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Idaho Statesman 
March 18, 2002

Hero Remembers Battle Profiled in New Film

By Tim: Boise

Of the characters portrayed in “We Were Soldiers,” currently one of the nation's top-grossing movies, only one received the Congressional Medal of Honor. And it wasn't the one played by Mel Gibson.

Ed “Too Tall” Freeman was a minor character in the film — but a major one in the battle it depicted. The Boise Medal of Honor winner and former Vietnam helicopter pilot is gracious about being underplayed.

“The whole helicopter operation was underplayed,” he said. “But you have to remember that the book was written by guys who were on the ground. They wrote it the way they saw it.”

Freeman was anything but underplayed in the movie's opening fanfare. He and his wife were V.I.P.s at the Hollywood premiere. From there they were flown — in a private jet with the book's authors and actors Sam Elliott, Greg Kinnear and Barry Pepper and their wives — to Washington D.C. for a dinner and private screening at the White House.

“The president and Colin Powell saluted me,” he said over lunch at Chapala. “I had a nice chat with the vice president and his wife, met Donald Rumsfeld and got 30 minutes one-on-one with the President. When the movie ended, the president said ´good show, Too Tall.´ ”

Heady stuff for a man who, like most Vietnam veterans, was ignored when he returned home from the war.

“I came home twice to an ungrateful nation, once from Vietnam and once from Korea,” he said. “… But that was their problem. I was proud of what I did. I did my job as a soldier.”

No argument. In Vietnam's Ia Drang Valley on Nov. 14, 1965, Freeman volunteered for 14 helicopter missions in 14 hours. His Medal of Honor citation commends him for flying “through enemy fire time after time,” evacuating wounded soldiers and delivering critically needed ammunition, water and medical supplies to troops outmanned five to one in one of the war´s most desperate battles.

An Idaho footnote you won't see in the movie: One of the real-life jet pilots providing air support at Ia Drang was Kuna Medal of Honor recipient Bernie Fisher.

Freeman credits the film with being “about 80 percent accurate. There was some Hollywood stuff in there, but you have to expect that.”

Unlike Vietnam films that focus on drugs and atrocities, “We Were Soldiers” is a straight-ahead war movie. Freeman says that's accurate. “I saw no drugs or abuse of the wounded. I saw it on their side, but not ours.

“… We didn't have a chance to get drugs. We had warm beer. In combat, we didn't even use profanity. We didn't have time for it. War is organized chaos. I get calls from people who say ´Oh, my God; the movie's so gory.´ I tell them it was war, not Sunday school. All war is a mistake, but in war you kill each other.”

Freeman's wars should have been over by then. He joined the Navy during World War II, served in the army in Korea and was enjoying what was meant to be his retirement assignment as an army adviser at Gowen Field when “everyone with wings was ordered to Vietnam.” He served his time there and another 18 months in Texas. When the army ordered him back to Vietnam, he retired as a major.

“I´d figured out early on that it was another Korea,” the Mississippi native said. “We had no intention of winning. I had two kids and a wife from Glenns Ferry, and I liked this country from the first time I saw it. I decided to come home.”

He spent 20 years flying for the Department of the Interior and retired again. It took 4 1/2 years for his Medal of Honor nomination to be approved — 35 years after Ia Drang — in part because he wanted to wait for a change at the White House.

“I didn't want Clinton to get his filthy hands on it.”

At the Hollywood premiere, Freeman told Gibson the medal would be worth $50,000 on the black market.

“He told me he'd give me $60,000 for it. He's quite a joker. I told him he wasn't even close.”

When he saw “We Were Soldiers” the first time, Freeman said he could almost smell the battlefield. But intense as the movie was, he says, no movie can fully capture the horror of war.

“When it was over, my wife said she finally understood why I've had nightmares for 30 years.” 

To offer story ideas or comments, contact Tim Woodward
twoodward@idahostatesman.com or 377-6409

Edition Date: 03-18-2002

 

© 2001, by The Idaho Statesman
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

 Article Contributed by: Gayle Alvarez

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