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A Janitor’s Ten Lessons in Leadership
Home of Heroes ^ | Col. James Moschgat

Posted on 10/14/2011 8:04:18 AM PDT by BulletBobCo

William “Bill” Crawford certainly was an unimpressive figure, one you could easily overlook during a hectic day at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Mr. Crawford, as most of us referred to him back in the late 1970s, was our squadron janitor.

While we cadets busied ourselves preparing for academic exams, athletic events, Saturday morning parades and room inspections, or never-ending leadership classes, Bill quietly moved about the squadron mopping and buffing floors, emptying trash cans, cleaning toilets, or just tidying up the mess 100 college-age kids can leave in a dormitory.

Sadly, and for many years, few of us gave him much notice, rendering little more than a passing nod or throwing a curt, “G’morning!” in his direction as we hurried off to our daily duties.

Why? Perhaps it was because of the way he did his job-he always kept the squadron area spotlessly clean, even the toilets and showers gleamed. Frankly, he did his job so well, none of us had to notice or get involved. After all, cleaning toilets was his job, not ours.

Maybe it was his physical appearance that made him disappear into the background. Bill didn’t move very quickly and, in fact, you could say he even shuffled a bit, as if he suffered from some sort of injury. His gray hair and wrinkled face made him appear ancient to a group of young cadets. And his crooked smile, well, it looked a little funny. Face it, Bill was an old man working in a young person’s world. What did he have to offer us on a personal level?

Finally, maybe it was Mr. Crawford’s personality that rendered him almost invisible to the young people around him. Bill was shy, almost painfully so. He seldom spoke to a cadet unless they addressed him first, and that didn’t happen very often. Our janitor always buried himself in his work, moving about with stooped shoulders, a quiet gait, and an averted gaze. If he noticed the hustle and bustle of cadet life around him, it was hard to tell.

So, for whatever reason, Bill blended into the woodwork and became just another fixture around the squadron. The Academy, one of our nation’s premier leadership laboratories, kept us busy from dawn till dusk. And Mr. Crawford...well, he was just a janitor.

That changed one fall Saturday afternoon in 1976. I was reading a book about World War II and the tough Allied ground campaign in Italy, when I stumbled across an incredible story. On Sept. 13, 1943, a Private William Crawford from Colorado, assigned to the 36th Infantry Division, had been involved in some bloody fighting on Hill 424 near Altavilla, Italy.

The words on the page leapt out at me: “in the face of intense and overwhelming hostile fire ... with no regard for personal safety ... on his own initiative, Private Crawford single-handedly attacked fortified enemy positions.” It continued, “for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at risk of life above and beyond the call of duty, the President of the United States ...”

“Holy cow,” I said to my roommate, “you’re not going to believe this, but I think our janitor is a Medal of Honor winner.” We all knew Mr. Crawford was a WWII Army vet, but that didn’t keep my friend from looking at me as if I was some sort of alien being. Nonetheless, we couldn’t wait to ask Bill about the story on Monday.

We met Mr. Crawford bright and early Monday and showed him the page in question from the book, anticipation and doubt on our faces. He starred at it for a few silent moments and then quietly uttered something like, “Yep, that’s me.” Mouths agape, my roommate and I looked at one another, then at the book, and quickly back at our janitor. Almost at once we both stuttered, “Why didn’t you ever tell us about it?” He slowly replied after some thought, “That was one day in my life and it happened a long time ago.” I guess we were all at a loss for words after that. We had to hurry off to class and Bill, well, he had chores to attend to.

However, after that brief exchange, things were never again the same around our squadron. Word spread like wildfire among the cadets that we had a hero in our midst-Mr. Crawford, our janitor, had won the Medal! Cadets who had once passed by Bill with hardly a glance, now greeted him with a smile and a respectful, “Good morning, Mr. Crawford.”

Those who had before left a mess for the “janitor” to clean up started taking it upon themselves to put things in order. Most cadets routinely stopped to talk to Bill throughout the day and we even began inviting him to our formal squadron functions. He’d show up dressed in a conservative dark suit and quietly talk to those who approached him, the only sign of his heroics being a simple blue, star-spangled lapel pin. Almost overnight, Bill went from being a simple fixture in our squadron to one of our teammates.

Mr. Crawford changed too, but you had to look closely to notice the difference. After that fall day in 1976, he seemed to move with more purpose, his shoulders didn’t seem to be as stooped, he met our greetings with a direct gaze and a stronger “good morning” in return, and he flashed his crooked smile more often.

The squadron gleamed as always, but everyone now seemed to notice it more. Bill even got to know most of us by our first names, something that didn’t happen often at the Academy. While no one ever formally acknowledged the change, I think we became Bill’s cadets and his squadron.

As often happens in life, events sweep us away from those in our past. The last time I saw Bill was on graduation day in June 1977. As I walked out of the squadron for the last time, he shook my hand and simply said, “Good luck, young man.”

With that, I embarked on a career that has been truly lucky and blessed. Mr. Crawford continued to work at the Academy and eventually retired in his native Colorado where he resides today, one of four Medal of Honor winners living in a small town.

A wise person once said, “It’s not life that’s important, but those you meet along the way that make the difference.” Bill was one who made a difference for me. While I haven’t seen Mr. Crawford in over twenty years, he’d probably be surprised to know I think of him often. Bill Crawford, our janitor, taught me many valuable, unforgettable leadership lessons. Here are ten I’d like to share with you.

Be Cautious of Labels. Labels you place on people may define your relationship to them and bound their potential. Sadly, and for a long time, we labeled Bill as just a janitor, but he was so much more. Therefore, be cautious of a leader who callously says, “Hey, he’s just an Airman.” Likewise, don’t tolerate the O-1, who says, “I can’t do that, I’m just a lieutenant.”

Everyone Deserves Respect. Because we hung the “janitor” label on Mr. Crawford, we often wrongly treated him with less respect than others around us. He deserved much more, and not just because he was a Medal of Honor winner. Bill deserved respect because he was a janitor, walked among us, and was a part of our team.

Courtesy Makes a Difference. Be courteous to all around you, regardless of rank or position. Military customs, as well as common courtesies, help bond a team. When our daily words to Mr. Crawford turned from perfunctory “hellos” to heartfelt greetings, his demeanor and personality outwardly changed. It made a difference for all of us.

Take Time to Know Your People. Life in the military is hectic, but that’s no excuse for not knowing the people you work for and with. For years a hero walked among us at the Academy and we never knew it. Who are the heroes that walk in your midst?

Anyone Can Be a Hero. Mr. Crawford certainly didn’t fit anyone’s standard definition of a hero. Moreover, he was just a private on the day he won his Medal. Don’t sell your people short, for any one of them may be the hero who rises to the occasion when duty calls. On the other hand, it’s easy to turn to your proven performers when the chips are down, but don’t ignore the rest of the team. Today’s rookie could and should be tomorrow’s superstar.

Leaders Should Be Humble. Most modern day heroes and some leaders are anything but humble, especially if you calibrate your “hero meter” on today’s athletic fields. End zone celebrations and self-aggrandizement are what we’ve come to expect from sports greats. Not Mr. Crawford-he was too busy working to celebrate his past heroics. Leaders would be well-served to do the same.

Life Won’t Always Hand You What You Think You Deserve. We in the military work hard and, dang it, we deserve recognition, right? However, sometimes you just have to persevere, even when accolades don’t come your way. Perhaps you weren’t nominated for junior officer or airman of the quarter as you thought you should-don’t let that stop you. Don’t pursue glory; pursue excellence. Private Bill Crawford didn’t pursue glory; he did his duty and then swept floors for a living.

No Job is Beneath a Leader. If Bill Crawford, a Medal of Honor winner, could clean latrines and smile, is there a job beneath your dignity? Think about it.

Pursue Excellence. No matter what task life hands you, do it well. Dr. Martin Luther King said, “If life makes you a street sweeper, be the best street sweeper you can be.” Mr. Crawford modeled that philosophy and helped make our dormitory area a home.

Life is a Leadership Laboratory. All too often we look to some school or PME class to teach us about leadership when, in fact, life is a leadership laboratory. Those you meet everyday will teach you enduring lessons if you just take time to stop, look and listen. I spent four years at the Air Force Academy, took dozens of classes, read hundreds of books, and met thousands of great people. I gleaned leadership skills from all of them, but one of the people I remember most is Mr. Bill Crawford and the lessons he unknowingly taught. Don’t miss your opportunity to learn.

Bill Crawford was a janitor. However, he was also a teacher, friend, role model and one great American hero. Thanks, Mr. Crawford, for some valuable leadership lessons.

TOPICS: Culture/Society
KEYWORDS: billcrawford; cmoh; medalofhonor

Bill Crawford died at age 81 on March 15, 2000, in his residence at Palmer Lake. Upon his death Governor Bill Owens authorized all Colorado flags to be lowered to half staff in his honor. He is buried at the United States Air Force Academy Cemetery in Colorado Springs.

1 posted on 10/14/2011 8:04:25 AM PDT by BulletBobCo
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To: BulletBobCo

Absolutely agree. The lack of respect shown in popular media for those who perform necessary but unglamorous tasks is appalling and unAmerican.

Thanks for posting.

2 posted on 10/14/2011 8:15:50 AM PDT by Sherman Logan
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To: BulletBobCo

RIP. Wow! It sure gives perspective on people who think a job cleaning toilets or flipping burgers is below their dignity.......(It’s a job! You are being self sufficent)Take Pride in any job you do no matter if you are the CEO or scrubbing bathrooms.

3 posted on 10/14/2011 8:17:37 AM PDT by jakerobins
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To: BulletBobCo

Enjoy your well earned rest, Mr. Crawford, you rate it perhaps more than any man of your great generation.

Thank you for telling this story, Col. Moschgat.

Thank you for posting it for all FReepers to see, BulletBobCo.

4 posted on 10/14/2011 8:19:58 AM PDT by null and void (Day 996 of America's holiday from reality...)
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To: BulletBobCo

I’ve read this before and I always read it to the end knowing what the outcome will be...a few tears in my eye.

5 posted on 10/14/2011 8:23:28 AM PDT by Portcall24
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To: BulletBobCo


6 posted on 10/14/2011 8:25:46 AM PDT by TEXOKIE (Anarchy IS the strategy of the forces of darkness!)
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To: jakerobins

I grew up in Kansas City several decades ago. The white population at the time was culturally divided. Roughly half the kids I went to school with were culturally Southern, the other half culturally Midwestern.

There was a very interesting cultural split with regard to work. My family, and most though perhaps not all, of the MW contingent believed that any honest work was by definition honorable, and certainly far more honorable than allowing others to support you when you were capable of supporting yourself.

The Southern contingent, though perhaps not all, believed certain types of work were n*****-work and a white man who did such work was dishonored. It was better to be unemployed and freeloading than to do n*****-work.

I think it extremely interesting that this attitude appears to have infected not only blacks throughout the country, but also most white people of today. Some types of work are beneath their dignity. Though perhaps today we’d call it “Mexican-work” if we weren’t so PC.

I find this very sad and discouraging.

7 posted on 10/14/2011 8:26:29 AM PDT by Sherman Logan
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To: BulletBobCo
1. Thank you for your own service!

2. Thank you for posting a story which reminds us of the nature of authentic leadership. The life lessons learned by those who were touched by Bill Crawford's sense of duty and humble performance of service were and are symbolic of the very foundations of America's founding philosophy in liberty and individual responsibility.

Years ago, a Chaplain of the United States Senate, Dr. Peter Marshall, delivered a message of similar inspiration for leadership and service, although that message referred to another group of citizens who, individually, by their humble actions, perform invaluable leadership and service to the Republic.

Marshall titled his message, "The Keepers of the Springs." The following are excerpts:

"Once upon a time, a certain town grew up at the foot of a mountain range. It was sheltered in the lee of the protecting heights, so that the wind that shuddered at the doors and flung handfuls of sleet against the window panes was a wind whose fury was spent.
"High up in the hills, a strange and quiet forest dweller took it upon himself to be the Keeper of the Springs.
"He patrolled the hills and wherever he found a spring, he cleaned its brown pool of silt and fallen leaves, of mud and mold and took away from the spring all foreign matter, so that the water which bubbled up through the sand ran down clean and cold and pure.
"It leaped sparkling over rocks and dropped joyously in crystal cascades until, swollen by other streams, it became a river of life to the busy town.
"Millwheels were whirled by its rush. Gardens were refreshed by its waters. Fountains threw it like diamonds into the air. Swans sailed on its limpid surface and children laughed as they played on its banks in the sunshine.
"But the City Council was a group of hardheaded, hard-boiled business men. They scanned the civic budget and found in it the salary of a Keeper of the Springs.
"Said the Keeper of the Purse: "Why should we pay this romance ranger? We never see him; he is not necessary to our town's work life. If we build a reservoir just above the town, we can dispense with his services and save his salary."
"Therefore, the City Council voted to dispense with the un- necessary cost of a Keeper of the Springs, and to build a cement reservoir.
"So the Keeper of the Springs no longer visited the brown pools but watched from the heights while they built the reservoir.
"When it was finished, it soon filled up with water, to be sure, but the water did not seem to be the same.
"It did not seem to be as clean, and a green scum soon befouled its stagnant surface.
"There were constant troubles with the delicate machinery of the mills, for it was often clogged with slime, and the swans found another home above the town.
"At last, an epidemic raged, and the clammy, yellow fingers of sickness reached into every home in every street and lane.
"The City Council met again. Sorrowfully, it faced the city's plight, and frankly it acknowledged the mistake of the dis- missal of the Keeper of the Springs.
"They sought him out in his hermit hut high in the hills, and begged him to return to his former joyous labor.
"Gladly he agreed, and began once more to make his rounds.
"It was not long until pure water came lilting down under tunnels of ferns and mosses and to sparkle in the cleansed reservoir.
"Millwheels turned again as of old. Stenches disappeared. Sickness waned and convalescent children playing in the sun laughed again because the swans had come back.
"Do not think me fanciful
too imaginative
or too extravagant in my language
when I say that I think women, and particularly of our
mothers, as
"Keepers of the Springs."
"The phrase, while poetic, is true and descriptive.
"We feel its warmth ... its softening influence ... and however forgetful we have been ... however much we have taken for granted life's precious gifts we are conscious of wistful memories that surge out of the past -- the sweet tender poignant fragrances of love.
"Nothing that has been said nothing that could be said or that ever will be said, would be eloquent enough, expressive enough, or adequate to make articulate that peculiar emotion we feel to our mothers.
"So I shall make my tribute a plea for Keepers of the Springs,
"who will be faithful to their tasks.
"There never has been a time when there was a greater need for Keepers of the Springs, or when there were more polluted springs to be cleansed.
"If the home fails, the country is doomed. The breakdown of home life and influence will mark the breakdown of the nation.
"If the Keepers of the Springs desert their posts or are un- faithful to their responsibilities the future outlook of this country is black indeed.
"This generation needs Keepers of the Springs who will be courageous enough to cleanse the springs that have been polluted.
"It's not an easy task -- nor is it a popular one, but it must be done for the sake of the children, and the young women of today must do it."
-Peter Marshall

Marshall's call for such leadership of the nation by its mothers is as valid today as it was in the 1940's when he wrote them.

At that time, following WWII, great men like Bill Crawford, finished with their heroic wartime actions, were ready to perform humble duties without fanfare or recognition, in order to set an example for young military personnel.

At the same time, Marshall's call to mothers for home leadership was important as example for developing character and personal responsibility and setting priorities for the life of the nation.

8 posted on 10/14/2011 9:49:08 AM PDT by loveliberty2
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To: BulletBobCo

Bookmark bump.

9 posted on 10/14/2011 9:58:14 AM PDT by brityank (The more I learn about the Constitution, the more I realise this Government is UNconstitutional !!)
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To: Kathy in Alaska


10 posted on 10/14/2011 10:11:51 AM PDT by BulletBobCo
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To: BulletBobCo

Good read, thank you...

11 posted on 10/14/2011 10:29:29 AM PDT by ßuddaßudd (7 days - 7 ways a Guero y Guay Lao << >> with a floating, shifting, ever changing)
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To: BulletBobCo


12 posted on 10/14/2011 12:07:15 PM PDT by TOTUS
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To: BulletBobCo; loveliberty2



MSgt "Bill" Crawford, USA
Medal of Honor Recipient

Amazing Grace

Thanks, BulletBob and loveliberty for the pings.

13 posted on 10/18/2011 12:32:49 AM PDT by Kathy in Alaska ((~ RIP Brian...heaven's gain...the Coast Guard lost a good one.~))
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