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Tags: band of brothers | wwii | museum | u.s. army | private first class | bradford freeman

Last 'Band of Brothers' Survivor Honored by National WW2 Museum

Band of brothers
Band of Brothers veterans of Easy Company 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, from left to right, Buck Compton, Ed Tipper, Bradford Freeman, and Donald Malarkey, as they attend the formal unveiling of a memorial plaque at Stansted Airport, Essex, England, commemorating those who served from the airport during WWII in 2009. (Chris Radburn/AP)

By    |   Monday, 06 June 2022 10:36 AM EDT

If there's one thing that former U.S. Army Private First Class Bradford Freeman won't forget about the time he spent in Easy Company – the legendary World War II group immortalized in the book and HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers" – it's the moment he jumped out of an airplane and into the thick of battle.

The last surviving member of Easy Company, the 2nd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, enlisted at 18-years old, volunteering to be a paratrooper and becoming a mortar man in the fight against the Nazis.

The Mississippi native jumped during the D-Day invasion, saw action as part of Operation Market Garden, was wounded during the Battle of the Bulge in Bastogne, and participated in the occupations of Berchtesgaden and Austria.

Freeman's sacrifice and service will be recognized by the National World War II Museum in New Orleans on June 9-10, when he's set to receive a Silver Service Medallion during the museum's American Spirit Awards.

The Silver Service Medallion is awarded to veterans and those with a direct connection to World War II who have served our country with distinction and continue to lead by example. The ceremony comes just over 78 years after he stepped off an airplane and plunged into history.

Freeman, one of eight children who grew up working on a dairy farm, decided to join the Army to have some control over his future, as opposed to waiting to be drafted. At the time, he was a freshman at Mississippi State studying agriculture. By volunteering, he was allowed to finish out his school year before entering the Army on Dec. 19, 1942. His brother, who also wanted to become a paratrooper, joined the service, too.

After completing training at Camp McClellan in Alabama, Camp Shelby in Mississippi, and Camp McCall in North Carolina, Freeman was sent to England to join Easy Company, which was already stationed there waiting to battle Adolf Hitler's forces. His brother was sent to the Pacific to fight against Japan.

He said all his training prepared him for his first jump.

"It was sort of scary, but not bad," he told Newsmax. "We had gone to school enough to know what we were expected to do, and how we were expected to be."

In April 2021, Freeman shared memories from his time overseas with the Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas.

He remembered being stationed at a camp in Aldbourne, England, on June 5, 1944, with just hours to go before the scheduled first jump of the war. But rain postponed the jump until just after midnight on June 6 – what would become known as D-Day.

Freeman, part of the mortar squad, was aboard one of the first three planes headed toward Normandy, France. He was tasked with carrying the base plate of the mortar while his squad leader, Sgt. Donald Malarkey, carried the other part and three fellow soldiers carried the ammunition.

Freeman said he landed in a pasture filled with cows but noticed his friend, Lewis, had broken his leg during the jump.

Knowing he was supposed to help a wounded soldier when he could, he helped Lewis into the bushes and hid his gear in the woods. Then, Freeman was off to "get the big guns."

"We had to take the place and get the big guns so they couldn't interfere with the soldiers who were coming ashore at Normandy," he told the museum. "We scattered pit and set up. We were taking roads and bridges. They had told us that if we saw an enemy truck coming down the road, to shoot the driver. We happened to be fortunate enough to do it right, I reckon. We secured the area and let the Army go through. They had come ashore and now they got on with their business."

After D-Day, he said Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, the Supreme Commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe, ordered the company to take a German-occupied beach town on a French peninsula. The only way to get to the town, however, was by a concrete bridge. After firing mortars, the troops were able to capture it.

Freeman said his group was then loaned out to the British Army for a jump in Holland on Sept. 17, 1944, in what was known as Operation Market Garden. He recalls laughing as the Dutch residents cut off the hair of any girls who had associated with the former Nazi occupiers.

He was then sent to Bastogne. Whenever a German plane flew over, he said the soldiers would stand as still as a fence post to avoid being detected. During the long, cold winter, the soldiers were discouraged by news the Americans were losing and at one point were told to run. Instead, he said, they took off after the Germans.

Freeman was injured when he was shot in his right leg during the Battle of the Bulge. He was sent to England to recover before going right back to fight. He was guarding a bridge near Hitler's infamous Eagle's Nest retreat when the Germans officially surrendered.

Having served long enough to go home, Freeman decided to head back to the states instead of fighting in Japan, where the first atomic bomb had just been dropped, setting the stage for a Japanese surrender soon after.

He told Newsmax he had to wait in Marseille, France, for two weeks after the ship he was due to go home on sank.

Eventually, Freeman – and his brother – made it back to Mississippi. He returned to farming and became a mail carrier for the postal service, traversing his route for the next 30 years.

Freeman married Willie Louise, a girl he had played with as a 5-year-old, and the couple had two daughters. His wife died in 2008.

While he was unable to travel to Europe to watch the 2001 award-winning HBO series "Band of Brothers" being filmed, he played an influential role in its making and said he has watched it countless times. The mini-series, created by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, is based on the book of the same name written by historian Stephen E. Ambrose, founder of The National WWII Museum.

Freeman has also participated in the Museum's Educational Travel Program by providing a firsthand account of his wartime experiences.

Marisa Herman

Marisa Herman, a Newsmax senior reporter, focuses on major and investigative stories. A University of Florida graduate, she has more than a decade of experience as a reporter for newspapers, magazines, and websites.

© 2024 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

If there's one thing that former U.S. Army Private First Class Bradford Freeman won't forget about the time he spent in Easy Company, it's the moment he jumped out of an airplane and into the thick of battle.
band of brothers, wwii, museum, u.s. army, private first class, bradford freeman
Monday, 06 June 2022 10:36 AM
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