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Joe Galloway: Farewell to an American Hero


Sadly, as I wait in an airport departure lounge, just days before returning to combat, a message came from Joe Galloway. And so, as I sit here reading Joe's latest column, I am less saddened than uplifted to know that such Americans as "Too Tall" Ed Freeman still exist. As I board my plane for Afghanistan, Too Tall gets to go to heaven. God Speed "Too Tall" Freeman!


By Joseph L. Galloway

McClatchy Newspapers

For the better part of 60 years, two old Army pilots who loved each other argued over many a meal and drink as to which of them was the second best pilot in the world.

The two shared the cockpits of old Beaver prop planes and Huey helicopters; they shared rooms in military hooches all over the world; they shared a love of practical and impractical jokes and they shared an undying love of flying and soldiers and the Army.

They also shared membership in a very small and revered fraternity of fewer than 105 men who are entitled to wear around their necks the light blue ribbon and gold pointed star that is the Medal of Honor, America’s highest decoration for heroism above and beyond the call of duty.

Their story was told in a book my buddy Lt. Gen. Hal Moore and I wrote 15 years ago titled "We Were Soldiers Once . . . and Young" and in the Mel Gibson movie, "We Were Soldiers," released in the spring of 2002. Too Tall and Old Snake were ably portrayed in the movie.

Their argument over which of them is the Best Pilot in the Whole World sadly came to an end this week when our friend and comrade-in-arms Maj. Ed (Too Tall to Fly) Freeman slipped the surly bonds of earth and headed off to Fiddler’s Green, where the souls of departed cavalrymen gather by dispensation of God Himself.

Too Tall Ed was 80 years old when he died in a hospital in Boise, Idaho, after long being ill with Parkinson’s disease. He turned down a full dress hero’s funeral in Arlington National Cemetery in favor of a hometown service and burial in the National Cemetery in Boise, close to the rivers he loved to fish and the mountains he flew through in his second career flying for the U.S. Forest Service.

A few days before the end, his old buddy Lt. Col. Bruce (Ancient Serpent 6) Crandall came to the hospital to say his goodbyes to Too Tall Ed, and to enjoy one last round of arguing with Ed over that question of which of them was the best pilot in the world.

In a fine display of the sort of gallows humor that's always helped men who know the horrors of war keep some of their sanity, Bruce told Ed that he intended to settle the question once and for all by borrowing a helicopter, sling-loading Ed’s coffin below it and then lowering it into the grave where Too Tall will rest _ something that only the Best Pilot in the World could do. Something that only the best friend in the world could tell a dying man.

These two men received their Medals of Honor long after the deeds that earned them in the furious battles of the Ia Drang Valley in November of 1965 at the dawn of our long, bitter war in Vietnam. President George W. Bush presented Too Tall Ed with his medal in 2001 and hung the medal around Old Snake Crandall’s neck in 2007.

When their friends in the 1st Battalion, 7th U.S. Cavalry were surrounded and fighting for their lives near the Cambodian border and needed ammunition and water and helicopters to carry out the gravely wounded, Bruce and Ed flew their Huey helicopters, again and again, into a small clearing swept by North Vietnamese machine gun and rifle fire.

I rode into Landing Zone X-Ray sitting atop a case of hand grenades on one of Bruce Crandall’s missions after dark on November 14, 1965, wondering if one of those bullets might turn us all into a puff of greasy smoke. I rode out of X-Ray after the battle ended on November 16, again on Bruce’s helicopter.

In later years, he and Ed and I would joke about the love-hate relationship that I and the infantrymen had with the chopper pilots: Hated them for flying us into Hell and dumping us off; loved them for coming back to get us when it was time to leave.

Mostly we laughed ourselves silly as first Ed, then Bruce recounted tales of one escapade after another; of moonlight requisition raids against the U.S. Air Force for needed or merely desired goodies unavailable from the Army supply chain; of the time Bruce was caught trying to sling-load a 10 kilowatt generator off its pad on an airbase.

Now Too Tall Ed Freeman, a much larger than life-size hero at 6 feet 7 inches tall and a much better friend than we deserved, is gone, and we are left with too large a hole in our hearts and in our dwindling ranks.

Cleared for Takeoff, Ed!

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  • This commment is unpublished.
    Ky Woman · 12 years ago
    And we as a nation are poorer for his passing...

    Reminds me of what I have said of my father and grandfather, "God threw away the mold after he made them".

    Joe, Thank you for your story... then and now.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Pat Crowley · 12 years ago
    Joe, That was a fine piece of writing on a real-life giant. Please accept my condolences on the loss of your good friend.
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    Dawnsblood · 12 years ago
    Congratulations Major. Now you will fly for all eternity with no worries about fuel or shot.
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    DagneyT · 12 years ago
    Michael, I graduated high school in 1965, and went through the hell my friends went through when they came home. I remember walking down the street with a school friend in his uniform when someone hurled a pop can at him with accompanying epithets. I was with other friends who were not even in their uniforms, but were well-groomed, i.e., no beard or long hair, who were mistaken as "military" and were treated similarly.

    All of the above is the reason I am a Soldiers Angel,, because I refuse to allow this generation of heroes to undergo the horrendous treatment my friends endured.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Tom Lane · 12 years ago
    Joe, please accept my condolences. This nation lost a true American Hero. I didn't know Ed but was a proud member of the 8th Cav, Jumpin Mustangs, 1969. There were no better pilots in the world then those of the Cav. I thank you for your story of the men of the Ira Drang. It was through their sacrifices that we, who came later, were able to survive that horrible war. Ed..will see you and all the others on the Fiddler's Green. AIRMOBILE!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bob Miller · 12 years ago
    My most heartfelt condolences and prayers to the family of this Rotored Warrior. He is a true hero.
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    Arlene · 12 years ago
    Yes, Gods Speed, Too Tall Ed. What a nice tribute Joe Galloway has written for his friend. I'm tempted to say, "They don't make them like that anymore", but they DO, don't they Michael? Yes, indeed they do. God Bless all of our troops in the air and on the ground.
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    JohnH · 12 years ago
    Sleep well old Warrior and rest easy.
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    Michael Bednarz · 12 years ago
    Great thoughts, and eulogy Joe. This man was truly what is best about our Nation, and it's heroes that make it what it is.

    God Bless you Major, SALUTE!
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Voice_in_DC · 12 years ago
    Great article. Great tribute to a great man.
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    Charles Rittenburg · 12 years ago
    What a wonderful and worthy eulogy. I thank God for the many, largely unsung, great American heroes who serve our Nation, like MAJ Freeman, LTC Crandall, and, indeed, you yourself, Joe Galloway. Your lifetimes of devotion and service are symbolic of what makes our country great. You have set the course for the great heroes of today's generation. Thank you, Joe.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    EJ Smith SSG, USA Re · 12 years ago
    Rest in peace and God speed.

    A true hero.
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    R.E. Konrad · 12 years ago
    God bless that crazy sumbitch and all crazy sumbitches like him. May he forever rest in peace.
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    DS Bisesi · 12 years ago
    To paraphrase a line from an old Clint Eastwood movie seems appropriate............."Here's to HIM and MEN like him, there are damn few left!!"

    RIP Major Ed Freeman!!!
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    Peachy · 12 years ago
    Thank you Maj. Freeman. You have finally attained the peace you so deserve.

    Thank you Lt. Col. Crandall for your service and the example you set for all of us.

    Thank you Joe, for continuing to tell the story.

    Welcome home to all of you.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Chuck · 12 years ago
    It is the job of ALL of us to immortalize Great Men like this so that their sacrifice for all of OUR Freedom will NEVER be forgotten. People of all generations need heroes like these to learn from their example and truly believe in the greatness and good that comes out in the most dire of all circumstances. Fair Winds and Following Seas Major, may your skies be always blue.
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    Tincan Sailor · 12 years ago
    My wife and I attended his internment Saturday, He was given a send off that made you proud to be an American .As one of the Vietnam vets said
    heƒ??s looking down and enjoying every minute. The paper had an article
    about his last weeks in the hospital when some of the guyƒ??s he rescued
    came by to see himƒ??Thankƒ??s for the story Joeƒ??
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Irma S Chambers · 12 years ago
    I had the honor of meeting Ed Freeman last year and he was all that is said and written about him. I wrote a poem about meeting him and his wife Barbara that I would like to share with the readers here on this forum. I attended his funeral last Saturday it was a hero's farewell to a deserving veteran and remarkable man.

    I feel blessed to have met him.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Gismo Fly, UK · 12 years ago
    Thanks. My condolences on your loss. He is our loss too.

    "Gary Owen"
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    Al King · 12 years ago
    Fine words and fitting for a Warrior. It is comforting to know that America will always have Ed Freemans and Joe Galloways.
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    Doug Freeman · 12 years ago
    He will be missed; he is a man's, man!! great inspiration, best friend and wonderful father.

    -- Doug Freeman ("Too Tall's" youngest son)
    • This commment is unpublished.
      Jay Keene · 5 years ago
      Doug, As I sit here watching 'We were Soldiers' for the umpteenth time. I recall the article back in 2008 of your Dad's passing and re-reading about his and Bruce's exploits. I just wanted you to know that I still remember and honor your Dad. Happy Remembrance/ Veterans Day.
  • This commment is unpublished.
    Bob Cole · 4 years ago
    Thank you for all you have done for the Vietnam Vets and your harrowing story in the Ia Drang Valley. I have the utmost respect for you and the Troops you helped and fought next to there. I read the book several times and watch the movie often. Usually whenever I need a reality check and to feel thankful for my life and what I have. Most American people only heard the bad stuff about that horrible war but you brought to light a side of the story that makes sense. I was too young to be there but have friends & family that were there and sometimes they share stories but not too often. I understand. Again, Thank you and my hats off to you and all the friends you made during that time. Godspeed to all of you.

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