Another sad passing of one of America’s Greatest Generation happened this past Sunday, July 3, 2022. Bradford Freeman, the last of the famous Band of Brothers from WWII has passed away and joined his brothers who went before him, both on the field of battle 7 decades ago and those who lived long lives afterward.
Freeman was a regular guy, and, in that sense, he was like the vast majority of those who served in WWII or any of our wars. He was a common man, a man of the country, born in Caledonia, Mississippi. He enlisted in the Army in 1942 like tens of thousands of his fellow Americans wanting to serve in the fight for freedom brought on the entire world by the forces of German fascism and Japanese Imperialism. What he and his fellow Easy Company brothers would see and do during the war would be made famous by a book written by the famed historian, Stephen Ambrose, titled, “Band of Brothers.” The book was then made into a movie with Tom Hanks.
Freeman had read an article about paratroopers in the local newspaper, and that is what he wanted to do. After joining the Army in 1942, Freeman would be assigned to Easy Company, 506th Infantry Regiment Airborne, 101st Airborne Division. Three years later, he and his Easy Company brothers would parachute into Normandy. They would be dropped in the wrong area but would fight their way against the German defenders and accomplish their mission.
Easy Company would be engaged in one major battle after another for the next eleven months. Freeman would receive a Purple Heart after being hit by shrapnel from a rocket fired near him in one of those battles but would continue on with the rest of Easy Company over the entire stretch of those eleven months.
Of course, Freeman’s story and that of Easy Company was no more unique than the thousands of units and tens of thousand of men who fought in that war. But they became the iconic example of the kind of heroism and determination that was exemplified and carried out by the hundreds of thousand of men who faced the enemy in bitter battles all across Europe and all across the Pacific during WWII. It was the story of regular guys, common men, who were moved by their patriotism to put everything on the line in the struggle to defeat the forces of the Nazi and Japanese aggressors who were attempting to conquer the world under their fascist and Imperialist dictatorships.
The men of Easy Company were made famous by Stephen Ambrose’s book, “Band of Brothers.” Ambrose made Easy Company the vehicle for telling the story of all those common, everyday Americans who left the comforts of home and family, put on the uniforms of our fighting forces, and stepped into the environs of a living hell, to confront and put an end to the dark dreams of the Nazis and the Japanese Imperialists to destroy democracy and to bring the world under their sway. Easy Company’s story was a true account of their struggle and their courageous and determined efforts against the power of the German military. It is their story, but it is also the story of hundreds of other units.
Those of us who have been in combat, no matter which unit, or which of the military services, know what that term Band of Brothers means. We know the warp and woof of the bond that occurs between us as a result of having faced death together, defended each other in battle, fought for each other despite our fears. Those who survive that kind of experience never forget those who fell, and their bonds with their brothers continue to flourish for the rest of their lives.
Bradford Freeman had the unenviable experience to be the last man standing, the last of the Easy Company band of brothers made famous by the book and the movie. We can only imagine what memories and thoughts occupied his mind, knowing that he was the last of that brave gathering of men from farms, towns, and cities all over this country at a time of great danger. It would be like being the last one to bear a family name or the last member of a tribe.
With Freeman’s passing, Easy Company passed into history in the fullest sense of that concept. But because their story was written down, it will last long into the future. And the reality of all Bands of Brothers remains true. Nowhere was it articulated so powerfully or so beautifully than in William Shakespeare’s “St. Crispin’s Day Speech” in his play, “Henry V,” from which Stephen Ambrose took the title for the book. It is a speech that King Henry gives to his outnumbered English forces before going into battle against the larger French forces at Agencourt, a battle that Henry’s army would win against all the odds:
“This story shall the good man teach his son; And Crispin Crispian shall ne’er go by, From this day to the ending of the world, But we in it shall be remembered– We few, we happy few, we band of brothers; For he to-day that sheds his blood with me Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile, This day shall gentle his condition; And gentlemen in England now-a-bed Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here, And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”
The Veterans Site says its farewell to PFC Bradford Freeman and to his band of brothers in Easy Company, 506th Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. You and your brothers will remain a reminder to us all of the nobility, the courage, the dedication to freedom modeled by all who fought in WWII. You were a true band of brothers. And you were all part of that generation of Americans we have come to recognize as “The Greatest Generation.” Farewell, good soldier. We will never forget!