February 27, 2007, - 4:07 pm
By Debbie Schlussel
Yesterday, President Bush honored retired Army helicopter pilot Bruce Crandall with the Medal of Honor.
It’s long past due. Crandall, a bonified American hero, repeatedly risked his life, leading a two-helicopter team into the “Valley of Death” in Vietnam to save American soldiers fighting for their lives. Of note is why Crandall did not get the honor until now. He withdrew his name from consideration so he wouldn’t get the award before his wingman, Ed Freeman.
Not just a great American and a hero, but a class act, as well. Here’s more on this courageous man, from today’s USA Today:
Crandall, 74, might have been eligible to receive the award – the nation’s highest military medal – years earlier. But he withdrew his name from consideration in the 1990s because he worried his quest for the medal might take precedence over that of his wingman and friend, Ed Freeman.
“If only one of them were to receive the Medal of Honor, he wanted it to be his wingman,” President Bush said in the East Room before placing the blue-ribboned medal around Crandall’s neck. “Today the story comes to its rightful conclusion: Bruce Crandall receives the honor he always deserved.”
Freeman received his medal in a 2001 ceremony at the White House. Crandall, of Manchester, Wash., attended the event. Freeman, 79, couldn’t attend Crandall’s ceremony because his flight from his hometown in Boise was snowed in.
The two have been friends since basic training. On Nov. 14, 1965, they teamed up during a vicious battle later memorialized in a book and the Mel Gibson film We Were Soldiers.
On that day, about 450 American troops had landed in a remote area of Vietnam near the Cambodian border. They were unaware that their landing in the Ia Drang Valley was amid a major sanctuary for the North Vietnamese Army.
The Americans were surrounded by about 2,000 North Vietnamese soldiers and came under intense attack. Crandall and Freeman flew the wounded out to a base and returned with troops and ammunition. They kept making trips back and forth even though they were being shot at by enemy fighters, sometimes only 30 yards away.
They flew through a cloud of smoke and a wave of bullets, Bush said. Ground commanders ordered a halt to the airlifts because of the danger, but Crandall kept going, and Freeman joined him.
“We knew that if we didn’t do it our guys would go down,” Crandall said in an interview last week.
The two men made 22 trips over 14 hours. Crandall switched helicopters three times after the aircraft were shot up.
The two men pulled more than 70 Americans out of the battle zone. The battalion lost 79 men, but the North Vietnamese were overcome.
“For the soldiers rescued, for the men who came home, for the children they had and the lives they made, America is in debt to Bruce Crandall,” Bush said. “It’s a debt our nation can never really fully repay, but today we recognize it as best as we’re able.”
Tags: actor, America, Army helicopter pilot, Bruce Crandall, Bush, Debbie Schlussel Yesterday, Ed Freeman, Greg Kinnear, Honor Crandall, Ia Drang Valley, Manchester, North Vietnamese Army, President, USA Today, Vietnam, Washington, We Were Soldiers, White House