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  • Writer's pictureMason Edwards!

Flying Behind a Hometown Hero

By Mason Edwards, Rising Rock Media

The decision that shaped the course of Freddy Few’s life happened not because of a recruiter, advertisement or newscast. Instead, Few followed in the footsteps of a hometown hero. Over forty years ago, he decided to enlist as a helicopter pilot in the Vietnam War.

Arriving home one evening, he found his mother crying in the kitchen. She had buried her hands in her face, letting her elbows collapse on the counter. Prying for the cause of her grief, Few learned that local role model Larry Taylor enlisted as a helicopter pilot.

Few then proved her worst fear true.

“Then I thought for a minute, and I said to my mother, I said, well, if that’s what Larry’s going to do, that’s what I’m going to do,” Few recalled. “And so after high school, I entered the army, went to flight school, earned my wings and was sent to Vietnam.”

Born in Murray Hills, Chattanooga, seven years after Taylor, Few admired Taylor from a young age. As Few explained it, Taylor took interest in a girl from his area, so he visited often. While he was there, Taylor treated the neighborhood’s children like family.

“He always took time out to help the kids out, play [foot]ball with us, drive us to the lake to go camping on Friday night,” Few recalled. “Then, Larry’d come by on Saturday, pick us up, take us all home.”

Years later, as the war in Vietnam escalated, Taylor unknowingly led Few away from home and across an ocean. While Taylor flew for D Troop (Air), 1st Squadron, 4th Cavalry, 1st Infantry Division, Few served alongside the “Blue Star, Jokers” in the 48th Assault Helicopter Company. One had to be invited to join–good enough to wear their unit motto: “SKILL NOT LUCK.”

During the war, Few routinely put the safety of his team above his own and skillfully piloted his vehicle, according to army citations. One mission had him save his commanding officer– who was stranded in a landing zone– from hundreds of North Vietnamese. Few earned dozens of medals, including the Silver Star, two Distinguished Flyer medals, Bronze Star for Valor, the Vietnamese Cross of Gallantry and more. 

Few appeared on television and in newspapers– including the March 31, 1971 cover of the New York Times. When reporters interviewed Few on the battlefield, he spoke his mind– even though the truth ran contradictory to President Richard Nixon’s public statements.

“They can talk about helicopter mobility all they want,” Few told Newsweek reporter Kevin Buckley in 1971, “But from where I’m flying, it’s a retreat and a bad one.” 

Even though he was shot down several times, the first story Few will tell anyone reminds him of Taylor. 

“But the first time I was ever shot down…I was crawling through the elephant grass in the landing zone surrounded by the North Vietnamese,” Few inhaled deeply. “And I knew if they caught me, they were going to scalp me…”

As his luck ran out, a North Vietnamese soldier slowly approached his chopper’s wreckage. His life unsecured, only a handful of moments stood in between Few and his demise. Few pulled out his 45-caliber revolver, pulled the hammer back and squeezed the trigger, and– silence. His flame-resistant glove– one he wore as a pilot– caught the breach.

“I was praying like crazy, as you can imagine, but I remember myself–distinctly–asking the Lord a question,” said Few. “I said, Lord, why did you want me to do what Larry did?”

Throwing the glove off, Few aimed quickly enough to save his life.

Still, Few didn’t walk away from the combat without lasting scars. Once, while flying a UH-1C Huey model gunship, an enemy managed to fire a bullet that hit the right ventilation post, which then immediately whacked Few’s face. It broke his helmet, visor and knocked out a couple of teeth. 

Another time, a bullet missed his head by two inches.

“When you go to the dentist, and he’s got a drill, and he’s drilling on your tooth, that smells just like cordite in a bullet,” added Few. “To this day, when I go to the dentist, when I smell that, you can’t hold me still in the chair.”

Surviving his two and a half years of service from 1969 to 1971, Few reached the rank of Chief Warrant Officer before returning home. Back in Chattanooga, he used the GI Bill to help him graduate from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga with a degree in history.

Few remained close with Taylor after the war and enjoyed celebrating his 40th birthday with him. When he heard of Taylor’s heroic rescue of four men with an attack helicopter, Few offered insight into the difficulty of piloting the Bell AH-1 Cobra under the conditions that Taylor did.

“When Larry did what he did, it had never been done before and it’s never been done since,” Few asserted. “If anybody deserved the Medal of Honor in Vietnam, it’s Captain Larry Taylor.”

When Chattanooga celebrated Taylor’s return with a welcome home parade, Few braved the unusually hot September sun for the ceremony’s entirety. 

Still not finished following his role model, Few also recommitted to attending his local chapter of the Vietnam Veterans of America.

“Since I found out Larry has been going, I’m going to start attending,” said Few, who mingled with other veterans for Chapter 203’s September meeting.

While not as monumental a decision as leaping into the skies, Few felt at home around familiar faces and friends. According to him, he has yet to regret a single decision he has made while flying behind his hometown hero.

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