Saturday, January 31, 2009

Remembering a Great Man: Ed Freeman

Ed Freeman... A True Hero'

(sent to me by my friend Jay Buckley, Vietnam Veteran)

You're an 18 or 19 year old kid. You're critically wounded, and dying in the jungle in the Ia Drang Valley, 11-14-1965. LZ Xray, Vietnam Your infantry unit is outnumbered 8 - 1, and the enemy fire is so intense, from 100 or 200 yards away, that your own Infantry Commander has ordered the MediVac 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 1/2 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, and you look up to see an un-armed Huey, but it doesn't seem real, because no Medi-Vac markings are on it. Ed Freeman is coming for you. He's not Medi-Vac, so it's not his job, but he's flying his Huey down into the machine gun fire, after the Medi-Vacs were ordered not to come. He's coming anyway. And he drops it in, and sits there in the machine gun fire, as they load 2 or 3 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 took about 30 of you and your buddies out, who would never have gotten out. Medal of Honor Recipient Ed Freeman died last Wednesday at the age of 80, in Boise , ID .....May God rest his soul..... (Oh yeah, Paul Newman died that day too. I guess you knew that -- He got a lot more press than Ed Freeman.)

Here is Ed's biography:

"ED W. FREEMANCaptain, U.S. Army Company A, 229th Assault Helicopter Battalion, 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile)
By the time the Korean War broke out, Ed Freeman was a master sergeant in the Army Engineers, but he fought in Korea as an infantryman. He took part in the bloody battle of Pork Chop Hill and was given a battlefield commission, which had the added advantage of making him eligible to fly, a dream of his since childhood. But flight school turned him down because of his height: At six foot four, he was “too tall” (a nickname that followed him throughout his military career). In 1955, however, the height limit was raised, and Freeman was able to enroll. He began flying fixed-wing aircraft, then switched to helicopters. By 1965, when he was sent to Vietnam, he had thousands of hours’ flying time in choppers. He was assigned to the 1st Cavalry Division (Airmobile), second in command of a sixteen-helicopter unit responsible for carrying infantrymen into battle. On November 14, 1965, Freeman’s helicopters carried a battalion into the Ia Drang Valley for what became the first major confrontation between large forces of the American and North Vietnamese armies. Back at base, Freeman and the other pilots received word that the GIs they had dropped off were taking heavy casualties and running low on supplies. In fact, the fighting was so fierce that medevac helicopters refused to pick up the wounded. When the commander of the helicopter unit asked for volunteers to fly into the battle zone, Freeman alone stepped forward. He was joined by his commander, and the two of them began several hours of flights into the contested area. Because their small emergency-landing zone was just one hundred yards away from the heaviest fighting, their unarmed and lightly armored helicopters took several hits. In all, Freeman carried out fourteen separate rescue missions, bringing in water and ammunition to the besieged soldiers and taking back dozens of wounded, some of whom wouldn’t have survived if they hadn’t been evacuated. Freeman left Vietnam in 1966 and retired from the Army the following year. He flew helicopters another twenty years for the Department of the Interior, herding wild horses, fighting fires, and performing animal censuses. Then he retired altogether. In the aftermath of the Ia Drang battle, his commanding officer, wanting to recognize Freeman’s valor, proposed him for the Medal of Honor. But the two-year statute of limitations on these kinds of recommendations had passed, and no action was taken. Congress did away with that statute in 1995, and Freeman was finally awarded the medal by President George W. Bush on July 16, 2001. Freeman was back at the White House a few months later for the premiere of We Were Soldiers, a 2002 feature film that depicted his role in the Ia Drang battle. As he was filing out of the small White House theater, the president approached him, saluted, and shook his hand. “Good job, Too Tall,” he said.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Tuskegee Airman Marches in Inauguration Parade

By Gabe Pressman
updated 4:45 p.m. MT, Wed., Jan. 14, 2009

Roscoe Brown will march with pride in the Inauguration Day Parade in Washington. For 86 years this New Yorker has fought battle after battle against what he calls “the stupidity of racism.” This will be the ultimate day in a lifetime of helping to break down barriers. Brown and about 330 of his fellow pilots and ground crew members who still live have been invited to attend the inauguration of the first black president, Barack Obama.Brown, a professor and former president of Hostos College, will be wearing the black cap of the Tuskegee Airmen, the African-American men who fought for America in World War II. They were trained to fly at the Tuskegee Institute in Alabama. They had to confront the Jim Crow practices of the south even as they were educated to fly fighter planes in combat at a segregated institution.It was a little more than six decades ago -- yet what a sad world it was for a young black man! Restaurants were segregated and, after they received commissions as second lieutenants, these trail blazers were denied admission to officers' clubs on various bases. They experienced bigotry frequently. They had to disprove the vicious bias of white officers who insulted them and said they would never fight like white men. But the young black airmen persisted. By the end of World War II 994 pilots and about 15,000 ground personnel had been trained at the segregated Tuskegee Army Air Field.On the March 15, 1945, Roscoe Brown was part of the longest mission flown by the air force in World War II. He flew 1,500 miles from southern Italy to Berlin to take on a group of German jets. He shot down one of the German planes and he has a vivid memory of buzzing his home base as he and other pilots celebrated their triumph when they returned.“I was a kid, 23 years old,” Brown remembers. “And we were, like all pilots, a fun-loving, happy go lucky group.”As he marches down Pennsylvania Avenue on Inauguration Day, he'll be remembering that and many other moments in his life. This past Election Night, he celebrated the outcome with Congressman Charles Rangel, who was decorated for his bravery in the Korean War. Blondell's Restaurant in Harlem was crowded with people hailing the outcome of the election. At about 11 p.m., when Sen. Obama was declared president-elect, Brown recalls, “we shouted: 'We did it!'”And indeed they did. “I was so thrilled. Obama has shown such competence.”Does he think the new president's deeds will be as impressive as his words? “Politics,” said Brown, “is the art of the possible. I think Obama will make a good run at it.”The Tuskegee Airmen, an elite corps that contributed to America's victory in World War II, still faced discrimination when they returned home. Finally, six decades later, their achievements were recognized when they received the Congressional Gold Medal, the highest civilian honor Congress can give. And their performance helped move President Harry Truman to desegregate the armed services in 1948.“My career in public service was made possible by the path heroes like the Tuskegee Airmen trail-blazed, ” Obama said.Roscoe Brown is a patient man. He looks forward to more barriers being torn down, including economic inequality. He doesn't rail against the racists who said black men would never be good soldiers. To him racists are just stupid. And he adds: “I'm just proud of being part of history.”

Congratulations, Mr. President

Congratulations, Mr. President, Barack Obama. May God bless you and may God bless America.

And thanks to former President George Bush for his eight years of service to our nation. Only history and the Good Lord have the right to judge him.

It's time to move forward and work and pray for the success of our new President.

Today, at ten o'clock Mountain Time, my students and I sat down and watched the live inauguration. After it was over, we honored Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose day was celebrated in most of the United States--but not in Idaho--yesterday.

As I presented this, I realized how far this nation has come in my lifetime of 49 years. When I was a kid, the South still had Jim Crow laws and segregation. I remember the death of Martin Luther King, Jr. We've come far. And I'm proud.

Sunday, January 18, 2009

A 10-Mile Run with a View of the Grand Tetons

This shot has been cropped and modified as far as contrast and color to show the Tetons better. The telltale three spires are in center of photo. These mountains are 90 miles away. I took this on my ten-mile run this afternoon--a day when the air was clear as a bell. The photo below shows the same scene, with the Tetons a little left of center,.

Wind turbines.

Looking toward town from the top of the hill. At center and left center are two volcanoes in the Arco Desert. Below, also looking down, but more northwest.

A cold and very clear winter day today. I ran up to the top of the foothills above Ammon, and from the top could see all the way to the volcanos to the north and the Tetons to the east. To give you an idea of distance, the volcanoes are a good fifty miles away and the Tetons a good ninety miles away. We are in Idaho but the Tetons are in Wyoming.

Hell's Kitten Crewman Reunited with Son of Crewmate

The crew photo that started David Hughes on the mission to reconnect with his late father's crewmate, Dan Culler.

In one of the most amazing series of events covered on this blog, the son of a former B-24 bomber crewman was united with one of his father's former crewmates after 65 years. Dan Culler flew as a flight engineer on the B-24 heavy bomber Hell's Kitten over Europe in World War Two, and John Hughes flew as a waist gunner on the same plane. The plane was heavily damaged in aerial combat over Germany and made a forced landing in Switzerland. Both men eventually escaped.

About two weeks ago, David Hughes returned from his mother's house with a small box full of his late father's WWII possessions. In this box, he found an old photograph of an air crew in front of a B-24 named Hell's Kitten. He got on the internet and Googled Hell's Kitten and was directed to this blog. To his great surprise, he saw on this site the very same photograph that he held in his hands. My friend and sometime contributor to this blog, Les Poitras, had written an article about Dan and another bomber crewman, Maurice Rockett, and had included the photo.

David left a message on the blog for me; however, the posting was from September of last year, and I rarely go back and look at blog entries from that far back. More than likely, David's post would never have been discovered and the story would have ended there. The very same day that David posted the response requesting more information on the blog, another friend of mine, Richard Havers, who lives in Scotland, noticed it and brought the post to my attention. I then got in touch with David.

David was unaware that any members of his father's crew were still alive. His father had passed away and had never really discussed his war years much with the family. His knowledge of that era of his dad's life was a void. I made contact with my good friend Dan Culler, making sure it was okay to give David his contact information. Dan generously agreed, and so, after 65 years, a reunion of sorts took place between Dan and the son of his friend and former crewmate John Hughes.
Another photo that belonged to John Hughes, showing the crew of Hell's Kitten.

It's a series of coincidences and 'almost-never-happened' events that convinced Richard Havers to admit that some things are just meant to be. This is one of them.

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Brad's Bar Open Again at Horham Red Feather Club

During the war, young Brad Petrella wore many hats at the 95th BG base at Horham, England. One of these was to tend bar at the Red Feather Club, the non-commissioned officers' watering hole and meeting place on base. With his trusty night stick hanging on the wall just in case, young Petrella kept the men's whistles wet and their spirits up.
Photo above from 'Contrails' shows the original Red Feather Club, though not the bar.
Brad tends the bar, with a little help from fellow enlisted man Philip Mutton. His 'enforcer' hangs on the wall next to the window.

Many years later, when the Red Feather Club had been restored, including the bar, to its former glory, Brad returned and tended the bar once again. The bar has been painstakingly restored to look as close to the original as possible. In these photos taken in 2007, Brad serves up some pints to modern-day re-enactors, including 95th BG Heritage Association James Mutton's son Philip with Brad behind the bar. I had the pleasure of meeting Brad at the Tucson Reunion in March 2008, and also the pleasure of meeting Philip Mutton in England in June. Philip shares his dad's interest in the history of the 8th Air Force and the 95th Bomb Group.

Sadly, Brad Petrella passed away October 5, 2008, but his memory lives on at 'Brad's Bar'. Drop in for a pint next time you're in Horham, England. Tell 'em Brad sent you.
To read more about the life of Brad Petrella, click here.