Council to D.C.: Just rename the VA Hospital after war hero from West Oak Lane already [updated]

 In 2008, Michael Joseph Crescenz's remains were moved from Holy Sepulchre Cemetery on Cheltenham Avenue to Arlington National Cemetery. (Courtesy of Arlington National Cemetery)

In 2008, Michael Joseph Crescenz's remains were moved from Holy Sepulchre Cemetery on Cheltenham Avenue to Arlington National Cemetery. (Courtesy of Arlington National Cemetery)

In Feb. 2013, both U.S. Sen. Pat Toomey and U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah introduced legislation seeking to rename the Philadelphia Veterans Affairs Medical Center after Michael J. Crescenz, the late West Oak Lane man who is the city’s lone Medal of Honor recipient for service in the Vietnam War.

Nineteen months later, the Woodland Avenue facility’s name remains unchanged despite bipartisan support from Philadelphia’s D.C. delegation.

That issue is scheduled to come up at today’s City Council meeting.

Council members are expected to vote on a resolution sponsored by Councilman At-Large David Oh which formally urges “Further Action To Enact Legislation To Designate The Medical Center Of The Department Of Veterans Affairs Located At 3900 Woodland Avenue In Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, As The Corporal Michael J. Crescenz Department Of Veterans Affairs Medical Center.”

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[UPDATE: The resolution passed with a unanimous council vote on Thursday morning.]

It piggybacks on bipartisan efforts in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives — Sens. Toomey and Bob Casey, and Reps. Fattah, Robert Brady and Allyson Schwartz are named — to do just that.

But, since those legislative introductions, “no further legislative action has been taken,” according to Oh’s resolution, which is co-sponsored by all councilmembers.

Heroic warzone actions

On Nov. 20, 1968, Crescenz found himself in the middle of an Army unit moving though the jungles of Quang Nam Province, when — all of a sudden — all hell broke loose.

His unit was ambushed by a “large, well-entrenched force of the North Vietnamese Army whose initial burst of fire pinned down the lead squad and killed the two point men,” reads an Arlington National Cemetery account of Crescenz’s last day.

“Immediately, Cpl. Crescenz left the relative safety of his own position, seized a nearby machine gun and, with complete disregard for his safety, charged 100 meters up a slope toward the enemy’s bunkers which he effectively silenced, killing the two occupants of each,” it states.

“Undaunted by the withering machine gun fire around him, Cpl. Crescenz courageously moved forward toward a third bunker which he also succeeded in silencing, killing two more of the enemy and momentarily clearing the route of advance for his comrades,” it continued.

Amid those heroic actions, the 19-year-old was fatally shot in the head.

Crescenz was posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor by President Richard Nixon in April 1970.

Why no action?

To Oh, renaming the facility in Crescenz is a no-brainer.

The mission started with a “growing push in the veterans’ community to rename it,” according to Oh.

“They’d been pushing for it for a while and it finally got to the point where it drew a lot of support,” he said, alluding to backing from elected officials who could take the case to Capitol Hill. “He’s the city’s lone Medal of Honor recipient, so no one is going to say [renaming something in his honor] is inappropriate.”

He’s heard rumblings arguing against it on the grounds that many other Philadelphians lost their lives in the war, so selecting just one represents a snub.

“Anytime something is named after someone, you could always say 100 other people are deserving of it, too,” he countered. “That would fly in the face of all the things we name after people in Philadelphia, and we have a lot of them, but that doesn’t seem to be the real issue here.”

So why, then, would Toomey’s bill not move beyond the introduction phase while Fattah’s hasn’t left the committee to which it was referred?

Oh is perplexed.

“I don’t think politics are appropriate in this discussion,” he said. “We just want to add another piece of weight and clarity to this. … I don’t want this to be put on the backburners in D.C.”

What D.C. says

For his part, Fattah told NewsWorks on Wednesday that he was proud to introduce a bill that not only recognizes Crescenz’s “life and sacrifices to the nation,” but the bravery and heroism of all Pennsylvania veterans.

“The honor is long overdue,” he said, “and I have every intention of getting this piece of legislation passed in the 113th Congress.”

Fattah’s office noted that the bill is currently awaiting the approval of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee. From there, it would go to the full House for a vote.

While Fattah, Brady and Schwartz do not hold a seat on that committee, they’ve been working with its members.

And, while they don’t have control over timing, Fattah hopes the bill will be among those that the committee brings to the House floor in November.

He urged supporters to send letters of support to House Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy to get a vote scheduled.

The timing itself is important.

If action isn’t taken on the bills by year’s end, it will have to be reintroduced, which could further delay a posthumous honor that Oh and others already consider substantially late.

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