene) are. And, more importantly, that it is never too late to make amends for past mistakes.

Bruce Crandall is a good teacher of life lessons, after seeing death on the battlefield. He is one of our nation’s heroes who inspires me to keep doing what I do (war reporting), keep doing the right thing, and keep trying to make a difference in the lives of others, despite all obstacles. Which is good advice for anyone, not just for warriors or war reporters.

About the writer: “War journalist is on a mission to get Americans to care”