From the Fresno Bee:

Ernie Crawford, Fresno’s quiet Korean War hero, died Monday at the Veteran’s Administration Medical Center after a long battle with congestive heart failure and cancer.

Although the 72-year-old Navy veteran grew up in the Fresno area and returned to settle here permanently in 1974, few Central Californians outside his immediate family knew he was a war hero before his story was featured in The Bee in March.

“He never intended to be a hero, to him, he was just doing his job”

As a helicopter crewman on the USS Rochester, it was Mr. Crawford’s job to rescue downed fighter pilots during the Korean War. On Jan. 22, 1952, he dived into the icy waters near Hungnam to rescue an unconscious pilot. Mr. Crawford entered the water aware that the helicopter would have to leave without him and also knowing that life expectancy in the cold water was about 20 minutes. Mr. Crawford also knew that the helicopter’s landing gear had been shot up which meant that the copter might not make it back.

Mr. Crawford spent 23 minutes in the water before he was rescued. For his actions, he was awarded the Navy Cross, the Navy’s highest award for valor.

During the war, Mr. Crawford was interviewed by James Michener, who included the rescue story in an article for the Saturday Evening Post titled, “Unsung Heroes of the Korean War”. Michener’s article inspired the MGM movie “Men of the Fighting Lady”.

Ernie Crawford enlisted in the Navy at 17. After retiring he returned to Fresno except for a 6-year stint as a civilian helicopter mechanic in VietNam.