––John A. Tirpak
SSgt. Ryan Santos with the 9th Physiological Support Squadron fits Oliver "Ollie" Crawford into a pressure suit in preparation for his
high-flight in the U-2 Dragon Lady. In December 2009, Crawford was
the oldest person to receive a high-flight in the U-2. Air Force
photo by John Schwab.
Oliver Ray Crawford, World War II pilot, former president and chairman of the board of the Air Force Association, and advocate for airpower, died July 21 in San Antonio two days after his 94th birthday.
Crawford enlisted for WWII just after turning 18. He earned his wings and received his commission in April 1945, then qualified in the P-40 Warhawk. The war ended a few months later and he did not see combat, but he trained Chinese pilots in the Warhawk and later remained in the Air Force Reserve for 13 years.
After attending law school, Crawford worked for Time, Inc. and in 1974, started TECOM, a defense contractor. In 1981, he created Crawford Technical Services.
Throughout his lifetime, Crawford was a promoter of the Air Force and airpower. He was a charter member of AFA, and was named its Man of the Year in 1989. Immediately after receiving the award, he served two years as AFA president, and then two years as chairman of the board. During his tenure he launched the Air Force Memorial Foundation, which raised money for and ultimately built the Air Force Memorial that stands in Arlington, Va. He was also a trustee of the Air Force Academy’s Falcon Foundation, and created recognition programs for members of Congress and industry who supported a strong national defense.
“Ollie” Crawford, left, an American airpower legend, and his grandson,
Lt. Col. Oliver Bonney, 47th Operations Support Squadron director of
operations, greet each other after Bonney’s final flight at Laughlin AFB, Texas, on Nov. 16, 2012. Crawford was invited to speak with
Laughlin’s latest class of graduating pilots and then flew with the 87th
Flying Training Squadron in a T-38. Photo: A1C Nathan Maysonet
Crawford successfully lobbied the Air Force to officially recognize the contributions of the American Volunteer Group in China (the “Flying Tigers”) in the years prior to WWII. The service did so, presenting the group with a Presidential Unit Citation in 1992. In 1996, all pilots from the group were retroactively awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, and later the Flying Tigers ground crew received the Bronze Star.
A lifelong pilot and aviation ambassador, Crawford flew more than 100 aircraft and logged more than 13,000 hours of flight time. He was instrumental in the restoration of the Commemorative Air Force’s P-40, and flew the aircraft in air shows for many years. He also worked to get recognition for the CAF by the Department of Defense and obtain title to some of its aircraft from the DOD. He was elected to the CAF Hall of Fame in 2010. At the age of 84, he became the oldest person to receive an orientation flight in the U-2 reconnaissance aircraft, in which he reached 60,000 feet altitude.
Illustration from “Gathering Of Eagles” biography, Oliver R. Crawford. Oliver “Ollie” Ray Crawford advocated for a strong US Air Force. In 2009, Crawford became the oldest person to receive a high-flight in the Lockheed U-2 Dragon Lady. Graphic: Air University/AFA
For his promotional and educational efforts, the Air Force nominated Crawford as Elder Statesman of Aviation in 1987 and 1988. The service also presented him with the Exceptional Service Award in 1992, in part for his efforts in educating members of Congress on stealth technology.
Crawford was a co-founder of the American Airpower Heritage Foundation and the American Combat Airmen Hall of Fame. He was also a founding member of the Sino-American Aviation Heritage Foundation and one of 17 WWII veterans invited to China to participate in ceremonies marking the 70th anniversary of the end of WWII. There, Crawford received a commemorative medal from Chinese president Xi Jinping.
Funeral arrangements call for interment at Fort Sam Houston in San Antonio.
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