The former Army sergeant was presented a Purple Heart from a grateful nation Tuesday in the presence of his brother Bill, best friend Teresa Hughes and Veterans Services Officer Joe Davis.
State Rep. Kevin Brooks handed the country’s oldest medal to Crisp in a short, simple ceremony in the Veterans Services Office in the Bradley County Courthouse.
“I am presenting this to you on behalf of a grateful nation, but also from a grateful guy named Kevin, my family and my children who enjoy freedom today because of your sacrifice a very long time ago, but it is not forgotten,” Brooks said. “I apologize for the delay in getting this to you. You’ve been a hero since the day you left and you came home a hero. It’s an honor to meet you.”
On June 27, 1967, the 18-year-old sergeant manned a 155 mm howitzer in A Shau Valley in the Demilitarized Zone that separated North and South Vietnam. The 1-mile strip was defoliated using the chemical Agent Orange.
“A round came in and I was sitting, writing a letter to my mother,” Crisp said. “The round came in and hit the side of a tank, a direct hit. It was 12 feet from me and the killing radius (of the round) was 75 meters in any direction.
“I guess writing a letter to my mother was my shield.”
He described waking up the following morning in a hospital with a concussion. He was deaf and his eyes were full of gravel and dirt, “but the shrapnel in my hand and arm and part of my back, I recovered pretty quick from that.”
Crisp recalled the round penetrated six inches into the side of the tank. The fuse continued five feet underground where it exploded beneath the tank. Had the shell exploded on impact, it would have ignited a nearby ammo bunker and no one in the vicinity would have survived.
“It blew all the roll wheels off that thing and the shrapnel came up and hit me,” he said. “I heard the round come and it just sounded like glass shattering. That’s all I remember,” he said. “The concussion alone should have killed me. It was just mother’s prayers that saved me.”
Crisp celebrated his 18th birthday in June 1966. He was drafted four months later in September and sent to boot camp at Fort Campbell, Ky. From there, he went to Fort Sill, Okla., for Advanced Infantry Training, forward observation and reconnaissance training. Seven months after he was drafted, Crisp found himself in Vietnam.
“I spent my whole tour with the 3rd Marine on the DMZ,” he said. “I spent my whole tour on the DMZ going from one outpost to the other.”
Crisp said after he returned home, he sat around his parents’ house until the walls started closing in on him. He retired after 40 years as a general contractor.
“I got up and went to work and have been working ever since,” he said. “I’ve built a lot of houses in Bradley County.”
His parents were the late the Rev. Ray and Vola Crisp.
The Purple Heart is one of the most recognized and respected medals awarded to members of the U.S. armed forces. Introduced as the “Badge of Military Merit” by General George Washington on Aug. 7, 1782, the Purple Heart is also the nation’s oldest military award, according to U.S. Veterans Affairs.
In military terms, the award had “broken service,” as it was ignored for nearly 150 years until it was reintroduced on Feb. 22, 1932, on the 200th anniversary of Washington’s birth.
The medal’s plain inscription “For Military Merit” barely expresses its significance.