Bob Craft logged 1,172 combat hours with the U.S. Air Force during the Vietnam War. He did two tours in Vietnam during his seven-and-a-half years of service that earned him numerous medals.
Craft, 70, says he’s still fighting — now, inside a Tidewell Hospice room in Bradenton, against the cancer associated with Agent Orange that’s spread throughout his body.
On Saturday, April 6, approximately 35 people — including fellow Air Force veterans and Emerald Harbor residents — gathered in Craft’s room to pay tribute to his service. Three veterans from Veterans of Foreign Wars presented Craft with a medal in recognition of his service. They brought an angel pin for his wife, Alycia, that she’s been wearing ever since.
The staff of Tidewell presented him with a framed certificate that reads:
“On behalf of a grateful nation, the staff and volunteers of Tidewell Hospice pay special tribute to you for your military service to America and for advancing the hope of freedom and liberty for all.”
Alycia Craft says her husband doesn’t like to tell war stories.
But, at the short ceremony, his breathing labored, he told the story of how he knew he wanted to serve his country.
He grew up surrounded by heroes, his father having served 32.5 years in the Air Force as a master sergeant. His father wanted his son to become an officer. Craft did become an officer, eventually earning the rank of captain.
Growing up, Craft lived throughout the United States on Air Force bases. When he was in elementary school, he rode his bicycle almost five miles to the former Pinecastle Air Force Base in Winter Park to watch his father.
He told the three-dozen people Saturday about watching the thick runway being put in place and wondering why it required so much concrete. Soon, he realized it was for a B-52.
“He was so excited to find out that secret,” Alycia Craft said. “He knew he wanted to fight wars.”
Many of the medals he earned sit across from his bed at Tidewell.
They include a Distinguished Flying Cross, six Air Medals (one of which he earned the same day as the Distinguished Flying Cross), the Air Force Commendation Medal, Presidential Unit Citation, Outstanding Air Award and National Defense Ribbon.
He went on to become a Delta Airlines pilot. Since retirement, he has volunteered one day a week at the VA Hospital, helping other veterans, many of whom struggle with post-traumatic stress disorder.
Inside the Tidewell Hospice room where the U.S. flag hangs over the entrance, he still hasn’t given up the fight.
“Bob Craft,” he said, “is fighting his final battle.”