Around midnight on June 6, 1944, paratrooper Bradford C. Freeman parachuted into Normandy, France, with an 18-pound mortar base plate strapped to his chest. Landing in a pasture filled with cows, he helped hide a fellow soldier who had broken his leg during the jump before meeting up with the rest of his mortar squad.
“We had to take the place and get the big guns so [the Germans] couldn’t interfere with the soldiers who were coming ashore,” Freeman, who died on Sunday at age 97, told Janis Allen, a curator at the Veterans History Museum of the Carolinas, last year. “... 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 this successful D-Day mission, Freeman and the other members of Easy Company—a unit in the Second Battalion of the 101st Airborne Division’s 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment—fought their way across Western Europe, playing a key role in the Allied advance on Nazi Germany. Immortalized in Stephen E. Ambrose’s 1992 book Band of Brothers and a 2001 HBO miniseries of the same name, the men’s wartime heroics continue to resonate more than 75 years after the global conflict’s end.
Following the death of Easy Company officer Edward Shames in December 2021, Freeman briefly held the dubious distinction of being the last surviving veteran of the “Band of Brothers.” Now, with Freeman’s own death on July 3, no living members of the famed unit remain, reports Eric Lampkin for WCBI.
According to his interview with Allen, Freeman was a freshman at Mississippi State University when the United States entered the war in December 1941. Told he could complete the school year if he enlisted instead of waiting to be drafted, he officially joined the Army on December 19, 1942, undergoing rigorous paratrooper training before joining the rest of Easy Company in England in February 1944.
A 19-year-old private assigned to a mortar squad led by Donald Malarkey, one of the central figures of the “Band of Brothers” series, Freeman was involved in virtually “every major engagement in Europe during World War II,” said historian Rufus Ward in a 2020 statement from the Columbus Air Force Base, which honored the veteran with a challenge coin in May 2021. He dropped into the Nazi-occupied Netherlands during Operation Market Garden in September 1944 and was shot in the leg during the Siege of Bastogne that December.
“They said I got shot by a ‘Screaming Mimi,’” Freeman told Allen. “You could hear it coming, but you can’t get out of the way. They said it was a little boy who did the shooting.”
Per his Lowndes Funeral Home and Crematory obituary, Freeman rejoined his unit in time for the final stages of the war’s European Theater, participating in the Allied occupations of Berchtesgaden (a town in Bavaria) and Austria. He opted to return home after V-E Day on May 8, 1945, but was delayed for two weeks by a Merchant Marine strike. Settling back into civilian life in Caledonia, Mississippi, he married Willie Louise Gurley—“a girl [he] used to play with when we were 5 years old”—as he told Allen, and worked as a mail carrier for 32 years.
Following the war, Freeman rarely discussed his battlefield experiences, even at Easy Company reunions, according to an oral history from the National WWII Museum. Though he contributed recollections to Ambrose’s Band of Brothers at the request of Major Dick Winters, commander of Easy and a close friend despite their differences in rank, he told the museum that he “had little to say” and that “there was a lot in the book that he knew nothing about.”
The former mortarman was more closely involved in the making of the “Band of Brothers” miniseries, which features him as a non-speaking character portrayed by James Farmer. As the Columbus Air Force Base notes, he “helped guide the realism” of the show, “using his first-hand experience to make [it] emulate the reality of Easy Company’s struggles and successes.”
Freeman is survived by two daughters, four grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren.
“Our dad was always astounded that a country boy from Mississippi was able to see so many places and meet so many interesting people,” say his daughters in his obituary.
Reflecting on the television series’ lasting legacy in September 2021, the 20th anniversary of its release, Peter Crean, vice president of education and access at the National WWII Museum, told Smithsonian magazine’s David Kindy that “Band of Brothers” “shows ordinary people doing extraordinary things.”
Crean added, “These were citizen soldiers. None of these men planned to be in the military. They answered the call when their country needed them.”