MOH Recipient Ed Freeman

Tags: HeroStories

MOH Recipient Ed Freeman Dies

August 21, 2008

Idaho Statesman

As Ed "Too Tall" Freeman lay ill in a Boise hospital over the past few weeks, many came to pay their respects to the 80-year-old national war hero and former helicopter pilot.

One unexpected visitor offered a very personal thank you to Freeman, a veteran of three wars and recipient of the highest military award -- the Congressional Medal of Honor -- for his actions on Nov. 14, 1965, at Landing Zone X-Ray, Ia Drang Valley, Vietnam.

"A guy came into the hospital and said, 'You don't know me, but I was one of those people you hauled out of the X-Ray,'" said Mike Freeman, 54, one of Ed's two sons. "He said, 'Thanks for my life.' "

Freeman died Wednesday.

His Medal of Honor citation credits him with helping save 30 seriously wounded soldiers in 14 separate rescue missions in an unarmed helicopter.

Since the Medal of Honor was created during the Civil War, 3,467 have been awarded, according to the Congressional Medal of Honor Society.

The heroics of Freeman and the others involved in the Ia Drang campaign are immortalized in the Mel Gibson movie "We Were Soldiers," which is based on the book "We Were Soldiers Once ... And Young." A sequel, "We Are Soldiers Still," was released this month.

Freeman, a Mississippi native who married an Idahoan, began his military career at 17 with a two-year stint in the Navy during World War II.

"He joined the Navy and hated it. The ocean thing was not his bag," Mike Freeman said.

So he joined the Army, serving four years in Germany before getting deployed to the Korean conflict.

The 6-foot-4 tell-it-like-it-is Southerner got the name "Too Tall" because he was told he was too tall to be a pilot. That didn't stop him from pushing to fly.

"He was tenacious about getting into flight school. He drove them insane until they let him in," Mike Freeman said.

He proved his mettle by becoming one the Army's most heralded helicopter pilots. Two streets at Fort Rucker, Ala., where Freeman trained to be a helicopter pilot, were recently named in honor of Freeman and Maj. Bruce P. Crandall, his commanding officer in the Ia Drang campaign.

In the early 1960s, Freeman served as aviation adviser to the Idaho Army National Guard.

"He was a super instructor. He was not one of these guys who get excited very easily," said retired Maj. Gen. Jack Kane, former commanding general of the Idaho National Guard.

Kane, a second lieutenant in 1963-64, got his first helicopter lessons from Freeman. Decades later, Kane attended the 2001 Medal of Honor ceremony for Freeman at the White House.

"It was, really, a super-moving moment," said Kane, who was in a meeting at the Pentagon when Freeman called to invite him to the ceremony.

Freeman retired from the military in 1967 and a few years later moved to Idaho with his wife, Barbara, and sons, Mike and Doug. But he didn't give up flying. He went to work for the Department of Interior's Office of Aircraft Services.

Mike Freeman said his dad made sure that helicopter pilots contracted by Department of Interior agencies were up to snuff.

"Anyone who flew for the government had to get past him," he said.

Freeman retired from flying in 1991 with more than 25,000 hours of flying time, including 18,000 in helicopters, according to his family and a 2002 newsletter published by the Idaho Military Historical Society and Museum. That's nearly three years in the air.

Freeman became a highly sought-after speaker, and he still gets hundreds of letters each year from admirers of all ages.

He rarely missed Friday lunches at Boise's Din Fung Buffet, where a group of Purple Heart veterans met each week for the past seven years.

"We're a bunch of loose cannons. We have our own opinions, but everything is in jest," said Dick Bengoechea, 84, who was a U.S. Army tank driver in Germany during World War II.

On Friday, a miniature helicopter and Medal of Honor book will be placed at the head of the group's table in memory of Freeman.

One of the traits Bengoechea admired about Freeman was his candor.

"He didn't care about rank," Bengoechea said. "If he thought he was right, he didn't care if he told a general he was wrong. He was a man's man."

Freeman, a Republican who his son says was anything but politically correct, was much more than a great patriot.

He was a devoted family man whose many passions included Volkswagens (he had many over the years, including The Thing) and fly fishing with his grandson, Scott.

In the past year and a half, Parkinson's disease ravaged Freeman's body. With the help of his sons, he was able to live at home until he became gravely ill three and a half weeks ago.

"He was a caring guy who cared about his family," Mike Freeman said. "I'll miss that a lot."



Captain, U.S. Army  Company A, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile)

By the time the Korean War broke out, Ed Freeman was a master sergeant in the Army Engineers, but he fought in Korea as an infantryman.

He took part in the bloody battle of Pork Chop Hill and was given a battlefield commission, which had the added advantage of making him eligible to fly, a dream of his since childhood. But flight school turned him down because of his height: At six foot four, he was “too tall” (a nickname that followed him throughout his military career). In 1955, however, the height limit was raised, and Freeman was able to enroll.

He began flying fixed-wing aircraft, then switched to helicopters. By 1965, when he was sent to Vietnam, he had thousands of hours’ flying time in choppers. He was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), second in command of a sixteen-helicopter unit responsible for carrying infantrymen into battle. On November 14, 1965, Freeman’s helicopters carried a battalion into the Ia Drang Valley for what became the first major confrontation between large forces of the American and North Vietnamese armies.

Back at base, Freeman and the other pilots received word that the GIs they had dropped off were taking heavy casualties and running low on supplies. In fact, the fighting was so fierce that medevac helicopters refused to pick up the wounded. When the commander of the helicopter unit asked for volunteers to fly into the battle zone, Freeman alone stepped forward. He was joined by his commander, and the two of them began several hours of flights into the contested area. Because their small emergency-landing zone was just one hundred yards away from the heaviest fighting, their unarmed and lightly armored helicopters took several hits. In all, Freeman carried out fourteen separate rescue missions, bringing in water and ammunition to the besieged soldiers and taking back dozens of wounded, some of whom wouldn’t have survived if they hadn’t been evacuated.

Freeman left Vietnam in 1966 and retired from the Army the following year. He flew helicopters another twenty years for the Department of the Interior, herding wild horses, fighting fires, and performing animal censuses. Then he retired altogether.

In the aftermath of the Ia Drang battle, his commanding officer, wanting to recognize Freeman’s valor, proposed him for the Medal of Honor. But the two-year statute of limitations on these kinds of recommendations had passed, and no action was taken. Congress did away with that statute in 1995, and Freeman was finally awarded the medal by President George W. Bush on July 16, 2001.

Freeman was back at the White House a few months later for the premiere of We Were Soldiers, a 2002 feature film that depicted his role in the Ia Drang battle. As he was filing out of the small White House theater, the president approached him, saluted, and shook his hand. “Good job, Too Tall,” he sa