Then Major Bruce P. Crandall was assigned as Commanding Officer of "A" Company, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) in the Republic of Vietnam in 1965-66. In this position, he had command of 20 UH- I (Huey) helicopters and flew the lead helicopter on over 750 combat missions, leading as many as 60 lift helicopters plus their gunship and aerial rocket artillery support helicopters on air assaults in the central highlands of RVN. In addition to these flights, he volunteered and flew a number of medical evacuation rescue flights which he undertook after the Medical Evacuation Unit responsible for these missions refused to fly due to the, intense enemy fire in the pick-up zones. Two of these volunteer missions, 14 November 1965 and 31 January 1966 received special recognition. The November 1965 missions into LZ X-Ray in the IaDrang Valley was recognized in a number of books written on the battle including We Were Soldiers Once and Young written by Lt General Harold G. Moore, Commanding Officer of the Infantry units in X-Ray; and, Joseph Galloway, a combat reporter who was in the LZ during the battle. (There is currently a movie in production of this book.) Crandall led the helicopter operations during this fierce battle which was the first meeting between a major force of North Vietnamese Regulars and a battalion-sized U.S. military unit. The January 1966 rescue was recognized by the Aviation and Space Writers Association for their first "Helicopter Heroism Award". This rescue was selected from an international field of nominees, both military and civilian, as the outstanding act of heroism involving a helicopter. At the twentieth anniversary of this award, the organization ranked Crandall's rescue as the most outstanding in the 20 years of the award. Crandall was also inducted into the elite "Gathering of Eagles" by the United States Air Force in 1996. He is one of only seven Army aviators so honored. The Gathering of Eagles is the only international organization dedicated to recognizing outstanding achievements relating to both civilian and military aviation throughout the world.
Bruce Crandall was born and raised in Olympia, Washington. He graduated from Olympia High School in 1951 and was a high school All State/All American baseball player that year. In January 1953 he was drafted into the Army. He was commissioned in 1954 from Engineer Officers Candidate School and went directly to fixed wing flight school. Subsequent to that he went through helicopter flight school. His flying assignments during the next eight years were mapping missions which included tours in the Arctic, in the desert of North Africa and in the jungles of Central and South America. His ground assignments were as Commanding Officer of Combat Engineer Companies on two separate occasions during this period. In 1963, he was reassigned to the 11th Air Assault Division at Ft Benning where he spent the next two years helping develop the helicopter air assault procedures and doctrine later followed in Vietnam by units he led there. In early 1965 he was sent to the Dominican Republic as the senior staff officer and Liaison officer to the XVIII Airborne Corps for the Division's helicopters attached to the expeditionary forces in that action. Upon returning to Ft Benning, his Division was redesignated the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile) and he deployed to Vietnam as Commanding Officer of A Company, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division. In this position, he commanded a unit with 20 lift helicopters supporting combat assaults for 13 months in the Central Highlands of Vietnam. During the year he flew the lead helicopter on over 750 missions involving as many of 60 lift ships and a number of gun and rocket support helicopters. He also volunteered and flew a number of medical evacuation missions when Med Evac pilots refused to go because of intense enemy fire in the pick-up zones. Crandall's most noted flights were those that took place on 14 November 1965 and on 31 January 1966.
On 14 November 1965, he commanded the helicopters involved in supporting the 1/7th Cavalry's assault into LZ X-Ray in the IaDrang Valley campaign. This battle was the first meeting of an American battalion-sized unit against a far larger force of Vietnamese Regular Army troops. It was arguably the fiercest battle of the whole war and resulted in the most casualties suffered by units on both sides. Crandall's contributions can best be described by Lt General Harold G. Moore (the LTC and Battlefield Commander of the Infantry units in X-Ray) when he wrote in his book "We Were Soldiers Once and Young".
Then Major, Crandall and his wingman, then Captain, Ed W. Freeman (who later received the Medal of Honor for his actions) flew a total of 22 missions into X-Ray, 14 of which were voluntary ammunition, medical resupply and medical evacuation flights. Twelve of these fourteen were made after the Med Evac unit responsible for evacuating casualties refused to enter the intensely hot landing zone. Crandall's helicopters evacuated more than 75 casualties during a flight day that started at 0600 hours and ended at 2230 hours, more than 16 hours later.
On 31 January 1966, Crandall had just finished a flight day supporting the 1/1 2th Infantry Battalion who was heavily engaged on the Bong Son Plain along the central coast of Vietnam At dusk, en route to refuel and to shut down for the night, he was informed that "X' Company of the 1/7th, a unit he frequently supported, was in heavy contact and had a number of wounded that prevented them from breaking contact and maneuvering to a more secure area. Crandall refueled and decided to fly to the area and see if he could help By now it was pitch dark with an overcast sky which made flight difficult. He found the area because of the heavy explosions and tracer fire. He contacted the Infantry Commander Captain Tony Nadal, his friend and a fellow veteran of X-Ray and learned he had 12 seriously wounded that needed evacuation and that he had a very limited pick-up zone surrounded by trees on three sides. He also learned that Mod Evac had refused the flight during daylight hours and that the Infantry now held only a very small perimeter. The wounded were located in the center of the area where the helicopter would have to WW. Crandall's Battalion Commander, LTC Robert Kellar, was overhead in his Command Helicopter with the Infantry Brigade Commander, Colonel Harold G. Moore. They broke in on the radio to warn Crandall not to attempt the rescue if he wasn't real confident he could do so safely. They warned they did not want a helicopter downed to add to their problems that night. Crandall decided to attempt the rescue himself; in two flights, evacuating six each time. He also decided to do so without the use of search or landing lights in order to give the enemy less of a target for his aircraft but more importantly, so as not to backlight the troopers defending the perimeter and spot fighting the wounded where he was landing. He decided to land to a flashlight that he asked the Infantry Commander to put in the center of the touchdown area. He intended to approach straight down on to the flashlight in order to minimize his chances of striking the unseen trees. He had to abort his first approach when the light was turned off due to enemy fire. Captain Nadal took control of the flashlight and the next landing under intense enemy fire was successful. Crandall made a second lift under the same conditions as the first and successfully rescued 12 wounded.
Crandall received the Aviation and Space Writers Association Helicopter Heroism Award for the year 1966 for this rescue. At the 20th annual award ceremony for the award, his flights were ranked as number one over the first 20 years. Crandall was also nominated as the Army Aviator of the Year from the 1st Cavalry Division.