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Boisean wins Medal of Honor--
for heroism in 1965
By Dan Popkey
Thirty-five years ago, Ed Freeman flew through hell and back. Now, his valor as a pilot in Vietnam finally has been fully recognized. Freeman has become the 34th Idahoan to win the nation's highest military award, the Medal of Honor.
Though Congress and President Clinton authorized the medal in June, this is the first report of the Boisean's honor.
Freeman, who volunteered to fly 14 helicopter missions in a 14-hour day on Nov. 14, 1965, Will be the second Medal of Honor winner who fought at Ia Drang, a pivotal battle and the subject of the 1992 best-seller, "We Were Soldiers Once...and Young."
Congress singled out Freeman "for conspicuous acts of gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life and beyond the call of duty." The absence of publicity is a result of delay in scheduling the ceremony.
The Medal of Honor must be awarded by the president. With the election now over, Freeman awaits word on when he'll take his wife, Barbara, and their two children and three grandchildren to the White House.
While eager to collect his medal, Freeman has no regrets that it took 35 years. In fact, he prefers his years of anonymity because it meant he could quietly retire from the U.S. Army.
He settled in Boise in 1967, flying for the Department of Interior and retiring a second time in 1991. Meanwhile, he's fished, traveled and gone to grandkids' ball games. "If I'd have been awarded this in a timely way, I would have stayed in the Army and gotten plush assignments," Freeman said, waving his hands at family portraits on a wall of his West Boise home. "But I wouldn't have been here. I would have been at the Pentagon, in Hawaii. All you have to do is hang that around your neck and be a nice boy and stand there. It totally changes your life."
Even at 73, Freeman is impressive: 6 feet 4, in pressed jeans, a white dress shirt, and brown oxfords. He's blunt, eloquent, without artifice. At 13, he saw 20,000 men pass by his Mississippi home on maneuvers. "I was so impressed, I knew I had to be a soldier."
After two years in the Navy, he joined the Army in 1948. During the Korean War, he won a battlefield promotion to first sergeant in the 36th Engineer Battalion and was one of 14 men in his 257-man Bravo Company to survive the initial fight for Pork Chop Hill.
In 1965, Freeman was working in Boise at Gowen Field as a regular Army adviser to the Idaho National Guard. "This was my retirement assignment. They interrupted that."
That fall, as President Johnson committed more than 500,000 troops to the escalating war, Freeman wound up on a crude, red-dirt airfield. Thirteen flight-minutes away, he'd helped drop 450 men of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry under the command of Lt. Col. Hal Moore in a clearing in the Ia Drang Valley. The soldiers were quickly surrounded by 2,000 North Vietnamese troops, and began taking some of the heaviest fire of the war.
Moore ordered flights halted because of the danger, but finally asked for volunteers to bring ammunition and water and to fly out the wounded. Medical Evacuation crews had refused to fly into "LZ X-Ray."
"We turned to a group of about 40 pilots and said, 'Hey guys, we need a volunteer,'" Freeman recalled. "Not a word was said, and the pilots started to meander away. I said, 'That leaves me,' and I crawled into my helicopter."
Then Capt. Freeman was joined by his commanding officer, Major Bruce Crandall. "There were wounded in there, they were running out of ammunition," Freeman said. "He needed us, or else they'd be overrun and annihilated."
Freeman and Crandall and their three-man crews helped turn the battle and saved the lives of perhaps 30 wounded soldiers. Still, 305 men died during the 34-day campaign. Their names are together on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington.
Freeman never doubted his duty. "That Huey helicopter was my tool, and I was trained to use it. It was capable of flying into that hell hole, and I was capable of making it do that."
Which is not to say he was unafraid. He remembers nervously eating franks and beans and chain-smoking Vantage cigarettes. "God knows how many I smoked. Till I had a blister on my tongue."
When he volunteered, heroism was not on his mind, only duty. "You don't think, 'I'm going to go out and win the Medal of Honor.' You're going to win a body bag if you're not real lucky."
But, after the fighting, Freeman figured he'd done something unusual. "I did think I possibly did a little more than was required of me. But again, I had a job to do."
A job well done, indeed.
© 2000, by The Idaho Statesman
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
Article Contributed by Gayle Alvarez:
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