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Freedman: Heroism in world's trouble spots

This is the second of two parts of Gary Freedman’s story.


Gary Freedman had survived his first tour of Vietnam and almost lost his left arm during his second tour. But now, near the DMZ between North and South Korea, Freedman had discarded his MP insignias for the Christian cross of a military chaplain. He didn’t know what else to do. A distraught soldier had taken three high-ranking officers hostages and was threatening to kill them all.

As Freedman entered the building posing as a chaplain, the disturbed soldier closed the door saying, "Good. Now I have four people to kill." It would be easy to make good on that threat; the irrational soldier had a fully loaded M-16 on fully automatic.

Freedman recalled, "I was scared to death, but did my best to convince the young man that I was on his side. However, my psychological pitch wasn’t working very well. I got on my knees and begged the soldier to spare our lives, but that wasn’t working, either. I finally asked his about his parents. The soldier admitted he was an only child.

"So I asked him, ‘Do you really want your mother to read in the newspaper that her only child shot four innocent people?’ He replied, ‘Enough of this B.S.’ and simply walked out of the building."

Once outside, the soldier was confronted by another MP armed with an automatic pistol. The troubled warrior raised his M-16 and said, ‘OK, let’s do it.’ But before gunfire erupted, Freedman tackled the soldier from behind and wrestled him to the ground as the M-16 went off right next to Freedman’s ear.

Freedman recalled, "The entire clip emptied next to my ear. I was deaf for a week!" No other injuries occurred.


Award for heroism

When Freedman returned to his office, he discovered that his men had removed the MP crossed-pistols insignia from his desk nameplate and replaced them with the crosses of a chaplain. Freedman received The Soldier’s Medal, the highest military award for non-combat-related heroism. Due to his courageous handling of the incident, Freedman was sent to a hostage course given by the FBI.

"That was interesting," he said. "The only person in the course, including the instructor, who had any hostage experience was me. I ended up answering appropriate questions so the others could learn."

For the next three years Freedman and his family lived in Georgia.

"I was assigned to CID, the Criminal Investigative Division at Ft. Gillem. I also took advanced courses in criminology." After three years, at least according to the Army, it’s time to move, and, Freedman said, "I conned my way into an assignment with Forces Command at Ft. McPherson for another year. But after that, it was time for something new."


United Nations


That "something new" was a nominative assignment with the United Nations as an observer to the Middle East. Freedman said, "MPs don’t receive nominative assignments to the United Nations, but after a briefing at the Pentagon, I was on my way to Jerusalem as head of an observer force. My first six months were in Damascus, the last six months in Cairo."

The U.N. Commanding General was from Guyana. Freedman recalled, "I remember him saying, ‘Israel and Egypt don’t like us; the Syrians hate us, and the Lebanese don’t trust us. Welcome to the Middle East.’ He ordered me to form a U.N. investigation unit, the first of its kind in that area."

Freedman formed an international unit of skilled military investigators from Ireland, Australia, New Zealand and Sudan.

"We had great guys in our group," he recalled. "We stirred up quite a hornet’s nest."

They did Indeed. Freedman’s unit broke up longstanding smuggling rings for narcotics, gold, and weapons. And, "We broke up a few things that I can’t discuss," he said with a smile. Many of the guilty received diplomatic immunity, but still had to appear in court and receive the curse of "persona non grata."

Freedman said, "I know of at least one guy they sent home who ended up dead within a week."

Being honest and doing right came at a price: Freedman was on the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization) hit list for the entire year.

"Yep," he said, "I had to check my vehicle every day for a car bomb."

Normally a wordy "evaluation report" on Freedman would be written by his "rater" at the Pentagon, but the Deputy Ambassador requested and received the honor. It was short and sweet: "Freedman was a God-send. He cannot be replaced. He makes me proud to be an American."

While serving five years with the 3rd Army at Ft. Gordon, Freedman once again received an assignment that put the reliable American in harm’s way: countering the Soviet Union’s influence in Yemen and Somalia.

Bab-el-Mandeb (the Gate of Tears) connects the Gulf of Aden with the Red Sea. The narrow passageway flows between Yemen on one side and Eritrea and Djibouti on the other. Precious oil runs the gauntlet, and foreign involvement rarely leads to the best of results.

Freedman recalled, "The people are not Somalian; they’re tribal. We were backing a despotic president, but he was the leader, and things went south fast. I saw people burned alive; (there was) very little value for human life."

Freedman traveled with a Lt. Gen. Theodore Jenes for five years. They averaged 18 days a month away from home.

"It was rough on a family man," he said, "but I felt like my work was ‘world work’; it affected the whole world."

Later assignments included the Army Corp of Engineers; a three-month stint "in-country" during Desert Storm; discarding his Army uniform to wear the required safari uniform in Kenya; and a promotion to lieutenant colonel in the jungles of Kenya that he’ll never forget.

"I received the surprise promotion from Lt. Gen. Jenes in June of 1987. Warriors from the Samburu tribe inquisitively watched the impromptu ceremony. When their chief found out an American warrior was being elevated, he gave me his spear stating that, ‘A recognized warrior needs a good spear.’ I was humbled."

After serving his country for 26 years, Gary Freedman decided to spend time with family and friends.

"It’s been great," he said. "I love the time I spend with my grandchildren." He needs a lot of time; one of his sons, David, being a good Catholic, has presented Col. Freedmen with 14 grandchildren.

In his "spare" time, Freedman volunteers for a United Way project to help homeless veterans, Vets Connect; serves as chairman of his church council; and served two terms as a Henry County commissioner. In closing, Freedman recalled, "You know, when I first came to Georgia, I was introduced to Southern hospitality in the Smoky Mountains by an old-timer who gave me a MoonPie and RC Cola. I knew then and there that I’d make the South my home.

"But oddly enough, when campaigning door-to-door for a second term as county commissioner, I was actually chased off a guy’s property because, as he kept screaming, ‘I’d never vote for a damned Yankee!’ I guess I should have offered him a MoonPie and RC Cola."

Eulogy for a Veteran (from Freedman’s scrap book — author unknown)

Do not stand at my grave and weep I am not there, I do not sleep. I am a thousand winds that blow I am the diamond glint of snow

I am the sunlight on ripened grain I am the gentle autumn rain.

When you awaken in the mornings hush I am the swift uplifting rush of quiet birds in circled flight I am the soft stars that shine at night.

Do not stand at my grave and cry, I am not there, I DID NOT DIE.

 Pete Mecca is a Vietnam veteran, columnist and freelance writer. You can reach him at or