On August 20, 2008, a true hero left this world. He died from the ravages of Parkinson's Disease, yet he had faced death many times before. On November 14, 1965, back when I was 10 and thought playing army was cool, Ed Freeman was going through hell in the la Drang Valley, Republic of Vietnam. Amazingly enough, it was Ed's choice to pass through the gates of hell, and not just once, but time and time and time again - in order to save soldiers he probably never had met before. He medivac'd 30 seriously wounded soldiers, and brought in supplies for countless others that helped change the tide of the battle, a battle which was one of the most fierce of the whole war.
Ed originally received the Distinguished Flying Cross, but men who fought on the ground that day, with help from Senator John McCain and others, fought for higher recognition for his valiant efforts, and he then received the MOH. Why did they fight for him to receive the medal of Honor, well let me begin with the words of President George W. Bush back in July 2001:
"That story began with the battalion surrounded by the enemy, in one of Vietnam's fiercest battles. The survivors remember the desperate fear of almost certain death. They remember gunfire that one witness described as the most intense he had ever seen. And they remember the sight of an unarmed helicopter coming to their aid."
Yep, Ed flew an unarmed Huey helicopter into a fire zone, and he did so after the commanding officer on the ground, in the middle of that fierce battle, closed the helicopter landing zone and ordered the medivac units to stand down because the fighting was too intense and he did not want to risk the lives of the pilots or crew members.
I guess either Ed did not hear that order, or he chose to disregard it. My guess is the latter, because surely once he landed on the ground in the middle of that fight, someone must have told him he was crazy and that the landing zone had been ordered closed. Regardless of the risk to his own life, Ed made that same trip not once, not twice, not even three times but 20 times. He ferried in ammunition, water and other supplies, and he ferried out men who were seriously wounded - 30 of them. Ed was no brash kid at the time either, he flew those rescue missions just prior to his 38th birthday. Of course he was not alone when he did this, he was the wingman for commander Bruce Crandall who also received the MOH some years later, I think in 2007. Bruce flew 22 missions into that same hell hole. Only two helicopters repeatedly flew in and out of the fire zone, those of Ed and Bruce. Bruce had asked for volunteers, I guess Ed was one of them. Bruce is still with us, Ed Has passed on.
I cannot say more about this without letting you read Ed's citation:
"CITATION: Rank and organization: Captain, U.S. Army, Company A, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). Place and date: Landing Zone X-Ray, Ia Drang Valley, Republic of Vietnam, 14 November 1965. Born: 20 November 1927, Neely, Mississippi. Entered Service At: Hattiesburg, Mississippi Citation: Captain Ed W. Freeman, United States Army, distinguished himself by numerous acts of conspicuous gallantry and extraordinary intrepidity on 14 November 1965 while serving with Company A, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile). As a flight leader and second in command of a 16-helicopter lift unit, he supported a heavily engaged American infantry battalion at Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley, Republic of Vietnam. The infantry unit was almost out of ammunition after taking some of the heaviest casualties of the war, fighting off a relentless attack from a highly motivated, heavily armed enemy force. When the infantry commander closed the helicopter landing zone due to intense direct enemy fire, Captain Freeman risked his own life by flying his unarmed helicopter through a gauntlet of enemy fire time after time, delivering critically needed ammunition, water, and medical supplies to the besieged battalion. His flights had a direct impact on the battle's outcome by providing the engaged units with timely supplies of ammunition critical to their survival, without which they would almost surely have experienced a much greater loss of life. After medical evacuation helicopters refused to fly into the area due to intense enemy fire, Captain Freeman flew 14 separate rescue missions, providing life-saving evacuation of an estimated 30 seriously wounded soldiers -- some of whom would not have survived had he not acted. All flights were made into a small emergency landing zone within 100 to 200 meters of the defensive perimeter where heavily committed units were perilously holding off the attacking elements. Captain Freeman's selfless acts of great valor, extraordinary perseverance, and intrepidity were far above and beyond the call of duty or mission and set a superb example of leadership and courage for all of his peers. Captain Freeman's extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit, and the United States Army."
Now as it reads Ed saved 30 seriously wounded soldiers that day in 14 flights into hell, and while that is more than enough, the truth be told, he flew over 20 missions into hell that day, and flew out over 70 wounded soldiers. Yes he did - even though not stated that way in the citation which you will note only spoke of the 30 "seriously" wounded soldiers he saved. Go here: http://www.medalofhonor.com/EdWFreeman.htm, and go here http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ed_Freeman to read more about it.
These two men are real men, real heroes, true patriots. Despite my taking the liberty to call Ed and Bruce by their first names, I have never met either of them. I hope they would not mind a guy like me doing that, but it just seemed right, that another American would call them by their first names. I guess I feel that is so because I think we should all know them, know of them, know of their heroism, and be familiar with them to some extent for the things they did for other Americans like us. Though I never met him, Ed Freeman will be missed by me. By the way, you may have heard of Ed before today, and not yet realized it. You see he was honored in the movie: We Were Soldiers in which he was called Ed 'Too Tall' Freeman. His family can stand tall now with his memory in their hearts; he was and is a real hero. In memoriam of Ed 'Too Tall' Freeman, November 1927 to August 2008.
All the best,