Sonoran Desert Institute

All the Latest News, Reviews and Developments happening with the Sonoran Desert Institute!

Medal of Honor Highlight: Ed “Too Tall” Freeman and the Battle of Ia Drang

The Congressional Medal of Honor is the highest, most prestigious decoration awarded to those servicemen and women for gallantry and bravery in combat above and beyond the call of duty. Fewer than 4,000 individuals of the millions who have served between its inception in 1863 and today have received it, and a great many of them received it posthumously.

This is one of their many stories. All information provided in this article is provided by Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty by Peter Collier.

Ed Freeman, born 1927 in Neely, Mississippi, was a veteran of three wars: World War II, the Korean War, and more famously the Vietnam War.

Freeman actually served in World War II as a Navy man and the Korean War as an infantryman — at an incredible 6’4″, the man was actually considered too tall to be a pilot.

In 1955, the height limit for pilot school was raised, however, and Freeman was finally able to pursue his dream of becoming a pilot.

Initially, Too Tall — the nickname stuck — flew fixed-wing aircraft. That didn’t last for long, however. He soon switched to helicopters.

You may think you know of Too Tall’s exploits from the hit war film We Were Soldiers, and while the movie does an excellent job portraying a large portion of the events surrounding Freeman’s actions, it doesn’t fully capture the context in which he performed what he did.

Freeman flew a battalion to the Ia Drang Valley in 1965 to engage North Vietnamese forces in what would turn out to be the first major battle of the Vietnam War.

Unfortunately for those being transported, after they were dropped off it was discovered that they were wildly outnumbered. Ammunition and medical supplies were drained quickly as casualties climbed at an alarming rate.

The fighting was so fierce, in fact, that medevac helicopters refused to fly in and pick up the wounded. The request was made of Freeman’s 16-helicopter unit for volunteers to extract wounded and bring in supplies.

Freeman stepped up. Freeman’s unit commander, Major Bruce Crandall, stepped up. That’s it.

The two men flew multiple times into a tiny, emergency landing zone created because the original landing zone was compromised.

The emergency landing zone was about 100 yards from heavy fighting, and the lightly-armored UH-1 received multiple hits from small arms fire.

Freeman carried out 14 separate emergency rescue missions and extracted dozens of wounded, many of which wouldn’t have survived without his bravery.

Freeman and his commander kept what remained of the battalion alive. Too Tall was commended for his actions, but did not receive the Medal of Honor until George Bush presented it to him, for his gallantry and bravery far beyond what was required of him, in 2001.

Remember his name.

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Medal of Honor Highlight: Thomas Hudner, Korea’s First Nominee

The Congressional Medal of Honor is the highest, most prestigious decoration awarded to those servicemen and women for gallantry and bravery in combat above and beyond the call of duty. Fewer than 4,000 individuals of the millions who have served between its inception in 1863 and today have received it, and a great many of them received it posthumously.

This is one of their many stories. All information provided in this article is provided by Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty by Peter Collier.

Thomas Hudner, born in 1924, had no real plans on flying a plane when he graduated the United States Naval Academy in 1946. Not too long after he had entered the service, however, he had both served aboard ship and at Pearl Harbor and wanted a greater challenge. He volunteered for flight school.

He became a F4U Corsair Pilot.

Image result for f4u corsair

By late 1950, the young flier was serving over the skies of Korea in the first of the “hot” wars sparked by the Cold War.

On December 4, Lieutenant Hudner was flying his plane with five others on an armed reconnaissance mission over North Korea. Hudner was wingman to one Jesse Brown, who happened to be the Navy’s first black pilot.

While Brown was strafing enemy positions, he was shot down by anti-aircraft fire. He was unable to bail out or escape the area thanks to his current altitude and the height of surrounding mountains. Hudner helped Brown attempt a crash landing, and miraculously, Brown survived that landing.

Brown had managed to crash-land his plane, wheels down, in a nearby clearing. However, as one might expect, it hadn’t gone perfectly, and the fuselage was badly damaged, pinning Brown in the cockpit in the frigid North Korean clearing.

Hudner couldn’t stand for that.

Figuring one miraculous landing wasn’t good enough, and knowing rescue helicopters were a significant distance away, Hudner landed his own plane in a hilly area. He left his plane and braved the snow-blanketed landscape to reach Brown.

The news wasn’t good. Brown’s leg was clearly crushed, and Hudner wasn’t able to extract him by himself.

Hudner did the next-best thing — all that he could. Unwilling to consign his comrade to oblivion alone, Hudner continually packed the smoking engine with snow and talking to the struggling Brown as he lapsed in and out of consciousness all the way until a rescue helicopter arrived. Even then, the unflappable Hudner worked with rescue for forty-five minutes desperately trying to extract Brown.

Brown passed in that clearing.

Hudner and the helicopter pilot were forced to return to base camp, and later on the captain of the Leyte, the carrier Brown and Hudner were assigned, ordered the downed plane napalmed so that the body could not be extracted by the enemy, and so that Brown could have a warrior’s funeral.

For Hudner’s acts above and beyond the call of duty, Hudner received the Congressional Medal of Honor from President Harry Truman on April 13, 1951. Jesse Brown posthumously received the Distinguished Flying Cross.

Remember their names today.

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SDI’s New Headquarters Grand Opening a MASSIVE SUCCESS!!

As most probably know, Sonoran Desert Institute moved headquarters to 1555 W University Dr Ste 103, Tempe, AZ, punctuated with an official grand opening event March 2.

What some of our remote SDI family might not know is how well that grand opening went!

The SDI Grand Opening event was an absolute blast. With better than 100 folks in attendance, and plenty of food to go around, the air was laced with energy as folks witnessed our new headquarters’ debut.

“As an online school, we don’t always get to see our students, graduates, and faculty,” Traci Lee, President of SDI, commented. “It was so motivating to have the energy of those groups participating in the grand opening event!”

“Nothing inspires me more than to hear the success stories from our graduates!”

“The Grand Opening was a huge success!” Jennifer McInnis, Vice President of Growth and Marketing, added. “We got to meet SDI students and grads and their families, talk with community leaders, and really show everybody what SDI is all about.”

Among the members of the community in attendance included Tempe city council member Robin Arredondo-Savage — an avid proponent of education — one of many delighted to welcome us into the community!

Funnily enough, Mike Olson, Vice President of Academic Affairs, noted that same excited energy indicated by McInnis and Lee in the opportunity he saw:

“For me, the theme of the day was opportunity: the opportunity for SDI to grow both in size and capability; the opportunity our organization brings to Tempe as a successful business; the opportunity that distance education creates by offering access to high quality education to individuals nationwide; and of course, the opportunities that Sgt. Michael Beckerman’s memory imparts on potential future students.”

The Sgt. Michael Beckerman Military and Veteran Services office’s opening, too, brought focus to an already momentous day. Our Military and Veteran Services office is named after an SDI student who lost his life on deployment, and at its dedication we were blessed to have members of his family in attendance, including his mother and daughter.

“The most emotional part of the day was the dedication of the Sgt. Michael Beckerman Military and Veteran Services office,” McInnis reflected.  “Michael’s family was on hand, and I think it’s really meaningful that his story will forever be a part of our story at SDI.”
The attendance of our friends, family, and new community helped to usher in a new era for SDI — we couldn’t be happier.

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Know Your Firearms History: The German PAK 40 [WITH VIDEO]

As Americans, we are lucky to live in the age in which we do.

Sure, we have a mess of problems, but we have made a lot of exciting concepts a reality: everyone gets a vote (if you’re not a felon), violent crime is far less than it has been in recent decades, despite what some would have you believe, and in the field, we have the world’s best and most advanced military safeguarding our freedoms.

We’re also incredibly lucky we don’t have to contend with PAK 40s anymore, as our fathers, grandfathers, and even great-grandfathers had to do.

The PAK 40 is one of those inventions turned out by Germany during the Second World War that showed that not only did the United States need to up its technological game, but they were way late to the party.

For those unfamiliar with this massive firearm, the PAK 40 was an anti-tank artillery piece created by Germany to upgrade their anti-tank arsenal in the face of ever-increasing levels of proficiency in Soviet armor.

File:Pak40 cfb borden 3.JPG

As most of you are already aware, the back half of the 1930s saw a race between the major powers to see who could hold the technological advantage when it came to arms and armor. One of the resulting creations — really a product of general German rearmament — was the PAK 36 — a 3.7 mm, which the Tank Encyclopedia claims to be the first German anti-tank gun.

The piece acquitted itself extremely well during the Spanish Civil War, but was reportedly believed to be in need of upgrading to stay ahead of the ever-cycling armament-armor circle. That upgrade materialized in the form of the PAK 38, a 5 cm gun.

That’s a good bit of firepower. However, as the Tank Encyclopedia notes, “soon after the factories geared up for production, the German military became aware of newer tank designs by the Soviets (thanks in part to the Molotov-Ribbentrop pact) and therefore ordered an upgunning of the Pak 38.”

That upgunning eventually turned straight into a new gun — the PAK 40.

About here is where I’d normally insert another photo — but I found a video instead. Check it out:

Isn’t that incredible?

“This gun is a beast! As you can see the muzzle blast is incredible. The WWII German PAK (PanzerAbwehrKanone) 40 was developed in early WWII but didn’t see widespread production until about 1941. The gun was often used by allied forces whenever they would over run German positions which shows the effectiveness of the gun,” the YouTube publisher, PossumPopper89, noted in the video’s description.

The extremely effective gun saw use until the end of the war, and had a reputation for being able to put a hole in just about anything fielded against it.

The gun shown wasn’t in the excellent, fighting shape it is in the video above.

Specifically, it didn’t look so… reasonable.

“This gun was resurrected from an art museum where the owner had painted it pink!” PossumPopper89 reported. “It was restored to working order and the federal paperwork required to build and possess this gun was obtained. It is not legal for an ordinary citizen to have a working field piece like this.”

The scourge of thousands of tanks on both fronts — painted pink.


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Meet the New Military-Centered Netflix Series You’re Going to Have to Watch

As most are aware, the wildly popular streaming service Netflix has recently ramped up their production of original films, shows, and mini-series.

This is largely thanks to their quest to be attractive to consumers not just for shows you miss from TV, but for those who miss premiering shows they might experience if they had cable — Netflix would love to be the new cable, and many would argue that they are well on their way to making that happen.

We get the benefits of that with some fantastic new shows, one of the more recently-released is particularly exciting.

It’s called “Medal of Honor.”

I bet you can guess what it’s about. The new show, which first aired November 9, will highlight some of the greatest acts of valor this nation has ever known.

The eight-part anthology will cover eight Medal of Honor recipients from World War 2, Korea, Vietnam, and Afghanistan: Sylvester Antolak, Edward Carter, Vito Bertoldo, Hiroshi “Hershey” Miyamura, Joseph Vittori, Richard L. Etchberger, Ty Carter, and Clint Romesha, according to Task & Purpose.

The stories of these eight men’s heroism will be shown through a combination of cinematic recreation, historian, veteran, and military leader commentary, and archival footage. The trailer is powerful.

“When you read citations of [Medal of Honor] recipients, often times it would not be far fetched to think to yourself there is no way this person could have done this,” Mike Dowling, a Marine Corps veteran of Iraq and the technical advisor for the series, told Task & Purpose. “Only they did do that, and their stories deserve to be told.”

“Everything we did that day, we didn’t do it because we hated the enemy,” Romesha says in the series trailer.

“Combat is not a great thing to be in, and it’s not a motivation to hate, by no means. It’s a motivation to love your brothers.”

Greater love hath no man.

For those who subscribe to Netflix, get ready — this is likely going to be a powerful series.

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SDI Prepares for Grand Opening Celebration This Saturday… and YOU are Invited!

Sonoran Desert Institute is growing and changing, folks.

In another symptomatic move made by the ever-growing school, SDI has moved from their long-occupied space in Scottsdale, Arizona to 1555 W. University Drive, Ste. 103, Tempe, Arizona- a larger space more capable of handling the growing needs of the successful school, its staff, and its students.

We’re pretty darn thrilled about the whole thing.

In celebration of the occasion, SDI is hosting a Grand Opening celebration this Saturday (March 2) from 11am-2pm, and you’re invited (yes, you)!

“We are so excited to host this Grand Opening celebration,” said Jennifer McInnis, VP of Growth and Marketing at SDI. “The event’s been in the works for months, and we know it’s going to be fun to show students, graduates, industry partners, and community members our new space.”

It won’t be just an open house, of course. The Grand Opening will include food trucks providing complimentary refreshments (while supplies last), music from a local radio station, and more!

“Between the KUPD team, the food trucks, the raffle, and the demos, it should be a really fun event and we hope to have a great turnout!” said McInnis.

This space visitors will be able to see is more than just bigger. It’s better. Among other things, we now have the capability to handle shipping and fulfillment in-house- that means a more direct line from us to our students.

“This is a much larger, more modern-feeling space than our last administrative office, which speaks to the growth and evolution of the school,” Jennifer noted. “Plus, it’s great to have shipping and fulfillment in-house, and I think people will like getting a look at that during the event.”

Last, but certainly not least, it’s our pleasure to announce that the new campus facility will contain a Military and Veteran Services office, a space dedicated to the betterment of our SDI active duty and veteran students.

“Sgt. Michael Beckerman’s story has been so important to us these last few years since naming the scholarship in his honor. We wanted to honor him by dedicating the Military and Veteran Services office in his name, and we hope that every veteran and active duty military student who walks through those doors knows how much his service–and theirs–means to us.” McInnis stated.

We fully expect this event to be an absolute blast — come join us!

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Graduate Spotlight: Kevin Cline

Love what you do and you never have to work again. This idea is the embodiment of the American Dream and a goal many thrive to reach. Thanks in part to the knowledge he gained at SDI, Kevin Cline was able to make his dream a reality.

After graduating from SDI with his Associate of Science in Firearms Technology degree, Kevin opened up his own gunsmithing shop called Blue Coat Arms Company in Central Illinois.  Although his shop hasn’t been open very long, Kevin says that business is booming thanks to the Facebook and marketing webinars he participated in while attending SDI.

I think that I have watched, or at least tried to watch, every webinar that SDI has available on Youtube,” said Kevin.  “They are great because it allows students to get different perspectives on the industry. Kip’s webinars about starting a business with gunsmithing were the ones that helped me out the most once I had graduated. He breaks things down very well and a lot of the information (Federal law and FFL info) is still relatively the same. Zeke’s webinar about marketing was also very influential in how I have begun to build the brand for my business.”

Blue Coat Arms Company not only embodies Kevin’s love for firearms but for history as well.

“Part of the branding I have built for Blue Coat Arms is the fact that I am a history nerd. ‘No Matter Your Era, We Got Your Six!’ is my slogan and I have some pretty incredible stories from soldiers, veterans, and family members that bring in heirlooms,” said Kevin.  “I have also dived into some projects that were mashed together but turns out that the gun itself had some interesting stories of its own upon further research. Firearms are not just weapons or technology. They are a unique American symbol of our culture and each one is unique with its own story to tell.”

While some prospective students may wonder whether an online school is right for them, SDI’s flexibility is what attracted this new business owner.

One of the biggest reasons I chose SDI was because it was online. I needed something that was going to be flexible, and allow me to stay where I was. My wife and I didn’t have the money to move at that time. The course being online didn’t scare me, probably because I am a little younger. I have also always enjoyed learning at my own pace so that I can power through what I thought was easy and really spend time on the things that I struggled with,” said Kevin.   

Kevin is clearly wise beyond his years and has his flourishing company as proof. What advice does he give to those looking to start their own gunsmithing business?

“KEEP LEARNING! SDI provides its students with a solid foundation to get your foot in the door with this industry, but that is what it is–a foundation. If you don’t continue to learn and push yourself to be better than you will not last very long. Gunsmithing is a long-term commitment to yourself and to your customers. You have to have a thirst for knowledge if you want to be good at it, and stay relevant.”

Spoken like a true master gunsmith in the making.

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Why SDI is Stoked for the META Group Skills Summit

Whether you’re an expert marksman looking to pit your knowledge against the best, or an up-and-comer looking to hone your skills, the META Group Skill Summit is the place for you! The two-day takes event will take place October 5th – 7th in Loganville, GA and will be hosted by KC Eusebio and Jessie Harrison, who are both World Champion and United States Army/Navy Special Operations instructors and members of SDI’s Advisory Council. Those attending the course will learn techniques to improve their practical and competitive shooting skills, along with hands-on training in field trauma and combat lifesaver techniques. Needless to say, SDI is thrilled to be a part of this and to support its Advisory Council members!


“We are excited,” said SDI Senior Vice President Wes LeMay. “This is an opportunity for people to come in and get training from two of the top shooters in the world and former representatives of the Special Operations community.” Not only are KC and Jessie members of SDI’s Advisory Board, but an SDI Sponsored Shooter will be attending to sharpen his skills as well.


“I honestly am just super excited to have the opportunity to represent SDI at such an awesome event,” said Theo. “I am always excited and open to learning new things–especially gun-related. The first aid will probably be the most challenging since I have no prior knowledge of that topic. Having SDI there is going to be huge, I love that we are constantly working to make new relationships with people in the industry and are able to tell our story.”


Along with gaining knowledge from experts, those who attend will also get to walk away with custom ZEV/META Pistol!


If you’re interested in learning more about this event, check out this link and follow META Group on Instagram at  And stay tuned for updates on how the event is going!

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