Major General Joins Local Legion Post In Honoring Veterans Day – Program Draws Crowd of 200
by Larry Janezich
Major General Steven J. Lepper, the Deputy Judge Advocate General, Headquarters U.S. Air Force, Washington, D.C., honored veterans at a ceremony in Folger Park on Sunday. His remarks to a crowd of nearly two hundred focused on the themes of physical and moral courage and how our freedom depends on ensuring the next generation is equipped with the same qualities that distinguished the service of so many of our citizens who served in the country’s armed services.
“Freedom isn’t free, and the process to preserve freedom is not always pleasant. We must never forget those who paid or were willing to pay the ultimate sacrifice.”
Lepper recounted a personal experience of how interaction with one of his personal heroes and role models taught him some of the most important leadership lessons he might otherwise not have learned.
William Crawford was the janitor to Lepper’s squadron at the Air Force Academy. As far as they knew, he was the man who mopped the floor and cleaned the toilets. Then a fellow cadet, while reading a history of the US Army campaign in southern Italy, learned that then-Private Crawford had won the Medal of Honor for acts of heroism. While serving as a forward scout in the U.S. Army, Crawford’s company came under fire from an enemy machine gun. Crawford singlehandedly destroyed the position and two more machine gun nests while under continuous fire before being captured by the Germans. Presumed dead, he was awarded the Medal of Honor posthumously in 1945. Later that year, he was released from a POW camp and returned home to Pueblo, Colorado. In 1947, he reenlisted and served in the military until his retirement as a master sergeant.
According to Lepper, when the squadron discovered what Crawford had done he became one of their greatest heroes. While working at the Air Force Academy, Crawford mentioned to friends that he had never received the Medal from the president, since it had been awarded posthumously. In 1984, during that year’s graduation ceremony, President Ronald Reagan formally presented him with the Medal.
Lepper said that he trained with the best equipment available, but could have had no greater role model than Bill Crawford, noting, “the lessons I could have learned nowhere else” were best summarized in an essay on lessons in leadership learned from Crawford, which was published by the former cadet who had discovered Crawford’s achievements:
Be cautious of labels
Leaders need to be humble
Don’t pursue glory; pursue excellence
No job is beneath a leader
The greatest lesson, Lepper told the assembled crowd which included many veterans, is “service before self. For veterans, it is service to country – I valued his service, and I value yours.”
American Legion Post 8 staged its annual ceremony, in Folger Park, opposite the Post on the corner of 3rd and D, SE. Following Lepper’s remarks, a commemorative wreath was placed followed by a lone bugler playing Taps. After the ceremony, everyone present was invited to a luncheon reception in the Post.