A hero’s honor

U.S. Sens. Pat Toomey and Bob Ca­sey Jr. have in­tro­duced a bill to re­name the Phil­adelphia VA Med­ic­al Cen­ter, at 3900 Wood­land Ave. in West Phil­adelphia, in memory of Army Cpl. Mi­chael J. Cres­cenz, a Car­din­al Dougherty High School gradu­ate who earned the Medal of Hon­or for bravery in the Vi­et­nam War.

Cres­cenz, an Army rifle­man, is the only Vi­et­nam War Medal of Hon­or re­cip­i­ent from Phil­adelphia. Pres­id­ent Nix­on posthum­ously awar­ded him the na­tion’s highest mil­it­ary dec­or­a­tion for the ex­traordin­ary ac­tions he took on Nov. 20, 1968, in Vi­et­nam’s Hiep Due Val­ley.

The medal cita­tion stated that the cor­por­al “dis­tin­guished him­self by con­spicu­ous gal­lantry and in­trep­id­ity in ac­tion” while serving with Com­pany A.

On that Novem­ber morn­ing, his unit en­gaged a large, well-en­trenched force of the North Vi­et­namese Army, whose ini­tial burst of fire pinned down the lead squad and killed the two front men, halt­ing the ad­vance of Com­pany A.

Cres­cenz left the re­l­at­ive safety of his po­s­i­tion, grabbed a ma­chine gun and charged 100 meters up a slope to­ward the en­emy’s bunkers, killing the two oc­cu­pants of each. Though ma­chine-gun fire was aimed at him, he moved to­ward a third bunker, killing two men and mo­ment­ar­ily clear­ing the way so his com­rades could ad­vance.

The en­emy began fir­ing from an un­seen, cam­ou­flaged bunker. Cres­cenz had ad­vanced with­in five meters of the bunker be­fore he was fatally wounded.

Thanks to his ac­tions, the sol­diers in his com­pany were able to man­euver freely with min­im­al danger, com­plet­ing the mis­sion and de­feat­ing the en­emy.

Toomey, a Re­pub­lic­an, and Ca­sey, a Demo­crat, on Feb. 4 in­tro­duced the Cor­por­al Mi­chael J. Cres­cenz Act of 2013.

“It is a small ges­ture on our part, giv­en the nature of Cor­por­al Mi­chael Cres­cenz’s hero­ism,” Toomey said in a state­ment. “We do this with pro­found re­spect and deep­est grat­it­ude for his sac­ri­fice. May the re­nam­ing of this build­ing serve as an ever-present re­mind­er of the sac­ri­fices of all of Pennsylvania’s Vi­et­nam vet­er­ans.”

“This is a trib­ute to the hero­ism of Cor­por­al Mi­chael Cres­cenz as well as ser­vice mem­bers across the coun­try and throughout our his­tory who have made the ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice to keep Amer­ic­ans safe,” Ca­sey said. “May this build­ing ded­ic­a­tion be a re­mind­er to us all of the debt of grat­it­ude we owe these brave men and wo­men.”

Many vet­er­ans and their ad­voc­ates are sup­port­ing the cen­ter’s pro­posed name change.

“I think it is only ap­pro­pri­ate and fit­ting that Phil­adelphia’s Vet­er­ans Af­fairs fa­cil­ity be re­named in hon­or of Cor­por­al Mi­chael Cres­cenz, a Phil­adelphia nat­ive and Medal of Hon­or re­cip­i­ent,” said Joe East­man, a re­tired U.S. Navy of­ficer and dir­ect­or of vet­er­ans’ ser­vices at Broad Street Min­istry. “It will be a per­man­ent re­mind­er of, and well-de­served me­mori­al to, a true Amer­ic­an hero and ded­ic­ated sol­dier who un­selfishly made the ul­ti­mate sac­ri­fice so that oth­ers might live. I thank Sen­at­ors Toomey and Ca­sey for this le­gis­la­tion.”

Cres­cenz, 19, of West Oak Lane, was a 1966 gradu­ate of Dougherty, which closed in 2010. He was bur­ied at Holy Sep­ulchre Cemetery in Chel­ten­ham so his par­ents, Charles and Mary Ann, could vis­it his grave. His fam­ily ac­cep­ted the Medal of Hon­or from Pres­id­ent Nix­on dur­ing a White House ce­re­mony in 1970. His name is on the wall of the Vi­et­nam Vet­er­ans Me­mori­al in Wash­ing­ton, D.C., on Pan­el 38W, Line 016.

On May 2, 2008, Cres­cenz’s re­mains were ex­humed from Holy Sep­ulchre. Ten days later, they were placed in a flag-draped cas­ket for a pil­grim­age to Ar­ling­ton Na­tion­al Cemetery.

Hun­dreds of fam­ily, friends, mil­it­ary vet­er­ans, law en­force­ment of­fi­cials, Dougherty stu­dents and oth­ers at­ten­ded the re­buri­al ce­re­mony on Ar­ling­ton’s sac­red grounds.

In Decem­ber 2010, while pla­cing wreaths on the graves at Ar­ling­ton, Vi­et­nam vet­er­an Fran­cis Ta­cey asked Joe Cres­cenz — Mi­chael’s young­er broth­er — if he could have per­mis­sion to pur­sue the re­nam­ing of the Phil­adelphia VA Med­ic­al Cen­ter.

“Today, all people will know of Phil­adelphia’s Amer­ic­an hero, Cpl. Mi­chael J. Cres­cenz, and his Medal of Hon­or,” Ta­cey said.

The Amer­ic­an Le­gion, Vet­er­ans of For­eign Wars and Dis­abled Amer­ic­an Vet­er­ans all sup­port the idea.

Toomey and Ca­sey are seek­ing co-spon­sor­ships from the en­tire Pennsylvania del­eg­a­tion in the House of Rep­res­ent­at­ives be­fore ask­ing for con­sid­er­a­tion in Sen­ate and House com­mit­tees. ••

Re­port­er Tom War­ing can be reached at 215-354-3034 or twar­ing@bsmphilly.com

You can reach at twaring@bsmphilly.com.

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