Medal of Honor-Army Capt. Ed Freeman. Let No One Forget…

Here’s how you know 


U.S. DepartmentofDefense

Medal of Honor Monday: Army Capt. Ed Freeman

April 29, 2019 | By Katie Lange  You have accessed part of a historical collection on

What this Brave Pilot Did was one of the gutsiest things I ever Read…

Medal of Honor Monday graphic

Heroes are often people who volunteer for missions they know might be their last. During the Vietnam War, despite having reached retirement age while managing to survive two wars, Army Capt. Ed Freeman volunteered for just such a mission.

Freeman was born on Nov. 20, 1927, into a big family who lived on a farm in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. He never finished high school. He later said he just wanted to get out of his hometown, so in 1944, he joined the Navy and served on an oiler that provided petroleum to combat ships in the Pacific during World War II.

An official photo of a soldier in formal dress wearing a Medal of Honor.

He went back to finish school after the war ended, then enlisted in the Army, where he served in Korea and received a battlefield commission in 1953.

Freeman’s tour in Korea made him want to be a pilot, so as soon as he returned to the states, he applied for flight school. At first he didn’t qualify because at 6 feet, 4 inches, he was too tall. But he eventually got in and became a pilot. For the next decade, he flew around the world mapping countries, first in fixed-wing aircraft before switching to helicopters.


Freeman was close to retirement when war broke out in Vietnam. He was an experienced pilot by then and assigned to the 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, which was sent to deliver troops to what became known as the Battle of Ia Drang, the first major battle between the United States and North Vietnamese troops.

Freeman was the flight leader and second-in-command of a 16-helicopter lift unit on Nov. 14, 1965, when he and his men were tasked with dropping infantrymen from the 1st Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment, into a remote landing zone beside the Ia Drang River along the Cambodian border.

Two soldiers get in defensive positions on a field in Vietnam as a helicopter lifts into the air in the background.

Everything seemed to be running routinely until the fifth drop, when a heavily armed enemy force opened fire. The attack was so intense that once Freeman’s crew got back to the staging area, all helicopter operations into the landing zone were shut down.

But the men on the ground were struggling to maintain their defenses. They were taking on heavy casualties and running low on ammunition and supplies.

Back at the staging area, the commanding officer, Army Maj. Bruce Crandall, called for a volunteer to fly back in with him to help. Freeman was the only one who raised his hand. For him, it wasn’t an option.

“I put ’em in there,” Freeman explained in a Library of Congress interview.

So, for hours on end, Freeman and Crandall flew unarmed helicopters — many of which had to be switched out due to damages — into the hot zone to deliver critically needed ammunition, water and medical supplies for the soldiers.

Several soldiers jump out of a helicopter in a field in Vietnam.

Their mission became that of evacuators, too, when medical helicopters refused to fly in. Fourteen times, Freeman and Crandall flew to a small emergency landing zone within 200 meters of the enemy to evacuate dozens of seriously wounded soldiers.

“I put in 14-and-a-half hours that day, in and out of that LZ, doing that. And at 10:30 [p.m.], I made the last landing with some guy holding a flashlight and hauling those people out,” Freeman remembered.

The Battle of Ia Drang inspired the critically acclaimed book “We Were Soldiers Once … And Young,” which was turned into a similarly titled movie, “We Were Soldiers,” in 2002.

A Long Time Coming

Freeman was initially awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross, but after decades of work by men with whom he served, including Crandall, it was eventually upgraded. He received the Medal of Honor on July 16, 2001, from President George W. Bush.

Bush summarized Freeman’s actions, saying, “The man at the controls flew through the gunfire not once, not 10 times, but at least 21 times. That single helicopter brought the water, ammunition and supplies that saved many lives on the ground. And the same pilot flew more than 70 wounded soldiers to safety.”

President George W. Bush holds the elbow of an older soldier wearing the Medal of Honor.

Freeman retired as a major in 1967 after 23 years of service. He moved to Boise, Idaho, where he raised his family and flew helicopters for the Interior Department for 20 years.

He died in 2008 at age 80 due to complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was buried with full military honors in the Idaho State Veterans Cemetery.

The post office in Freeman’s Mississippi hometown was named for him in 2009.

Meanwhile, Crandall, who flew the gallant mission with Freeman, was at the White House ceremony when Freeman was given the Medal of Honor. Crandall went on to receive his own Medal of Honor in 2007.

This article is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.

More Stories of Valor 

A graphic says "Medal of Honor Monday" shows an Army Medal of Honor.

Experience: The Highest Awards for Valor 

Three medals hang on a navy blue graphic with the words "Honors for Valor" on it.

medal of honor know your military army veterans medal of honor monday vietnam war


FEATURE | Nov. 1, 2022Face of Defense: Engineering the Next Frontier
FEATURE | Oct. 31, 2022HEART 22 Strengthens Partnerships in Central America
FEATURE | Oct. 31, 2022HEART 22 Mission Results in Healthy Teeth, Strong Partnerships
FEATURE | Oct. 31, 2022In Latin America, HEART 22 Mission Focused on Vision, Partnerships