Hua Guofeng, who helped steer China out of the chaos of the Cultural Revolution after the death of Mao Zedong in 1976 but was pushed aside by Deng Xiaoping after a short stint as China's leader, died Wednesday in Beijing at 87.
An official in Mao's home county, Xiangtan, in Hunan Province in the 1950s, Hua enjoyed a meteoric rise in the last two years of Mao's life only to lose power almost as quickly after the death of Mao, his political patron. But Hua was a bridge between the excesses of Mao's personality cult and the more pragmatic government of Deng, easing China out of the paranoia and isolation that characterized the final years under Mao.
In one of Hua's first moves as chairman of the Chinese Communist Party just after Mao died, Hua's security forces arrested the Gang of Four, including Mao's wife, Jiang Qing, effectively ending the decade-long Cultural Revolution. That movement -- an attempt by Mao to solidify his totalitarian grasp on the nation and purge Communist Party officials he considered insufficiently loyal to his revolutionary agenda -- had left hundreds of thousands of people dead, hundreds of millions of people traumatized and China's economy in a seemingly irreversible slump.
Hua also presided over initial attempts to reinvigorate the state-directed economy, revive the education system and allow urban residents banished to the countryside during Mao's reign to return to their homes. But he never managed to put his own stamp on policy in the post-Mao era, and his time in power was brief.
His influence evaporated by the end of 1978, and he was stripped of his leadership positions in 1980 and 1981. He spent the rest of his life in obscurity in Beijing, although he remained a member of the Communist Party's Central Committee through 1997.
Edward Freeman, a former Army helicopter pilot awarded the Medal of Honor for his heroics during the Vietnam War and portrayed in the Mel Gibson movie "We Were Soldiers," died Wednesday in Boise, Idaho. He was 80. The Mississippi native braved intense enemy fire in the Ia Drang Valley as he carried out rescue missions on Nov. 14, 1965, during what was considered one of the fiercest battles of the Vietnam War.
Actor Mark McCracken portrayed Freeman in the 2002 film. Freeman was 73 years old when President Bush awarded him the Medal of Honor at a White House ceremony in 2001. During the ceremony, Bush said Freeman initially won the Distinguished Flying Cross for his actions, but his commanding officer and other witnesses believed he deserved an even higher honor.