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Late Army Sergeant honored by Senator Young

October 12, 2016
By David Prenatt - , Westfield Republican

RIPLEY - U.S. Army Sergeant Phillip Freligh was killed in Kuwait on March 12, 2001, yet his heroism has been mostly unacknowledged and uncelebrated - until now.

Sixteen years after his death, New York State Senator Catharine Young came to Ripley Saturday to present several posthumous military awards to Freligh's father Larry and members of his family.

Sen. Young welcomed everyone and spoke of the heroism that Philip showed throughout seven years in the armed services. "The sacrifices he (Freligh) made in faithful service to our country can never be adequately repaid, but today, with these medals, which are presented in his honor, we hope to express our gratitude and admiration for his willingness to answer his country's call when it needed him," she said.

Article Photos

Photo by David Prenatt
State Senator Cathy Young presents several medals and citations awarded posthumously to Army sergeant Philip Freligh. To her right is Philip’s father, Larry.

When he was killed, Phillip Freligh was an Explosive Ordnance Disposal specialist (EOD) with the 707th Ordnance Company of Fort Lewis, WA. He became an EOD in 1997 and had served in several assignments, including on the West Coast EOD squad for President Clinton, his father said.

Phillip and five others were killed in a friendly fire incident on March 12, 2001 in Kuwait. According to the Army report, they had been watching a live-fire exercise when the pilot of an U.S. Navy F-18 Hornet dropped three 500-pound bombs in the wrong place, striking their position.

The planes involved in the training exercise were from the aircraft carrier USS Harry S. Truman. Oddly enough, Freligh said in an earlier interview, his son had been on that ship less than a week before. Every carrier must have an EOD specialist on board because of the potential for explosions, he said.

"I received an e-mail from him that said: 'I'm going to go on exercise. I can't tell you where I'm going or what I'll be doing," Freligh said. "That was the last we heard from him."

At the presentation, Sen. Young presented Freligh with medals and badges to "honor the veteran who left our shores and put himself on the line to serve out country in distant lands, far from his home, family and community."

Sen. Young described each award and concluded by saying, "It is a profound honor and privilege to present these overdue honors to the family of Sergeant Phillip Freligh."

The Army Commendation Medal is awarded to any member of the Armed Forces of the U.S. who, while serving in any capacity with the Army after December 6, 1941, distinguished him or herself by heroism, meritorious achievement or meritorious service.

The Army Achievement Medal with Bronze oak Leaf Cluster is awarded to any member of the Armed Forces of the U.S or members of foreign military forces for outstanding achievement or meritorious service rendered specifically on behalf of the Army in a non-combat area on or after August 1, 1981. Freligh was awarded the Army Achievement Medal both as Private First class and as Specialist.

The Good conduct Medal with "Loop" Device is authorized for soldiers after completing three years of service after December 7, 1941. It is awarded on a selective basis to soldiers who are distinguished by exemplary conduct, efficiency and fidelity.

The National Defense Service Medal with Bronze Star Device is awarded to anyone who served honorable in the United States military during the Korean War, the Vietnam War, the Persian Gulf War or the Global War on Terrorism. Freligh received the medal for his service during the last two designated time periods.

The Army Service Ribbon is awarded to individuals who voluntarily entered the U.S. Army after 1975, under the All Volunteer Force concept.

The U.S. Army Parachutist Badge is only awarded to those soldiers who have completed formal training with required proficiency tests or who have participated in at least one combat parachute jump.

The Explosive Ordinance Disposal Badge is awarded to those service members qualified as EOD technicians, and who are specially trained to deal with the construction, deployment, disarmament and disposal of high explosive, improvised or nuclear, biological and chemical weapons.

The U.S. Army Expert Marksman Badge with Grenade Bar and Sharpshooter Badge with Rifle Bar are presented upon successful completion weapons qualification courses.

Sen. Young noted that after serving with the 73rd Armored Regiment for 33 months, Freligh decided to re-train as an Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) Specialist. "Explosive Ordinance Disposal Specialists are the Army's preeminent tactical and technical explosives, and the training is rigorous and tough," noted Young.

After completing assignments as an EOD with the 832nd Ordinance Battalion, the 734th EOD Company, 84th Ordinance Battalion, and the 707th Ordinance Company, 3rd Ordinance Battalion, Sergeant Freligh was deployed to Kuwait where he assisted with the ordinance and gunnery training of military aircrews on the Udairi Range.

Sen. Young spoke of Saturday's presentation as being bittersweet. "My heart goes out to the family for your loss," she said. "We honor his sacrifice, but we celebrate a life well livedHe loved his community, he loved his family, he loved his country."

Sen. Young invited Larry Freligh to say a few words. "It's been eighteen years since we've lost him," Freligh said. "I've asked myself why this scrawny, skinny kid wanted to be an EOD expert

Freligh also spoke of his son's training which took place at a Naval base, noting that 85 applicants began the 32-week program and only 18 graduated to become EOD specialists. "They tested them every week and if you failed any part of the program, you were kicked out," he said. "It made me quite proud of him."

Several members of Freligh's family were present at the service, including his father, Larry Freligh, his brother, Christopher Freligh, has grandmothers, Mrs. Minnie Freligh and Mrs. Estella Boyd, and his uncle, Mr. Scott Freligh.

Pastor Phil Johnson of the First Presbyterian Church in Ripley delivered the invocation and final blessing during the ceremony. Johnson, who has been close friends with Larry Freligh for decades, is Philip's godfather and namesake. In his invocation, Johnson said: "We are gathered together to honor a veteran who served our country overseas, and whose sacrifices can never be repaid."

Susan Riley, President of the local chapter of Gold Star Mothers of America, presented Larry Freligh and his mother-in-law, Mrs. Estella Boyd, with banners. Riley told the audience that she remembered when Larry Freligh called the Senator's office in early June. Riley noted that "Changes have been made because of this fateful day" she said referring to training practices that were altered because of the accident that killed Philip. "These changes may very well have saved the life of my son .Please know that Phillip will never, ever be forgotten."

In an earlier interview, Larry Freligh spoke of how he tried unsuccessfully for years to have a purple heart awarded posthumously to his son. He became especially frustrated when he learned about so many cases where purple hearts were given for little reason.

"They were passing out purple hearts like candy," Freligh said. "I've been trying for 16 years to get him (Phillip) a purple heart. He's not going to get one."

No matter what office Freligh appealed to, the reason why Phillip and the others were denied the purple heart medal was always the same he was killed in a training accident. Freligh said he got so upset that he contacted Sen. Young's office and sacked off to the person in charge of military affairs.

"About a month later, her staff called me. They said she wanted to do something special for Philip," he said.

During the years after Philip's death, Freligh heard about the "Fallen Heroes Project" created by internationally known artist Michael Reagan who has drawn more than 1500 celebrities including several presidents. Reagan has drawn more than 4,500 portraits of service men and women who have been killed in the line of duty, and sent them free of charge to their families. These portraits and a small biography can be found on the Fallen Heroes Project website.

Freligh contacted Reagan's organization about his son. Reagan then drew a portrait of Phillip and sent it to Freligh. This portrait was on display during the presentation.



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