Eric Cranford was — is — the extremely definition of a hometown hero. Just ask the citizens of Drexel, North Carolina, and the relaxation of Burke County.
They’ll explain to you about a boy who dreamed of 1 working day flying in defense of his region. About how he grew up, graduated from NC State and then served with the U.S. Navy in the Persian Gulf, amid other areas, in advance of returning stateside to marry his childhood sweetheart. About how the couple moved to Washington, D.C., soon thereafter so Eric could carry on serving his nation in a article at the Pentagon.
They’ll also explain to you how they took time from their possess grieving on and following Sept. 11, 2001, to provide Eric’s relatives their condolences when he was confirmed among the individuals lost that day. How, just a few weeks soon after that day’s terrorist assaults, the Cranfords designed a scholarship in Eric’s memory so they could support Burke County learners attending his alma mater. How lives however are becoming changed for the far better mainly because of this very pleased Pack member.
20 several years right after his demise, Eric Cranford is still serving.
(NC) Point out and State
It may shock you to discover that this noteworthy NC State alumnus was initially a enthusiast of a further college in North Carolina. A gentle blue university. Eric Cranford may possibly not have normally dreamed of signing up for the Pack, but his determination to triumph at what ever he established his brain to produced him a perfect in good shape when he bought to NC State.
“One of my mom’s favourite tales was when Eric was all over 3 decades outdated, she was on the lookout for and couldn’t uncover him,” stated Brad Cranford, Eric’s young brother. “She finally found him outside the house holding some guides standing by the highway, and when she requested him what he was accomplishing, he said he was waiting around for the faculty bus. That was his point. He was a definitely studious specific.”
Eric’s foreseeable future spouse might have played a part in convincing him to attend NC State. Eric had been close good friends with Emily Cozort, now Emily Cranford, ever considering that their teacher sat them upcoming to each and every other in the first grade at Drexel Elementary Faculty (chalk up a get for alphabetical order). For Emily, the plan of Eric currently being at a college even 30 minutes down the street appeared too much absent. The exact was no doubt true for him, way too.
NC State’s Naval ROTC system was also a selecting factor in Eric’s higher education determination. He experienced been recognized into the United States Air Force Academy but turned down the offer in buy to be part of the Pack. That final decision led to him graduating in 1992 with two bachelor’s degrees, 1 in economics and a further in political science.
“We just had an incredible time at NC State,” Emily, a 1991 psychology graduate, mentioned. “I can bear in mind researching jointly, goofing off together, checking out campus alongside one another when we have been first there and didn’t know our way about. We had various good friends that arrived from our higher faculty, far too, and then we branched out and built some much more.”
Just one of the essential, if undervalued, roles undertaken by Eric and the Naval ROTC program through his time on campus was to thoroughly clean up Carter-Finley Stadium right after every property soccer sport. That included cleaning the tailgating locations, which Eric’s buddies designed guaranteed to depart primarily soiled as a joke for him to “enjoy.” It did not make a difference for Eric, no assistance was way too smaller if it assisted other folks and, eventually, enabled him to get in the air.
And it definitely did. Many thanks to his time in ROTC, Eric was commissioned an ensign in the U.S. Navy following graduating from NC State.
“I obtained to know Eric properly when I was the battalion commander of the ROTC device in the tumble of 1991,” reported Alaina Kupec, a fellow 1992 NC State graduate. “Eric was my government officer (XO). We used time jointly the summer months of 1991 conducting orientation for the incoming freshman course at the Marine Corps foundation in Little Creek, Virginia.
“Eric was not a person to carry focus to himself,” Alaina additional. “He was humble, yet passionate about the Navy and his drive to fly. He held himself and individuals close to him to higher expectations and was there to support encourage midshipmen to obtain their ambitions. He was a amazing XO — anyone I could change to for viewpoint and views — and a great collaborator.”
Eric attained his pilots wings and was then stationed in Mayport, Florida, as section of a helicopter squadron traveling a Sikorsky SH-60B Seahawk helicopter (the Navy’s anti-submarine variation of the U.S. Army’s Blackhawk). He put in three yrs conducting anti-submarine, counterterrorism and anti-smuggling missions in the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Atlantic and Persian Gulf.
“Eric was also one of the very first pilots to do a test flight for the Navy to fireplace a hellfire missile from his unique helicopter in a specific pattern,” Brad mentioned, “so that is sort of a neat issue.”
Eric and Emily stayed in touch all through those people very long, distant many years, producing letters that Emily nevertheless treasures but just cannot provide herself to read any more. She credits them with aiding the two sooner or later reunite and get married.
“We wrote letters at least weekly, in some cases a lot more than that, and he would inform me stories about the persons that he was on the ship with and what he could convey to me about becoming there,” Emily reported. “I just cannot feel it’s been, effectively, 20 decades due to the fact he passed absent, so even a lot more years since he wrote those letters, and I still to this working day can not examine them. I just … I have them in a box, and I know they are there, and that is a pretty unique section of our friendship.
“It was pretty much like composing to a diary, sharing our hopes, goals, fears and working day-to-day life with the man or woman we knew would hold them protected eternally,” Emily added.
Eric was promoted from ensign to lieutenant junior quality in 1994 and then to lieutenant in 1996. He and Emily afterwards moved to Washington, D.C., so he could keep on serving with the Navy though stationed at the Pentagon.
Eric was actively involved with the NC State Alumni Association and the Wolfpack Club, which in a natural way led to him joining the Funds Region NC State Alumni Club though he and Emily lived in D.C. The past regarded picture taken of him was with the latter group in the ESPN Zone cafe during an NC State vs. Indiana football recreation, gained by the Wolfpack, on Sept. 6, 2001.
He was proudly putting on an NC State hat.
Now as Generally
Eric forgot his cover (the khaki hat worn with his uniform) and experienced to come back again into the household on the early morning of Sept. 11, 2001. He took the time to climb the stairs whilst he was there and give Emily a kiss — “just because,” he explained to her. Then, he headed off to function once more.
Regrettably, contrary to lots of other tales that have been recounted since then of lost keys, targeted visitors jams and other probability occurrences that prevented folks from achieving their workplace or plane flight on time that day, Eric arrived at the Pentagon as punctually as ever. He and 124 other military and civilian staff, as perfectly as 53 passengers and six flight crew users, ended up killed at 9:37 a.m. when American Airlines Flight 77 was crashed into the west side of the making.
Per his wishes, Eric was buried at Arlington Cemetery (Portion 64, Internet site 4866) with total armed service honors on Oct. 20, 2001, and he was posthumously promoted by the Navy to lieutenant commander. He was 32 yrs old.
“Eric and I missing touch immediately after I still left Pensacola, Florida, for intelligence officer faculty,” Alaina stated. “I realized he had finally long gone on to fly helicopters, but that was all I knew. Just after Sept. 11, I don’t forget searching at the checklist of these killed in the Pentagon, praying I did not know everyone. Unfortunately, I noticed Eric’s identify.
“The Navy and the earth misplaced an astounding guy on Sept. 11,” Alaina included. “One who selflessly served his nation and his sailors. 1 who lived and labored with passion.”
Eric’s loss of life wasn’t the conclude of his legacy of selflessness and generosity, although. Just a number of months soon after obtaining confirmation of their eldest son’s death from the U.S. Navy, Fred and Betsy Cranford, both of those longtime educators in Burke County, started discussing with Emily methods to recall Eric for how he lived, not how he died.
The Eric A. Cranford Endowed Scholarship at NC State was a consequence.
“The scholarship was nearly a no-brainer,” Brad stated. “It was a way not only for my mothers and fathers to have his legacy, his memory, honored, but it tied to instruction stipulations about students from Burke County.
“Eric bought a great deal out of NC State, so the scholarship will make feeling,” he extra. “The intention is that the recipients will put into whatever they are doing what they want to get out of it, as Eric would have been performing nowadays.”
The scholarship, which has been generously supported by Eric’s family, pals and quite a few other folks and corporations above the yrs, is supposed for Burke County citizens researching at NC State who exhibit significant academic merit. Recipients will have to be in the top rated 10% of their superior faculty graduating class and be nominated by their superior school’s steerage office. Immediately after they get the scholarship, pupils need to manage complete-time enrollment (at the very least 12 credit rating hours for each semester) and a 3. cumulative GPA even though pursuing their to start with diploma in an undergraduate plan.
The Eric A. Cranford Endowed Scholarship has been awarded 14 times to date, benefiting 5 college students in whole, as numerous of them acquired it many many years.
Cranford’s effects has also been felt over and above individuals recipients.
“I believe the scholarship is a great memorial to a veteran and fellow alum who sacrificed everything in the assistance of our nation,” Tyler Andrews ’15 said. “The scholarship is a fantastic reminder for learners to be the ideal illustration of the numerous characteristics that Eric held and to acquire satisfaction in the Wolfpack Spirit.”
Tyler worked for Technician when learning at NC State. He grew up in Burke County as properly, and he was even a member of the exact same Boy Scout troop that Eric experienced been. When it came time to do his Eagle Scout undertaking, Tyler chose to generate a little something meaningful for the neighborhood Eric loved so dearly.
“Eric’s identify meant more to me than that of a particular person who experienced passed absent he was a hero, and I understood that I needed to display that he was,” Tyler wrote in Technician for the 10th anniversary of the Sept. 11 attacks.
The ensuing monument, situated in Valdese, North Carolina, functions a column symbolizing Eric in the center of a concrete pentagon that commemorates all who have been shed in the assault. A bronze plaque atop the column bears a tribute to Eric’s life, as very well as a piece of the rubble from the Pentagon.
Fred Cranford passed absent in 2007, followed by Betsy in 2016. Right now, Eric’s memory life on in Emily, Brad, the guys and gals Eric served with in ROTC and the Navy, and many others who ended up privileged to meet up with him. And in those people who receive his namesake scholarship. And in memorials this kind of as Tyler’s Eagle Scout task.
“Eric was an ambitious person with huge desires,” Emily stated. “He required to individual a effective enterprise, construct my aspiration home, get our children to baseball game titles, hold community place of work and go as significantly as he could with that. I have no question he would have been successful at all of it.”
Eric Cranford definitely embodied the Feel and Do the Extraordinary mentality through his existence. With the assist of his scholarship, many others are ready to do the exact.