In response to my piece on LRC the other day, a reader sent me a story about someone he considers a real war hero – Captain Ed Freeman. Captain Freeman was the helicopter pilot who, when all the other pilots couldn’t, or wouldn’t, flew into the middle of a fierce gun battle to evacuate several dozen wounded soldiers, despite being wounded several times himself. Below is my response.
Consider an analogous situation, where a band of marauders invades a family’s home. They soon come under counterattack and are pinned down by the family’s superior defenses. Rushing in to rescue the thieves is not heroic, or at the very least, nothing to celebrate. Anyone concerned with justice or the defense of innocent life and private property should have no confusion over which party to support.
Warrant Officer Hugh Thompson is more of a hero in my eyes. He’s the pilot who witnessed the My Lai Massacre and intervened directly to put an end to the killing of women, children, and elderly Vietnamese people. Risking his life and military career (the latter being far more important to many military men) he placed himself between civilians and the soldiers bent on slaughtering them.
He told the truth when everyone, from the privates on the ground to the chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, tried to cover up the murder of anywhere between 350 to 500 people. The military lied about the facts of the case and Congressman Mendel Rivers wanted Thompson court-martialed for his actions. Thompson wouldn’t back down and the army had to investigate, which lead to the cancellation of similar operations in that part of Vietnam, potentially saving the lives of countless others. That is heroic.
Here is what Thompson saw, and what he tried to put an end to: