Not every battle occurs on a beachhead, in the jungle or even in a foreign land. Some are fought in Washington, Philadelphia and even here in southern New Jersey. Such is the case with the battle waged by the family and friends of Medal of Honor recipient Michael J. Crescenz and veterans advocate Joe Griffies, co-host of the "Welcome Home Show" on radio station WIBG, to have the Philadelphia VA Medical Center renamed in Michael's honor.
That battle will come to fruition on Saturday, May 2 at 10 a.m. with a ceremony renaming the Philadelphia VA Medical Center as the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center. The bill to rename the VA facility was sponsored by Rep. Chaka Fatah and Sen. Pat Toomey and signed into law by President Barak Obama on December 16, 2014. The public is invited to the ceremony at 3900 Woodland Avenue in Philadelphia.
The ceremony marks only the third time in American history that a VA medical center has been named for a Medal of Honor recipient. The other two were named for Sergeant Alvin York, who received the medal for his bravery in WWI, and Lieutenant Audie Murphy, for his exploits during WWII. Crescenz was the only Philadelphian awarded the Medal of Honor in the Vietnam War.
Michael was just 19 years old when he gave his life trying to defend his fellow soldiers in Vietnam. On the morning of November 20, 1968, when he had been in that country only a short time, his company (Company A, 4th Battalion, 31st Infantry, 196th Infantry Brigade, American Division) encountered a very large North Vietnamese enemy force in an area called Hiep Duc Valley. In the battle that ensued, two of the point men in Michael's squad were killed. With the remaining members of his squad pinned down and completely surrounded by the enemy, with little or no hope of surviving, Michael took matters into his own hands. He picked up a 60 caliber machine gun and ran 100 meters up a slope killing the occupants of one bunker and, turning his attention to a second bunker, he eliminated the two enemy there. Undaunted by the withering machine gun fire around him, Michael moved towards a third bunker, which he also succeeded in silencing, killing the three enemy occupants.
By this time, Michael’s squad was able to maneuver, but a fourth machine gun bunker opened fire in the direction of Medic “Doc” Stafford, who was tending to a wounded soldier. Michael shielded “Doc” Stafford and the wounded veteran and that is when Michael died, protecting his fellow soldiers. Doc Stafford believes to this day that he and the rest of his squad are alive due to the heroic actions of Mike Crescenz.
Michael grew up in the West Oak Lane section of Philadelphia and spent his summers in Sea Isle City, N..J., where his grandfather, Charles Crescenz, Sr., bought a home after serving in WWI. He attended St. Athanasius grade school and graduated from Cardinal Dougherty High School. He enlisted in the U.S. Army in February of 1968.
Michael's family has a history of service to our country. His father, Charles Crescenz, Jr. served during WWII; his brother Charlie served in Vietnam as a Marine, and his brothers Petey and Steven served in the Marines and Coast Guard respectively.
Michael’s time on this earth was only 19 years, but, as Joe Griffies reminds us, "His memory and his legend will live on forever with the dedication of the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz Department of Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Philadelphia, and 46th and Landis Street in Sea Isle City bearing the name Corporal Michael J. Crescenz Street, Congressional Medal of Honor Recipient."
Michael Joseph Crescenz is buried in Arlington National Cemetery with other great American heroes. Michael’s name can be found on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall in Washington, DC, and on the Vietnam Veterans Wall in Wildwood, NJ on Panel 38W, Line 016.