By Staff Sgt. Joe ArmasMarch 30, 2012
CAMP MARMAL, Afghanistan -- The date was November 14, 1965. Soldiers from the 7th Cavalry were engaged in a fierce battle with the north Vietnamese in an area that was deemed "the valley of the shadow of death".
Landing zone x-ray had been closed by the ground commander since two helicopters had already sustained considerable damage and could not fly out.
Maj. Bruce Crandall, recognizing that the Soldiers there lacked needed supplies and a capability for medical evacuation, flew his UH-1 Huey helicopter into the landing zone 22 times, withstanding enemy fire and a continuous threat from the north Vietnamese.
For his actions that day, Crandall was awarded the Medal of Honor by former President George W. Bush during a ceremony at the White House Feb. 26, 2007.
More than 45 years removed from that fateful day in Vietnam, Crandall returned to a war zone here March 28. He's no longer a pilot-in-command, just a citizen who wanted to personally thank Soldiers for serving their country in combat.
"It's a great responsibility and honor to have the opportunity to spend time with American Soldiers, especially over here," said Crandall.
"I've wanted to come for a long time, and when I found out the ACB was deploying, I wanted to deploy with the brigade but they told me I was too old to re-enlist," Crandall added with a smile.
Crandall, whose character was portrayed in the movie "We Were Soldiers", said his passion for the Air Cav has not diminished with the passing of time.
He said he still sports his Cavalry stetson with pride and always makes a point to state his love for the 1st Cavalry Division whenever he is in the company of fellow Vietnam veterans.
During his visit, Crandall took to the air in a UH-60 Black Hawk helicopter and arrived in Kunduz to spend time with Soldiers from Task Force Guns. Following his visit to Kunduz, Crandall returned to Marmal and presented air medals to other Soldiers assigned to the 1st ACB.
One of those Soldiers was Staff Sgt. Naftali Bonilla, from Dallas, a flight engineer assigned to Company B, Task Force Lobos, 1st ACB, 1st Cavalry Division.
"The courage he [Crandall] showed that day was pretty amazing," said Bonilla. "He's one of the heroes who are part of the history of the Air Cav," added Bonilla. "It meant a lot to have my award presented to me by him."
Bonilla has spent the past year scanning the mountainous and rugged terrain of northern Afghanistan onboard a CH-47 Chinook helicopter. Although the scenery here isn't quite reminiscent of the jungles of Vietnam, Crandall feels there is a strong connection between the two generations of Air Cav combat veterans.
"You're doing exactly what we did," Crandall told Soldiers during a town-hall style event later on in the evening. "You've answered your nation's call to serve in combat, and that is quite admirable."