During 2019, Freedoms Foundation and the Friends of the Medal of Honor Grove are paying tribute to the living recipients of the Medal of Honor on the anniversary of the actions for which they earned the nation’s highest award for valor. The series continues with a look at Jan. 31, 1968, the beginning of the Tet Offensive, and Chief Warrant Officer Frederick E. Ferguson of the 1st Cavalry Division’s 227th Aviation Battalion.
Frederick E. Ferguson’s Medal of Honor Citation reads:
“For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty. CWO Ferguson, U.S. Army distinguished himself while serving with Company C.
“CWO Ferguson, commander of a resupply helicopter monitoring an emergency call from wounded passengers and crewmen of a downed helicopter under heavy attack within the enemy controlled city of Hue, unhesitatingly volunteered to attempt evacuation. Despite warnings from all aircraft to stay clear of the area due to heavy antiaircraft fire, CWO Ferguson began a low-level flight at maximum airspeed along the Perfume River toward the tiny, isolated South Vietnamese Army compound in which the crash survivors had taken refuge.
“Coolly and skillfully maintaining his course in the face of intense, short range fire from enemy occupied buildings and boats, he displayed superior flying skill and tenacity of purpose by landing his aircraft in an extremely confined area in a blinding dust cloud under heavy mortar and small-arms fire.
“Although the helicopter was severely damaged by mortar fragments during the loading of the wounded, CWO Ferguson disregarded the damage and, taking off through the continuing hail of mortar fire, he flew his crippled aircraft on the return route through the rain of fire that he had experienced earlier and safely returned his wounded passengers to friendly control.
“CWO Ferguson’s extraordinary determination saved the lives of 5 of his comrades. His actions are in the highest traditions of the military service and reflect great credit on himself and the U.S. Army.”
Almost 20 years later, Ferguson reflected on that day in an interview published on Veterns Day, 1986, in the Arizona Republic:
“Somebody once told me the guy who gets the Medal of Honor must be crazy,” he said. “That’s bull. … The guys with the medal are not crazy. They did what they did regardless of the risk because it had to be done.”
There is some truth to the idea that Medal of Honor heroes act on impulse. Ferguson said he was different, however. “We planned what we did. It took about an hour and a half to fly that mission. It was not impulse, and that’s why I was successful.”
Mortar rounds landing in the walled compound blew holes in his aircraft. Bullets hit his armored seat. Point-blank fire from boats on the Perfume River, from buildings, from hundreds of ground troops, was directed at him.
“The only thing I was doing,” Ferguson said blandly, “was concentrating on flying that machine. If a bullet was going to get me, it was going to get me.” …
Ferguson still flies rescue missions. Last year, as a member of the Maricopa County Sheriffs Air Posse, he spotted from his pilot’s seat a child lost in the desert.
Although he said he would go to war again Ferguson, like many other holders of the medal, does not watch war movies. He calls them trash. “It wasn’t like that,” he said. “We were just a bunch of guys like in any other war. There were no Rambos in my outfit. There were no ‘Apocalypse Now’ guys.”
Reflecting on the future, Ferguson said, “My fondest hope is when I’m 105, when the flags are waving on Veterans Day, they’ll be talking about Fred Ferguson, ‘the last living recipient of the Medal of Honor.’ I hope we never have to give anyone else the opportunity to excel in combat. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all the money we have to spend on defense was spent on cancer research?”
(The Arizona Republic article and the inset about a rescue mission undertaken by Ferguson as a civilian pilot in Arizona are from the collection of Sr. Maria Veronica, who spent 17 years as the Medal of Honor archivist at Freedoms Foundation.)
Frederick Ferguson is honored in the Arizona Area of the Medal of Honor Grove
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