Phil-osophically Speaking: May 21, 2010

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Remembering the Unsung Heroes of Vietnam

You’re a 19-year-old kid. You’re critically wounded and dying in the jungle. Your infantry unit is outnumbered 8-1 and the enemy fire is so intense, from 100 or 200 hundred yards away, that your own infantry commander has ordered the Medi-Vac 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 halfway 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, and you look up to see an unarmed Huey, but it doesn’t seem real, because no Medi-Vac markings are on it.

Ed Freeman is coming for you. He is not Medi-Vac, so it’s not his job, but he is flying his Huey down into the machine gunfire, after the Medi-Vacs were ordered not to come.

He’s coming anyway.

And he drops it in, and sits there in the machine gunfire, as they load two or three of you on board.

Then he flies you up and out through the gunfire, to the doctors and nurses.

And, he kept coming back…13 more times. And he took about 30 of your buddies out who would never have gotten out. Ed Freeman, Medal of Honor Recipient, died in 2008 in his 81st year.

That moving tribute was recently sent to me, and with Memorial Day approaching, I thought I would share it with you. Hollywood used to make movies about people like Captain Edward Freeman; soldiers whose selfless acts of great valor went far above the call of duty and brought honor to the United States military. Sergeant York’s heroic exploits in WW I was made into a terrific movie with the lead role going to Gary Cooper, one of Hollywood’s legendary stars.

Audie Murphy, the most decorated soldier in WWII, played himself in the movie From Hell and Back. No one ever made a movie or wrote a book about Ed Freeman. Is this just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time? Perhaps. But when should it ever be considered the wrong place and the wrong time to serve your country in the armed forces. Freeman’s gallantry took place during the Vietnam War, which had divided the country. As a result, Freeman never received his just desserts. The media that had no use for the war at best and, at worst, depicted it as an act of American criminality, overlooked him. One soldier was asked during the Vietnam War why he didn’t wear his uniform at home. ‘Because I don’t like to be spat on,’ came the reply.

It’s been 35 years since the last helicopters evacuated Vietnam. It was 1975, and the bloodbath that followed in South Vietnam and later, in Pol Pot’s Cambodia, could have only happened in the absence of the American military. Whether Vietnam was an unwinnable war is debatable, what is not debatable is that the media and the cultural elites considered it unwinnable. Winnable or not it certainly was not an immoral war; what was immoral was the scorn and anger heaped upon those who served in Vietnam by those who lived safely in the borders of this country and whose acts of dissent were shielded by the Constitution.

Thank God we’re past such degrading behavior. Whatever the national mood has been on the war in Iraq and Afghanistan, those emotions were not taken out on the brave men and women who fought there. If anything, their service has been honored. It was a very different story for Ed Freeman and hundreds of thousands of others who served in Vietnam. As we reflect upon the tragic denouement of the Vietnam conflict let us remember, most of all, soldiers like Ed Freeman from Boise, ID, whose actions represented not only the highest traditions of military service but a devotion to what is best in the American character. I cannot think of a better way, on this 35th anniversary of the ending of the Vietnam War, to observe this Memorial Day.  

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