Renaming of VA hospital advances a step

A tribute: The U.S. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee passed legislation that would rename the Philadelphia VA Medical Center in memory of Army Cpl. Michael J. Crescenz.

The U.S. Senate Veterans Affairs Committee last week passed legislation that would rename the Philadelphia VA Medical Center 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.

The Corporal Michael J. Crescenz Act of 2013 was introduced in February by U.S. Sens. Pat Toomey and Bob Casey Jr.

Senate Bill 229 was included by the Veterans Affairs Committee as part of the Veterans Health and Benefits Improvement Act of 2013, which now must now be considered by the full Senate. House Resolution 454, the companion legislation, is sponsored by Rep. Chaka Fattah.

“Renaming of the Philadelphia VA Medical Center is a tribute to the heroism of Cpl. Michael Crescenz as well as service members across the country and throughout our history who have made the ultimate sacrifice to keep Americans safe. This dedication will serve as a reminder of the debt of gratitude we all owe to these brave men and women,” Casey said.

“Today, we are a step closer to seeing the name ‘Michael Crescenz’ above the door at the Woodland Avenue veterans’ medical center,” Toomey said. “I am glad that the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee has recognized the heroism and sacrifice of Philly’s own Cpl. Crescenz. It is a small gesture on our part, given the nature of his great actions. 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.”

Cpl. Crescenz (pronounced CRESH-enz) was awarded the nation’s highest military honor for his actions on Nov. 20, 1968, in Vietnam’s Hiep Duc Valley. He is the only Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipient from Philadelphia. President Richard Nixon posthumously awarded him the nation’s highest military decoration.

His Medal of Honor citation states that, “Corporal Crescenz distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action while serving as a rifleman with Company A. In the 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 point men, halting the advance of Company A. Immediately, Corporal Crescenz left the relative safety of his own position, seized a nearby machine gun and, with complete disregard for his safety, charged 100 meters up a slope toward the enemy’s bunkers which he effectively silenced, killing the two occupants of each. Undaunted by the withering machine gun fire around him, Corporal Crescenz courageously moved forward toward a third bunker which he also succeeded in silencing, killing two more of the enemy and momentarily clearing the route of advance for his comrades.

“Suddenly, intense machine gun fire erupted from an unseen, camouflaged bunker. Realizing the danger to his fellow soldiers, Corporal Crescenz disregarded the barrage of hostile fire directed at him and daringly advanced toward the position. Assaulting with his machine gun, Corporal Crescenz was within five meters of the bunker when he was mortally wounded by the fire from the enemy machine gun. As a direct result of his heroic actions, his company was able to maneuver freely with minimal danger and to complete its mission, defeating the enemy.

“Corporal Crescenz’s bravery and extraordinary heroism at the cost of his life are in the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit on himself, his unit, and the U.S. Army.”

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 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 people 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.

The American Legion, Veterans of Foreign War, Disabled American Veterans and local veterans and their advocates all support the proposed name change.

“After over 40 years, it is high time Philadelphia honors this intrepid American hero who gave his life for his country. Corporal Michael Crescenz deserves at least a hospital named after him to honor that sacrifice and the extraordinary gallantry that went with it,” said David Kamioner, an Army veteran and executive director of the Philadelphia Veterans Comfort House. ••