Bradford Freeman, the last survivor of the World War II paratroopers company whose combat feats were detailed in the bestselling book and subsequent miniseries “Band of Brothers,” died Sunday in Columbus, Miss. He was 97.
His death, in a hospital, was announced by his family through the Lowndes Funeral Home in Columbus.
Mr. Freeman was a first class soldier assigned to a mortar squadron in Easy Company, Second Battalion, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. He participated in the unit’s jump behind Utah Beach during the D-Day invasion of Normandy on June 6, 1944, with an 18-pound mortar plate strapped to his chest. He landed in a pasture full of cows, helped a fellow soldier with a broken leg hide before joining the rest of his team.
He fought with Easy Company in his battles with the Germans in France, his parachute drops in the German-occupied Netherlands and the Battle of the Bulge, in bitter cold and snow.
He was unharmed during the fighting in Bastogne, Belgium, the strategic site of the Ardennes, but he was wounded in nearby Noville in mid-January 1945. “A Screaming Mimi came in crying and it exploded in my leg,” he told the American Veterans Center. in an April 2018 interview, referring to the nickname GIs gave to the Germans’ devastating multiple rocket launchers. He returned to Easy Company in April 1945 and took part in the occupation of Berchtesgaden, Hitler’s abandoned mountain refuge near the Austrian border, and then in the occupation of Austria.
In November 1945 he was discharged along with the rest of Easy Company.
Bradford Clark Freeman was born on September 4, 1924, in Artesia, Miss., as one of eight children of Erwyn and Ollie Freeman. He was a student at Mississippi State University when the United States entered World War II; he joined the army in December 1942 and went abroad with the 101st Airborne in early 1944.
Historian Stephen E. Ambrose interviewed veterans of Easy Company for his book “Band of Brothers” (1992), the title taken from Shakespeare’s “Henry V,” in which the king, in an inaugural address on St. Crispin’s Day, led his troops to French to be defeated at the Battle of Agincourt:
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;/For he that sheds his blood with me today/Shall be my brother.”
Tom Hanks and Steven Spielberg created the Emmy award-winning 10-part miniseries “Band of Brothers,” based on Mr. Ambrose, which aired on HBO in the fall of 2001. mr. Freeman was played by the actor James Farmer in a non-speaking role.
After the war, Mr. Freeman graduated from the state of Mississippi and worked as a letter carrier for 32 years. He married Willie Louise Gurley in 1947; she died in 2008.
Mr. Freeman, who is in Caledonia, Miss. lived, is survived by his daughters, Beverly Bowles and Becky Clardy; his sister, Claydeen Allen; four grandchildren; and 10 great-grandchildren.
Edward D. Shames, the last remaining officer of the Band of Brothers, died in December 2021 at the age of 99.
“My parents didn’t seem very interested in what we were doing in the war,” Mr. Freeman told The Commercial Dispatch of Columbus, Miss. “So we didn’t talk too much about it.”
He said questions about his service were sporadic — even after the “Band of Brothers” book was published and the miniseries aired — until 2008, when Valor magazine arranged for Mr. Freeman and other Easy Company members to travel to England for a ceremony at Buckingham Palace.
Mr Freeman returned to Normandy in 2019 as an honored guest for the 75th anniversary of D-Day, and in May 2021, in a ceremony on his lawn, he received a framed, autographed photograph and a coin honoring his service from Gen. Mark Milley, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“This is a surprise to me,” he told the meeting. “I don’t know how to tell you how much I appreciate it, but I haven’t done anything that wasn’t expected of me. I just listened to my officer and did what he said.”