Heroes Page 2

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  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 9/1/08.

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."
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