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'Band of Brothers' veteran visits Columbus AFB

  • Published
  • By 1st Lt. Joshua Benedetti
  • 14th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
Veterans Day is an opportunity to honor those who have served. The stories of those who have fought and sacrificed for our great nation are all around us, but only if we listen.

Bradford Freeman, World War II veteran and original member of the renowned "Band of Brothers," recently paid a visit to Columbus Air Force Base. Freeman is one of the just 18 surviving members of Easy Company of the United States Army's 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division.

The unit was made famous by the HBO miniseries "Band of Brothers," based on the New York Times bestselling book of the same name by historian Stephen Ambrose. It chronicled the wartime experiences of Easy Company as they fought through Europe. Freeman, a current resident of nearby Caledonia, Mississippi, lived and fought through it all.

Born in Artesia, Mississippi, in 1925, it did not take Freeman long before he realized he wanted to leave the farm for a life in the military; one that involved a new type of warfare: the airborne paratroopers.

"My brother and I had read about the German paratroopers in school. We used to jump out of the eight-foot loft in the barn holding a cap over our heads," Freeman recalled.

Before long, their confidence soared and Freeman and his brother hatched a plan to borrow their mother's umbrella and attempt a two-man jump from a more challenging obstacle.

"My brother said 'It looks like that thing might hold both of us if we jump from the twelve-foot loft,'" Freeman said. "That umbrella turned bottom side up on us."
Freeman's dream of being an airborne paratrooper came true following his enlistment in the U.S. Army Dec. 12, 1942, and subsequent graduation from jump training at Camp Mackall, North Carolina.

Not long after, Freeman found himself flying over enemy-controlled France on June 6, 1944, better known as D-Day. He, along with the rest of Easy Company and the 501st were about to jump behind enemy lines in support of the largest amphibious assault in history.

Freeman recalled his aircraft taking heavy anti-aircraft fire.

"It was rattling those planes pretty good," he said. "The bullets were coming through the plane if they were low enough."

As he was readying for his first combat jump, Freeman said he may not have known exactly what to expect, but he was sure he wanted out of that flying bullet magnet.

"I was glad to get out. I thought every rivet was coming out of that plane the way it was rattling, and then it just dropped," Freeman said. "We knew we were in it then."

Once on the ground, it did not take Freeman long to realize he had badly missed his landing zone. Bad weather had pushed the aircraft off target and caused the members of the 501st to be scattered all over the French countryside.

"I was way off in the pasture," Freeman said. "We found each other with little clickers; you would click and respond to their click."

Easy Company eventually regrouped and began the slow inland push through France, eventually crossing into Germany itself. Freeman fought in every major conflict including Operation Market Garden, the Battle of Bastone, and he played a key role in the cross-river rescue of 125 British paratroopers and five American pilots in Holland. Freeman's commander recruited him for the special mission.

"I told him I couldn't swim," Freeman recalls saying to his commander, to which his commander responded, "Freeman, there isn't a boy in Mississippi that can't swim."
Despite his lack of swimming expertise, Freeman and the other men of Easy Company liberated the stranded allied troops and returned them safely to their units.

Freeman and the rest of the 501st fought their way through the war, all the way to Hitler's mountain fortress known as the Eagle's Nest. Not long after, victory in Europe was declared on May 8, 1945. With Nazi Germany defeated, the U.S. military shifted its full attention to the fight against the empire of Japan in Pacific.

"We were training to go to Japan and then the bomb fell on Japan and we didn't have to go," Freeman recalled.

The war was over for Freeman and he returned to Mississippi to start life over again. Little did he know, more than 50 years later he would be sitting in a theater, viewing the premiere of a TV miniseries about Easy Company called "Band of Brothers."

"I was sitting in the theater with Bill Guarnere sitting on my left and Babe Heffron on my right," Freeman said. "Then Tom Hanks came and sat down next to me."

Freeman was a narrator for "Band of Brothers" and served as an advisor for its production. What the movie became -- the scenes, characters and dialogue -- closely resembled what Freeman lived through.

"What I was in, that's just the way it was," Freeman said. "It was just business. That is what we were there for. They kept us busy over there."

Not all America veterans' stories are retold on the big screen, but that does not make them less heroic or significant. All veterans have a proud heritage to share, so this Veteran's Day make sure to take time to listen.