The story of Philly’s only Medal of Honor recipient of the Vietnam War

No Greater Love, by John A. Siegfried and Kevin Ferris

3 minute read
The book cover. Title appears at left, and a black & white photo of the smiling, mustached Crescenz at right.

No Greater Love: The Story of Michael Crescenz, Philadelphia’s Only Medal of Honor Recipient of the Vietnam War is a new biography of a short life, capturing a great sacrifice. Crescenz, who grew up in Philly, spent almost two months in Vietnam before his life ended on November 20, 1968.

Authors John A. Siegfried and Kevin Ferris capture Crescenz and his brothers. They explore the units, the locations, the weapons, and, most importantly, the fellow soldiers of Crescenz’s service in Vietnam. The story unfolds from the perspective of Crescenz’s younger brother Joe, Lt. Gen. Sam Wertz, and medic William “Doc” Stafford (who witnessed the soldier’s stand at close range, and credits Crescenz with saving his life).

Growing up with guts

Crescenz grew up in the West Oak Lane neighborhood of Philadelphia. As the second son in a family of six, he was a responsible figure: he kept his siblings in line to help his mom, Mary Ann, though she didn't expect this of him. Friends remember his smile. His father Charles was a WWII veteran, but he never talked about it. In grade school, Michael and his best friend Ron Burke played army. From a young age, Michael had guts, whether it was challenging another boy to tussle, or climbing the roof of the school to fetch a ball.

Crescenz was proud to serve. He arrived during the Tet Offensive, and the Private First Class volunteered for a bloody battle that ultimately left 3,500 dead and 12,000 wounded. He brought his confidence, discipline, teamwork, and values to his training and service. He was just 19 years old when he landed on Nui Chom Mountain.

It’s an inspiring and devastating story, told through the lens of friends and family. Crescenz inherited his care for others from his mom, and a habit of giving to the community from his dad. His biography’s authors didn’t have to dive deep to find people who loved him. They write, “Memories of him, and the impact he had on family and friends who watched him grow up, have not faded with the passing of the decades.” His brother Joe was 12 at the time of his death, and adds his insights to Crescenz's life story.

A vivid and heartbreaking picture

The book doesn’t deal with questions of why the US entered the Vietnam War, but Crescenz’s part in it forms a valuable legacy on its own. No Greater Love is a worthy nonfiction title, capturing the Philadelphia-born soldier’s life with passion and painting a vivid and heartbreaking picture of the heroic efforts that ended his life. Today, the Philadelphia VA Hospital and the VFW Post 2819 are named for him.

Crescenz received a posthumous Medal of Honor. Like many others, though he lived a short life, he brought something good to the world. How many people can face certain death and proceed toward it without fear? This book proves that it’s impossible to give a detached account of so many young lives lost. I can't say I enjoyed reading about their last moments, but it served a purpose. I got a history lesson I didn’t know I needed.

No Greater Love will stay with you after the last page. It’s a true biography, not a template for how to deal with loss, but the book does trace how the soldier’s family and friends coped with losing him. The authors navigate the aftermath of Michael Crescenz’s short, brave, and eventful life.

What, When, Where

No Greater Love: The Story of Michael Crescenz, Philadelphia’s Only Medal of Honor Recipient of the Vietnam War. By John A. Siegfried and Kevin Ferris. Havertown, PA: Casemate Publishers, September 2022. 184 pages, hardcover; $37.95. Get it here.

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