Former U.S. Army Pvt. First Class Bradford "Brad" Freeman, the last surviving member of the 101st Airborne Division's "Easy" E Company, the 2nd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment that inspired the book and HBO series "Band of Brothers," has died.
Freeman, who was presented with a Silver Service Medallion at the National World War II Museum's American Spirit Awards in New Orleans last month, died Sunday. He was 97.
He was preceded in death in 2008 by his wife, Willie Louise, who he had known since they were children. The couple had two daughters, Beverly Bowles and Becky Clardy.
Freeman enlisted in the military at 18, volunteering as a paratrooper. He was one of eight children who grew up working on a dairy farm and joined the military while he was a freshman at Mississippi State, where he had been studying agriculture. One of Freeman's brothers, also wanting to become a paratrooper, joined the military as well and ended up in the Pacific, fighting against Japan.
He entered the Army on Dec. 19, 1942, a little over a year after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. In the fight against the Germans, Freeman was part of the mortar squad and was on one of the first three planes on June 6, 1944, headed to Normandy, France, on what became known as D-Day.
During Freeman's time in the military, he was wounded in the Battle of the Bulge, saw action in Operation Market Garden, and was part of the occupying troops in Berchtesgaden and Austria.
Freeman had been stationed in Aldbourne, England, and was scheduled to jump on June 5, 1944, but rain postponed the invasion of Normandy until after midnight on June 6, or on D-Day. His job in the invasion was carrying the mortar's base plate while his squad leader, Sgt. Donald Malarkey — one of the soldiers featured in “Band of Brothers” — carried the other part of the weapon and three fellow soldiers carried the ammunition.
In later years, Freeman recalled how Gen. Dwight Eisenhower, the supreme commander of the Allied Expeditionary Force in Europe, ordered his company to take a German-occupied beach town on a French peninsula. He recalled how his unit subsequently jumped into Eindhoven, the Netherlands, in the largest airborne offensive in history on Sept. 17, 1944, in what was known as Operation Market Garden.
After that, Easy Company and the 101st Airborne were the combined linchpin to victory at the Battle of the Bulge, defending Bastogne, Belgium, in December until relieved by elements of Gen. George Patton’s 3rd Army.
Freeman was shot in the right leg during the battle.
After recovering in England, Freeman returned to his company and was guarding a bridge near Adolf Hitler's Eagle's Nest retreat when Germany surrendered.
Freeman had by then served in the military long enough to return home in Mississippi, where he resumed farming and then became a mail carrier for the U.S. Postal Service for 30 years.
Freeman said he watched the HBO mini-series, created by Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg, several times and played a role in its making. The program was based on the book of the same name written by historian Stephen E. Ambrose, founder of The National WWII Museum.
He also participated in the museum's educational travel program by providing a firsthand account of his wartime experiences.
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