But he returned to California, he said, not to parades but to stony silence from the military. He began drinking too much, he said. He developed a taste for the pain pills the Army had given him for a combat injury that required neck-fusion surgery.
He pined for an apology. The closest he came was in a brief conversation with Maj. Gen. Jeff Gidley, then commander of the California Army National Guard. Gidley, now retired, said he confided that day that Frey, though not without flaw as a commander, had "paid the price" for the mistakes of others. (None of Frey's other commanders would comment for this article.)
Frey said he decided to wait for his soldiers to contact him, not the other way around. But he didn't hear from many. "I guess they just got busy," he said. A former officer did call once — to report that the saga of the 1-184 was being cited in an Army training course to instruct fledgling officers what to do if the bottom fell out of their battalions. "We're the case study," Frey said, "in dysfunction."
But in the years since, Frey has discovered that being "just a school teacher," as he once wrote in his journal, may have been his greatest skill all along.
Frey and his wife live on an old farm, a rugged 10 acres an hour's drive inland from Monterey, which they share with four cats, two dogs and two donkeys. At its heart is a farmhouse the Freys have been modernizing.
One recent morning, Frey rumbled toward his school in Salinas, down a steep mountain pass and through the area's famously fertile farms — strawberries and cabbage sprouting through dirt so rich it's almost black.
After an 80-minute commute, he pulled into Everett Alvarez High School and made his way to classroom 601, where there was an "Eagle Pride" pennant and a poem stapled to the wall that said: "It takes life to love life."
He's supposed to teach students with learning disabilities, but his classroom has become a refuge for students who bomb out of other classes for any reason.
His glasses perched atop his balding head, Frey led a zigzagging lesson, teaching his students to put periods in "p.m." and "a.m." and that female peafowl are called peahens. He kept teaching during a fire drill, gathering his students around him on a baseball field.
Back indoors, he lectured about the nature of irony. After reading one story, he begged a student to tell him why it was ironic. "Because they went out to catch a dolphin and wound up setting a dolphin free?" she asked. Frey pumped his fists.
By the end of the day, a thunderstorm moved in, pelting the metal roof of the classroom. Frey read his students "Macbeth," at one point dropping to his knees to preach about the power of Shakespeare.
"What a rip-snortin' play," he said.
When the bell rang, Frey waved his copy of "Macbeth" over his head as the students made for the door.
"Look at man," he shouted after them, "trying to mess with fate."
Photos: From battlefield to classroom