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Bush Presents Congressional Medal of Honor

Aired July 16, 2001 - 09:35   ET


LEON HARRIS, CNN ANCHOR: We want to the take you now to Washington, to the East Room of the White House. President Bush has just entered the room, and they are now in the midst of the prayer opening the ceremonies where in moments we are going to be witnessing President Bush confirming upon a helicopter pilot from the Vietnam War era the medal of honor, the highest nation's honor.


GEORGE W. BUSH, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: Good morning, and welcome to the White House.

Today for the first time I will present the Medal of Honor. It's a unique privilege to present the nation's highest military distinction to Ed Freeman of Boise, Idaho. This moment is well deserved, and it's been long in coming.

Our White House military unit is accustomed to a lot of great events, but I can assure you they started this day with a great sense of anticipation. After all, they know how rare this kind of gathering is and what it means: To be in the presence of one who has won the Medal of Honor is a privilege; to be in the room with a group of over 50 is a moment none of us will ever forget.

We're in the presence of more than 50 of the bravest men who've ever worn the uniform and I want to welcome you all to the White House.


It's an honor as well to welcome Barbara, a name I kind of like, Ed's wife, along with his family members and members of his unit from Vietnam.

As well, I want to welcome the vice president, the secretary of defense, secretary of veterans affairs, the joint chiefs as well as members of the Joint Chiefs.

I want to welcome Senator McCain. I want to welcome Senator Craig, Congressman Otter, Congressman Simpson from the delegation of Idaho. And I want to welcome you all.

It was in this house, in this office upstairs, that Abraham Lincoln signed into law the bills establishing the Medal of Honor. By a custom that began with Theodore Roosevelt, the Medal of Honor is to be presented by the president. That duty came to Harry S. Truman more than 70 times. He often said that he'd rather wear the medal than to be the commander in chief. Some of you might have heard him say that.


Perhaps you were also here on May 2, 1963 when John F. Kennedy welcomed 240 recipients of the Medal of Honor.

BUSH: By all rights, another president from Texas should have had the honor of conferring this medal. It was in the second year of Lynden Johnson's presidency that Army Captain Ed Freeman did something that the men of the 7th Calvary have never forgotten. Years passed, even decades, but the memory of what happened on November 14, 1965 has always stayed with them.

For his actions that day, Captain Freeman was awarded the distinguished Flying Cross, but the men who were there, including the commanding officer, Lieutenant Colonel Bruce Crandall, felt a still higher honor was called for. Through the unremitting efforts of Lieutenant Colonel Crandall and many others and the persuasive weight from Senator John McCain, the story now comes to its rightful conclusion.

That story began with a battalion surrounded by the enemy in one of Vietnam's fiercest battles. The survivors remember the desperate fear of almost certain death. They remember gunfire that one witness described as the most intense he had ever seen, and they remember the sight of an unarmed helicopter coming to their aid. The man with 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.

In a moment, we will hear the full citation in all its heroic detail. General Eisenhower once observed that when you hear a Medal of Honor citation, you practically assume that the man in question didn't make it out alive. In fact, about 1 in 6 never did, and the other five, men just like you all here, probably didn't expect to.

Citations are also written in the most simple of language, needing no embellishment or techniques of rhetoric. They record places and names and events that describe themselves. The medal itself bears only one word and needs only one, valor.

As a boy of 13, Ed Freeman saw thousands of men on maneuvers pass by his home in Mississippi. He decided then and there that he would be a soldier. A lifetime later the Congress has now decided that he's even more than a soldier because he did more than his duty. He served his country and his comrades to the fullest, rising above and beyond anything the Army or the nation could have ever asked.

It's been some years now, since he left the service and was last saluted.

BUSH: But from this day, wherever he goes, by military tradition, Ed Freeman will merit a salute from any enlisted personnel or officer of rank. Commander Seevers, I'll now ask you to read this citation of the newest member of the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, and it'll be my honor to give him his first salute.

COMMANDER GEORGE SEEVERS: Ladies and gentlemen, please remain seated for the reading of the citation and the presentation of the medal. The president of the United States of America, authorized by act of Congress, March 3, 1863 has awarded in the name of the Congress the medal of honor to Captain Ed W. Freeman, United States Army, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. Captain Ed W. Freeman, United States Army, distinguished himself by numerous acts of conspicuous gallantry and extraordinary intrepidity on 14 November, 1965, while serving with Company A, 229th, Assault Helicopter Battalion, First Cavalry Division Air Mobil (ph).

As a flight leader and second in command of a 16-helicopter lift unit, he supported a heavily engaged American infantry battalion at landing zone X-ray in the Idrang Valley, Republic of Vietnam. The infantry unit was almost out of ammunition, after taking some of the heaviest casualties of the war, fighting off a relentless attack from a highly motivated, heavily armed enemy force.

When the infantry commander closed the helicopter landing zone, due to intense direct enemy fire, Captain Freeman risked his own life by flying his unarmed helicopter through a gauntlet of enemy fire, time after time, delivering critically needed ammunition, water and medical supplies to the Paceeds (ph) battalion.

His flights had a direct impact on the battle's outcome by providing the engaged units with timely supplies of ammunition critical to their survival without which they would almost surely have experienced a much greater loss of life. After medical evacuation helicopters refused to fly into the area, due to intense enemy fire, Captain Freeman flew 14 separate rescue missions, providing life- saving evacuation of an estimates 30 seriously wounded soldiers, some of whom would not have survived, had he not acted.

All flights were made into a small emergency landing zone within 100 to 200 meters of the defensive perimeter where heavily committed units were perilously holding off the attacking elements. Captain Freeman's selfless acts of great valor, extraordinary perseverance and intrepidity were far above and beyond the call of duty or mission and set a superb example of leadership and courage for all of his peers.

SEEVERS: Captain Freeman's extraordinary heroism and devotion to duty are in keeping with the highest traditions of military service and reflect great credit upon himself, his unit and the United States Army.


HARRIS: There you see a recipient who goes by the nickname of "Too Tall" -- Ed Freeman of Idaho -- has just received the Congressional Medal of Honor, the nation's highest of those who have served in a branch of the military. TO ORDER A VIDEO OF THIS TRANSCRIPT, PLEASE CALL 800-CNN-NEWS OR USE OUR SECURE ONLINE ORDER FORM LOCATED AT


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