'Fear Will Get You Killed -- Quicker,' Says Medal of Honor Recipient
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jul. 23, 2001 "I was frightened, but you've got to control fear, or fear will get you killed -- quicker," Medal of Honor recipient Ed W. Freeman said as he described flying his Huey helicopter in and out of a hot landing zone in Vietnam on Nov. 14, 1965.
"Naturally, I had a certain degree of fear," said the retired Army major, who also wears three Distinguished Flying Crosses. "But after awhile, I just accepted the fact that it was coming sooner or later. I figured it would be soon than later, but it didn't."
Freeman said it was hot for the grunts on the ground and hot for him in the air at Landing Zone X-Ray in South Vietnam's Ia Drang Valley. "I don't know how many times my chopper was hit during that 14 hours, but it was a lot," he said. "Every time a round hit it sounded like somebody tapping it with a hammer. You can feel it, too."
His main concern was an enemy hit on vital areas like his throttle or oil lines. He said he wasn't too worried about his fuel tank being hit because he had self-sealing tanks.
"For his actions that day, Capt. Freeman was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross," President George W. Bush said during the Medal of Honor awards ceremony at the White House on July 16, 2001. "But the men who were there, including the commanding officer, Lt. Col. Bruce Crandall, felt a still higher honor was called for. Through the unremitting efforts of Lt. Col. Crandall and many others, and the persuasive weight from Sen. John McCain, the story now comes to its rightful conclusion."
During the battle, though intense enemy fire warded off other helicopters, Freeman flew 14 missions, delivering supplies going in and evacuating wounded soldiers coming out. Some of the estimated 30 soldiers he rescued would not have survived otherwise, according to the award citation.
"The last trip was made at 10:30 at night through the lights, mortar fire and everything else that was happening in there," Freeman recalled. "The colonel told me he had adequate ammunition and supplies to last him until daylight. He said, 'Don't come back.' I said, 'Good.'"
He said he probably would have continued to fly all night had that been necessary. He logged 14.5 flight hours that day without shutting down the engine. "We had hot refueling," Freeman explained. "We'd park, shut the helicopter down to a flight idle and turn the radios off." While ground crews serviced his Huey, he said, he chowed down on cans of franks and beans.
He doesn't recall being concerned about his Huey malfunctioning during those long hours. It didn't, but if it had, Freeman said his attitude had been, "That's the way it is."
The Ia Drang battle wasn't the only time Freeman flew into a hot landing zone to help besieged infantrymen. Another time, he said, he was just passing by an area when saw fighting going on in the palm trees below. Then he received a radio call, "Serpent 26, is that you?"
"Affirmative," Freeman responded.
"I'm in deep trouble, could you come and help?" the voice asked.
"Sure, give me some smoke," Freeman said.
"It's awfully hot in here," the caller warned.
"It won't be any hotter for me than it is for you," Freeman responded.
The infantryman popped a green smoke grenade and Freeman landed right on top of it.
"I hauled about eight injured soldiers out of there," Freeman said. "I took 52 rounds in the helicopter and still got it out of there.
"We were soldiers and we do our duty," said the newest Medal of Honor recipient. "It was my duty because they assigned me to fly helicopters, it was my duty to put it through its paces, and I did it."