Vietnam Vet Honored, 40 Years Later

In November 1965, North Vietnamese forces had American troops surrounded in a bloody firefight in the Ia Drang Valley. Two gutsy chopper pilots, best friends Bruce Crandall and Ed Freeman flew into the thick of it, CBS News correspondent Jerry Bowen reports.

It was chaotic. In fact, "it was worse than chaotic," Crandall says.

In fact, it was suicidal. "They shot my crew chief through the throat. Got a radio operator from the infantry, killed him," Crandall explains.

"People would come up to our helicopter loading the wounded, and they would shoot them down standing in front of the helicopter," says Ed Freeman, a fellow pilot in Vietnam.

And yet, on the worst day of the fighting, Maj. Crandall and Capt. Freeman kept flying, bringing ammo in and the wounded out. It was 22 missions in 14 hours for Crandall.

Only On The Web: Watch more of Jerry Bowen's interview with Bruce Crandall.
The two friends saved the lives of 70 wounded soldiers who most certainly would have died had they not been airlifted from the battle.

"If we hadn't been good, we would have been dead," Freeman says.

The story of their battle became a movie, based on the book "We Were Soldiers Once...And Young."

Crandall now lives on Puget Sound. Freeman retired to Boise, Idaho. Forty years later, they still joke over who was the best pilot.

"Ed was the second-best helicopter pilot in the Army at the time," Crandall says.

"Bruce is a good pilot, don't get me wrong. But he is the second-best pilot," Freeman counters.

Five years ago, Freeman was awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroism that day, in part because Crandall had campaigned hard for his friend. Though only one man was honored, it was a great day for both.

Today was an even better day for these old pals, because after years of paperwork delays, Crandall finally received own Medal of Honor.

"Today, the story comes to its rightful conclusion: Bruce Crandall receives the honor he always deserved," President Bush said at the presentation ceremony.

Indeed, they were soldiers once, and young. Now, they are among the nation's finest war heroes — and always, the best of friends.