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July 14, 2001

Ed "Too Tall To Fly" Freeman
Receives Medal of Honor

  By PETER BOLTZ 
Express Staff Writer 

The U.S. Army told Ed Freeman in 1953 that he was too tall to fly. But two years later, he was flying anyway. 

In 1965, the Army told Freeman that a landing zone in Vietnam was too dangerous to attempt a landing. But he flew into it anyway, 14 times, supplying embattled soldiers and bringing out the seriously wounded. 

The Army told Freeman's commander that Freeman was ineligible for a Medal of Honor because a statute of limitations had expired. 

But on July 16, President Bush hung it around Freeman's neck anyway. 

Retired Maj. Freeman was in town Wednesday night sharing stories and dinner with Wood River Valley veterans at American Legion Post 115 in Ketchum. 

Freeman, a Boise, ID resident who flew helicopters in the Big Wood Valley in the early 1970s for Intermountain Helicopter, knows the area and the local Legionnaires well. What he didn't know was that they were going to recognize his upcoming induction. 

Freeman was recommended for the Medal of Honor for flying 14 helicopter missions in 14 hours on Nov. 14, 1965, at the battle of Ia Drang in Vietnam. 

The reason the recognition has taken so long, he said, is that "you lose track of people, of who did what in battle." And so he was not recommended for the medal until it was too late. 

Then, in 1995, Congress lifted the statute of limitations on Medal of Honor recommendations. As soon as it did, Freeman's commander at Ia Drang, Bruce Crandall, sent in the paperwork. 

The citation of his actions reports that then Capt. Freeman, knowing the landing zone was already closed to helicopter operations because of intense enemy fire, but ignoring the extreme risk to his life, "flew his unarmed helicopter through a gauntlet of enemy fire time after time to deliver critically needed ammunition, water and medical supplies to the besieged battalion." 

Without his supply flights, the citation reports, the battalion "would almost surely have gone down." After dropping off supplies, he would load up with the seriously wounded, 30 in all, "some of whom would not have survived had he not acted." 

Freeman said that at the time he had no thought of any kind of medal. "That kind of thinking would just end you up in a body bag," he said. Freeman was second in command of the 229th Assault Helicopter Company, which had 40 helicopters at the time. When the call came for volunteers to relieve the besieged men at Ia Drang, no one came forward except Freeman. 

"I was thinking I was going to die," he said. "But you know, there are only two rules of war. The first is that young men die. The second is that you can't change rule No. 1." 

He said he was humbled by the award, especially since there were a lot of young men who died that day who deserve the medal more. 

Freeman joined the Army in 1948, and saw action in Korea at the battle for Pork Chop Hill. He was one of 14 men of a 257-man company to survive the initial fight for the hill. 

In 1953 he tried to get into flight training school. He said he had seen what happens on the ground in war, so he wanted to get up in the air. But the Army told him he was too tall at 6 feet 4 inches. In 1955 the Army changed its rules, and Freeman learned to fly helicopters and fixed-wing aircraft. He also picked up the nickname "Too Tall to Fly." 

Freeman's story is part of the larger story of the battle of Ia Drang,  which is the subject of the book "We Were Soldiers Once… and Young." The book was written by Ret. Army Lt. Gen. Harold Moore and Joseph Galloway. 

Moore commanded the men of the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry, who did most of the fighting at Ia Drang. Galloway was the only reporter present throughout the battle's 34 harrowing days. 

Freeman's copy of the book was inscribed by Moore. "For Big Ed Freeman, the legend known as 'Too Tall to Fly.' "Your heroism will live forever in the history of the 7th U.S. Cavalry. With highest respect, my old, beloved friend." 

When it came time for Freeman to speak to the Legionnaires, he said "I only did what I was supposed to do, what I was trained to do." He said he didn't have much more to say, and to emphasize this he recalled a story about an eighth-grader who was assigned to give a speech about a hero. 

"Caesar was a great leader," the boy said. "Caesar won many battles. Caesar talked too much. They shot Caesar." 

In all the laughter, Freeman went back to his chair. 

 

 

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