ED W. FREEMAN
Captain, U.S. Army Company A, 229th Assault
Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry
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 said.
Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Ed Freeman of
Boise died Wednesday morning 20 Aug 2008, according
to a friend of the Freeman family. He was 80 years old.