10 Things a Janitor Can Teach You About
By - Col. James Moschgat, 12th Operations Group
Graduate United States Air Force Academy
- class of 1977
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
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
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.
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
1. 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.”
2. 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.
3. 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.
4. 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
5. 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.
6. 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.
7. 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.
8. 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.
9. Pursue Excellence. No
matter what task life hands you, do it well. Mr. Crawford modeled that
philosophy and helped make our dormitory area a home.
10. 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.
And now, for the rest of the
story.........Pvt. William John Crawford was a platoon scout for 3rd Platoon
of Company L 142nd Regiment 36th Division (Texas National Guard) and won the
Medal Of Honor for his actions on Hill 424, just 4 days after the invasion
at Salerno. You can read his citation at
On Hill 424, Pvt. Crawford
took out 3 enemy machine guns before darkness fell, halting the platoon’s
advance. Pvt. Crawford could not be found and was assumed dead. The request
for his MOH was quickly approved. MG Terry Allen presented the posthumous
MOH to Bill Crawford’s father, George, on 11 May 1944 in Camp (now Fort)
Carson, near Pueblo. Nearly two months after that, it was learned that Pvt.
Crawford was alive in a POW camp in Germany. During his captivity, a
German guard clubbed him with his rifle. Bill overpowered him, took the
rifle away, and beat the guard unconscious. A German doctor’s testimony
saved him from severe punishment, perhaps death. To stay ahead of the
advancing Russian army, the prisoners were marched 500 miles in 52 days in
the middle of the German winter, subsisting on one potato a day. An allied
tank column liberated the camp in the spring of 1945, and Pvt. Crawford took
his first hot shower in 18 months on VE Day. Pvt. Crawford stayed in the
army before retiring as a MSG and becoming a janitor.
You can read his story at: