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 firstname.lastname@example.org