Vet­eran’s story

The Covington News - - FRONT PAGE - PETE MECCA COLUM­NIST Pete Mecca is a Viet­nam vet­eran, colum­nist and free­lance writer. You can reach him at avet­er­ansstory@gmail.com or avet­er­ansstory.us.

The se­cond part of Gary Freed­man’s heroic tale.

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 as­sign­ment

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 God­send. 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 So- malian; 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 grand- chil­dren.

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 doorto-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 rus h 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.

Sub­mit­ted pho­tos /The Covington News

(Top) As a ma­jor, Gary Freed­man re­ceived a nom­i­na­tive as­sign­ment with the United Na­tions; Above: As a Henry County Com­mis­sioner, Freed­man at­tended an AMS event with Gen.l Colin Pow­ell in March 2000.

Sub­mit­ted pho­tos /The Covington News

(Top) Lt Colonel Gary Freed­man and Somali Ma­jor Mo­hammed along the Jubba River in So­ma­lia in 1993. (Above) Capt. Gary Freed­man re­ceives the Soldiers Medal for Hero­ism, the high­est mil­i­tary award for non-com­bat-re­lated hero­ism.

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