Obama signs bill to rename hospital in memory of vet

Michael J. Crescenz

President Barack Obama signed a bill that would 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.

Sens. Pat Toomey, a Republican, and Bob Casey Jr., a Democrat, introduced the Corporal Michael J. Crescenz Act of 2013, which would rename the VA center in his name.

“I am delighted that the president has signed this bipartisan legislation to ensure the name of Philly’s own Michael Crescenz will be above the door at the Philadelphia VA Medical Center,” Toomey said. “I realize this 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.”

In November, there was a ceremony at the Rising Sun Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 2819, at 6850 Martins Mill Road (at Longshore Avenue) in Lawncrest, to name the post in memory of Crescenz.

Crescenz, an Army rifleman, is the only Vietnam War Medal of Honor recipient from Philadelphia. President Richard Nixon posthumously awarded him the nation’s highest military decoration. Crescenz was honored for the extraordinary actions he took on Nov. 20, 1968, in Vietnam’s Hiep Duc Valley. The medal citation stated that the corporal “distinguished himself by conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action” while serving as a rifleman 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 (pronounced CRESH-enz) 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 mortally 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.

Crescenz, 19, 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 people attended the reburial ceremony on Arlington’s sacred grounds.

Crescenz was one of 27 Dougherty graduates killed in the Vietnam War.

Meanwhile, Obama signed a bill introduced by Toomey to make it easier for veterans to travel to visit the national war memorials dedicated in their honor.

The new law directs the Transportation Security Administration to provide expedited and dignified passenger screening services for veterans traveling via the Honor Flight Network.

Honor Flight is a national organization that arranges all-expense-paid flights for veterans to Washington, D.C. Funded by donations, it began in 2005 and has helped about 100,000 veterans travel to the national memorials.

“Honor Flight helps ensure that our vets are given the accolades they deserve while visiting the National World War II Memorial and other D.C. landmarks,” Toomey said. “Fortunately, it will now be easier for them to make the trip. Streamlined screening services at the airport will facilitate their travel and show our World War II veterans respect and appreciation.” ••

His memory lives: President Barack Obama signed a bill that will rename the Philadelphia VA Medical Center 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.