"Life has no value unless you earn the right to live it free every day" is an old Vietnam combat pilot proverb that relates precisely to Captain Ed Freeman during his helicopter days with the 25th Division in South Vietnam. His actions were documented in the movie "We were young once, and Soldiers." If you could put up with Mel Gibson for a couple hours, it correctly told the story of Captain Freeman and the Army's 25th Division's first major combat against a fully equipped North Vietnamese force - that outnumbered them 8 to 1.
The North Vietnamese were "fully equipped" because McNamara and Johnson's Rolling Thunder operation proved to be an ill-conceived misadventure. It began in '65 and ended in '68. It was intended to halt the shipment of Soviet weapons through North Vietnamese ports and down the country into South Vietnam. All targets for our Oriskany Air Wing and other carriers on Yankee Station in the Tonkin Gulf were designated by a group of 5 politicians (only one elected) during Tuesday lunches at the White House. That group included only civilians - not one single military mind was present! All targets were chosen for political expediency/advantage without any regard for sound military tactics. The result was our Air Wing sustained the highest loses ever recorded in any conflict involving carrier operations. 86 of 65 assigned aircraft were lost, with 58 KIA and 13 MIA/POW from our assigned 72 Naval Aviators. An Oriskany Fighter Pilot's probability of surviving Rolling Thunder was less than 30%!
We were being blasted out of the sky searching for trucks in the dark in November 1967; while Ed Freeman was picking up those killed/wounded by the tons of explosives and ammo we simply could not see or find. We were not allowed to bomb the stuff while it was still piled up on the docks at Haiphong, we had to wait until it was on the jungle trails going south. Ed's fierce battle occurred 46 years ago this month; however, we have a desperate need to remember this Veterans' Day the courage that once was ours. Modern America has lost its moral compass and is adrift on a tumultuous world sea without a steady hand on the wheel. It is imperative that we recall the greatness of those who served so gallantly during our "forgotten" history. Survivors of the 25th have occasionally published first-hand accounts of Captain Freeman's leadership and bravery on the internet. This Veterans' Day would be a good time to review it:
"You're a 19 year old kid. You're critically wounded and dying in the jungle somewhere in the Central Highlands of Viet Nam. It's November 11, 1967. Your unit is outnumbered 8-1 and the enemy fire is so intense from 100 yards away, that your commanding officer has ordered the MedEvac helicopters to stop coming in. You're lying there, listening to the enemy machine guns and you know you're not getting out. Your family is half way around the world, 12,000 miles away, and you'll never see them again. As the world starts to fade in and out, you know this is the day. Then - over the machine gun noise - you faintly hear that sound of a helicopter. You look up to see a Huey coming in. But, it doesn't seem real because no MedEvac markings are on it. Captain Ed Freeman is coming for you. He's not MedEvac so it's not his job, but he heard the radio call and decided he's flying his Huey down into the machine gun fire anyway. Even after the MedEvacs were ordered not to come, he's coming anyway. He drops it in and sits there in the machine gun fire, as they load 3 of you at a time on board. Then he flies you up and out through the gunfire to the doctors and nurses and safety. And, he kept coming back, 13 more times, until all the wounded were out. No one knew until the mission was over that the Captain had been hit 4 times in the legs and left arm. He took 29 of you and your buddies out that day . . ."
Captain Freeman survived Vietnam to return to Idaho, where he died in 2008 at the age of 80. Rather than Arlington National Cemetery, Ed chose burial in Idaho; far from the morass of Washington politicians and federal bureaucrats who so ineptly sacrificed our blood and national treasure. The Captain was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism under fire. The modern media would incorrectly report that as "winning" the medal. Speaking for those who experienced combat in WWII, Korea, or Vietnam, I can guarantee you that ribbons and medals from those bloody campaigns were earned, not won! War is not, and never will be, a game. Earn the right to a free life by living it every day!
Fighter Pilot Dick Schaffert, a veteran who lives in Roy, is also known as Brown Bear.