A Hero in Waiting: A Personal Remembrance of Lt. Colonel Keith L. Crawford

A tribute and obituary from Terri Hansen to her brother, Lt. Colonel Keith L. Crawford.

On the Fourth of July 2008, U.S. Congressman Earl Blumenauer requested the American flag fly over the nation’s capitol in Washington, D.C. in honor of retiring Lt. Colonel Keith L. Crawford’s years of service to his country and to the State of Oregon. From then on Crawford unfurled the flag at his home in the rural outskirts of Portland, Ore., to honor all, present and past, who wear the uniform.

Crawford, an enrolled member of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska, passed away Sept. 1 after a courageous battle with cancer.

“Lt. Col. Crawford was a dedicated officer and a proud member of the Oregon Air National Guard,” Oregon’s Governor John Kitzhaber told Indian Country Today Media Network. “He will be missed by many in the community, but his legacy of service—particularly at Camp Rosenbaum—will continue to inspire.”

His military career began as an enlisted soldier in 1972 in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, and recommenced May 1983 following college graduation in the Oregon Air National Guard, “where I had the privilege of serving in the top F-15 Fighter Wing with some of the very best men and women I’ve ever known,” his Facebook page says. His final military assignment was as the Logistics Readiness Squadron Commander. During his years of service he received 14 awards and medals.

Lt. Colonel Keith L. Crawford

He was a dedicated volunteer nicknamed “Smiley,” for Camp Rosenbaum, a camp devoted to youth from the City of Portland’s housing projects from 1985 to 2007. He served as the Camp Director the last three of those years. In civilian life he was a business consultant with Keith Crawford and Associates, and manager at Kaiser Permanente’s Outpatient Clinic.

Brigadier General Bruce W. Prunk will direct the military honors at Crawford’s Sept. 8 memorial service at Willamette National Cemetery, near Portland, Ore. The folded flag will pass to his wife of 27 years, Karra Merriman Crawford, and their three daughters, Kailee of New York, and Jenna and Paige, of Portland.

Keith Lawrence Crawford was born August 31, 1954 and raised with extended paternal family in Portland, the oldest son of Terry Virgel Crawford, and Juanita Lillian Keith (HoChunk/Winnebago/Potawatomi). His mother was removed from the reservation at age five, before the National Indian Child Welfare Act, and was adopted into a non-Native family, but once he learned of his roots as a young adult he cherished that part of who he was as much as he did his hardworking paternal grandparents. His maternal grandfather, James Lawrence Keith, Potawatomi, migrated to Portland to be near his daughters following their adoption, and is interred at Willamette National as a WWII veteran. His aunt, Shirley Keith, served in the U.S. Navy. He is a descendent of the Decorah family that originated in Wisconsin. His Native cousins are far flung, and numerous.

His avocational passions were hunting, fishing, and the non-motorized recreations the Pacific Northwest is famed for.

Full disclosure: Keith is my brother, 11 months younger than I. I wish I could interview every individual his life touched. To me, he was an extraordinary man with a genuine zest for living, and a huge capacity for love. He was guileless, but strong. He didn’t speak of his accomplishments. I had to look them up, use a military cheat sheet.

He was younger than I, and I wanted to be just like him. I saw him the week before he walked on. I hugged him, but to say I love you would have signified a final good-bye. Not yet.

I called him a Hero in Waiting. He, like all who choose to serve in the Guard, stood at the ready to serve our nation’s citizens in war time, in times of peace, in any kind of disaster or, God forbid, terrorist event. As much as he loved his family, he would have defended the populace to his death.

I love you, Keith.