Bradford Freeman, a World War II veteran who was the last living member of the famed “Band of Brothers” company, has died, his family confirmed Tuesday. He was 97.
After enlisting in the military in 1942, Freeman volunteered to become a paratrooper for the Army, where he was later assigned to the 101st Airborne Division, known as Easy Company.
The division’s journey parachuting into Normandy on D-Day inspired the book “Band of Brothers,” later adapted into the Emmy award-winning HBO series of the same name.
Freeman was a “kind, generous, and humorous gentleman,” family member David Simmons told NBC News. Simmons recalled asking Freeman to speak to high school students in his home state of Mississippi after they finished studying the second world war.
“He went to three schools, spoke, answered lots of questions, and it was apparent he had a brilliant memory of each event he experienced,” Simmons said.
Freeman was a resident of Caledonia, Mississippi, and died on Sunday, WCBI reported.
Freeman was a mortarman, dropping onto the French shore in 1944 with an 18-pound mortar baseplate on his chest, according to the Columbus Air Force Base, which honored his service last year. During the celebration, where the base presented Freeman with a challenge coin, he offered brief remarks thanking people at the gathering.
“Me and my buddies did a job for America… now it’s time for new faces to take up the cause,” Freeman said.
He recounted his experience in the war in an interview with the American Veterans Center in 2018, describing his time in Europe, holding a town for the allies during the Battle of the Bulge and getting injured in the leg along with another man from Pennsylvania.
Freeman was hit by the blast of a “screaming mimi,” a nickname for German rocket fire, he told the American Veterans Center. When asked what exactly a “screaming mimi was,” Freeman laughed.
“I don’t know, but it came in hollering and then it exploded,” Freeman said.
He earned a Purple Heart for being wounded in battle.
Freeman returned from the war and got work as a civilian, but he said the lessons from war never left him.
“If I was trying to do something, I always said, ‘I would try until I got it done,” Freeman said.
Author Stephen Ambrose chronicled Easy Company’s arduous wartime struggles in the book “Band of Brothers,” detailing the paratroopers’ movements from the beaches of Normandy, their work during the Battle of Bulge, and all the way to securing Adolf Hitler’s “Eagle Nest” in southeastern Germany.
Director Steven Spielberg and actor Tom Hanks were the Hollywood heavyweights who spearheaded the adaptation of Ambrose’s book into a 10-episode miniseries on HBO. The show was released in 2001 and was lauded with praise from critics and audiences alike, winning six Emmy awards.
Hanks reflected on the series’ legacy during an interview with Deadline last year, saying the show’s ability to resonate with people came from the sense of solidarity among the Easy Company.
“If the series fails to show that the human condition then is the exact same now as then, we’ve failed the mission,” Hanks said.