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World War II veteran served with famed parachute unit

He was a member of the Greatest Generation. As a 19-year-old he parachuted into Nazi-occupied France on June 6, 1944. He and his heroic unit helped win the war in Europe.

He belonged to Company E, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, under the 101st Airborne Division. His unit is glorified in the 2001 bestseller, “Band of Brothers: E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne from Normandy to Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest,” by Stephen E. Ambrose. This led to an acclaimed HBO miniseries.

On Friday afternoon, a car pulled up in front of the Garrison headquarters building and Bradford Freeman got out of a passenger seat and walked from the pages of American WWII history to the front door.

Freeman, 92, one of the Band of Brothers, was accompanied by family members and retired Lt. Gen. Jim Pillsbury as he made his first visit to Redstone Arsenal. He was greeted by Garrison Commander Col. Tom Holliday who escorted him into the building and shared some highlights of Redstone’s history.

The group proceeded to the third floor of building 4488 where the Caledonia, Mississippi, resident sat at a conference table in a director’s office and shared his personal history. As a teenager he answered this nation’s call, left his home and went to war.

“I was always from Mississippi, just different places,” he began.

Asked about his wartime service, he said, “Well, when we started we jumped June 6th and we ended it May the 7th.” The then 19-year-old paratrooper made his first combat jump just after midnight on D-Day, June 6, 1944, into France. He and his Band of Brothers jumped into Holland that Sept. 17 when he was 20.

Pillsbury asked him to describe the cold conditions in the Belgium town of Bastogne, where he was wounded in December 1944 as part of the Battle of the Bulge. As a mortar gunner, he got shot in the right leg by shrapnel in the fighting near Bastogne.

“I can’t describe it. It was snow about knee deep and the pines were covered in snow,” Freeman said. “And it was cold.”

He was a freshman at Mississippi State who had signed up for the draft. The Army told him that if he’d join they would let him finish his year of school. Freeman got sworn in on Dec. 18, 1942, at Mississippi State. He finished the year and didn’t have to report to the Army until April 1943.

First he went to Camp Shelby, Mississippi, and then to Fort McClellan for 13 weeks of basic training. Next came Fort Benning, Georgia, where he earned his wings as a paratrooper.

“You had to pack your own chute and then jump five times to get your wings,” Freeman said.

He joined the 541st in North Carolina. “They broke that up and they evolved into three divisions. And the one I went with was the 101st. The others were the 11th and the 82nd,” he said.

Freeman said he served two years, 11 months and 20 days in the Army and left the service as a private first class.

After the war, he returned home and tried one semester at Mississippi State before getting a job working on the road. “And then I tried to farm and what money I saved I lost it,” he said laughing.

Freeman retired after carrying the mail, rural route, for 32 years in Caledonia. He and his late wife lived together for 61 years. He has two daughters – Beverly Bowles, the oldest, of Caledonia, and Becky Clardy of Columbus, Mississippi – four grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren. He and family members traveled here to see Redstone and the U.S. Space & Rocket Center and attend last Saturday’s Huntsville Havoc hockey game on military appreciation night.

In September he plans to return to Europe to tour his old battlefields with a reunion of the surviving Band of Brothers.

During his Redstone visit, he was asked what he most remembers from his wartime service.

“The best thing I remember,” Freeman replied, “was they surrendered.”

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