WASHINGTON, July 17, 2001 -- Retired Major Ed W. Freeman has been awarded the Medal of Honor for his valor as a pilot in Vietnam. He is the 34th Idaho resident to receive the nation’s highest military honor.
"This moment is well deserved and it’s been long in coming," President George W. Bush said during a White House ceremony on July 16 attended by more than 50 Medal of Honor recipients along with family, friends, and fellow unit members who served with Freeman.
On November 14, 1965, Freeman spent 14.5 hours flying water and ammunition to an infantry battalion heavily engaged in a battle at Landing Zone X-Ray in the Ia Drang Valley. That battle is recounted in the best-selling We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young, by General Hal Moore and Joe Galloway.
Freeman, a pilot in Company A, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), had helped drop 450 men of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry under the command of then-Lt. Col. Moore in a clearing in the Ia Drang. 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 eventually 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 told reporter Dan Popkey. "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.
The Longest Day
"It was a long day. For the longest it was just a blur," Freeman said. "I didn’t even know it happened on a Sunday until 20 years later. In war, days don’t count."
During the rescue mission, Freeman said they never turned off the helicopter. They refueled it while it was running, and he remembers at one point eating a half a can of beanie weenies. It was in and out all day with water, ammunition, wounded and body bags, he said.
"I had a tool that the Army provided me with, and that was my helicopter," Freeman said. "It’s an amazing piece of equipment and with that tool I saved many lives."
Freeman, who stands 6 feet 4 inches, was two inches taller than the Army’s maximum height for pilots. He said he loved what the helicopter was able to do for the Army, and hates that he couldn’t have saved more lives.
"I was a professional soldier, and I was just doing my duty," Freeman said.
Others consider his actions going above and beyond his duties. The Medal of Honor is an upgrade from the Distinguished Service Cross Freeman had previously received. The initial award has been revoked because a soldier cannot receive two awards for the same action.
Fulfilling a Dream
Freeman said he knew when he was 14 that he wanted to be a soldier.
After two years in the Navy, Freeman returned to his hometown, Neely, Mississippi, and finished his last year in high school. He then enlisted in the Army in 1948. During the Korean War, he was awarded a battlefield promotion to sergeant. He was one of 14 men out of 257 assigned to Company B, 36th Engineer Battalion to survive the initial fight for Pork Chop Hill.
After his tour in Vietnam, Freeman was assigned to Mineral Wells, Texas, as a flight instructor. At the completion of that tour, in 1967, he retired from the Army. In 1991, he retired again, this time from the Department of Interior.
"For 20 more years I worked for the government fighting wild fires and herding wild horses -- very un-risky work," Freeman said. "I retired 10 years ago with 18,000 flight hours in a helicopter and 8,000-plus fixed wing hours, and I haven’t flown since."
These days for Freeman, who settled in Boise in 1967, are filled with spending time with grandchildren, attending reunions, and fishing. These days, Freeman said he considers himself a professional grandfather.
Image Credit: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ed_Freeman