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Firebirds honor original 'Band of Brothers' paratrooper

Firebirds honor WWII veteran

Firebirds from the 43rd Flying Training Squadron roll onto World War II veteran Brad Freeman's property Sept. 3, the day before his 96th birthday, to surprise him with a special gift and honor him for his continuing service to America, and for the inspirational example he has been for the military and civilian men and women in his community. Freeman, a paratrooper during World War II, is one of the E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne soldiers who were the inspiration for the mini-series "Band of Brothers." (U.S. Air Force photo)

Firebirds honor WWII veteran

Maj. Kelly Hook (right) and Staff Sgt. Jordane Knoob, 43rd Flying Training Squadron, prepare to hoist the American flag aloft during an impromptu surprise birthday celebration for World War II veteran Brad Freeman, one of the E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne soldiers who were the inspiration for the mini-series "Band of Brothers." Hook, Jordane and more than a dozen squadron members surprised Freeman the day before his birthday with the flag that was flown in his honor by 43rd FTS instructor pilots aboard several Columbus AFB, Miss. training aircraft. (U.S. Air Force photo)

Firebirds honor WWII veteran

Lt. Col. Jason Barlow, 43rd Flying Training Squadron commander, presents World War II veteran Brad Freeman with an American Flag, flown by 43rd FTS instructor pilots, in his honor, aboard the T-1, T-6 and T-38 training aircraft in the skies over Columbus AFB, Miss. Freeman, a paratrooper during World War II, is one of the E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne soldiers who were the inspiration for the mini-series "Band of Brothers." (U.S. Air Force photo)

Bradford Freeman, assigned to ‘Easy’ Company, 2nd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, stand with members from the 43rd Flying Training Squadron at Freeman’s residency Sept. 3, 2020 in Miss. The 43rd FTS flew an American Flag in each trainer airframe over Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. and raised the flag outside Freeman’s House in honor of his service and sacrifice to the U.S. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Keith Holcomb)

Bradford Freeman, assigned to ‘Easy’ Company, 2nd Battalion of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, stand with members from the 43rd Flying Training Squadron at Freeman’s residency Sept. 3, 2020 in Miss. The 43rd FTS flew an American Flag in each trainer airframe over Columbus Air Force Base, Miss. and raised the flag outside Freeman’s House in honor of his service and sacrifice to the U.S. (U.S. Air Force photo by Senior Airman Keith Holcomb)

“Anything was better than the blood and carnage, the grime and filth, the impossible demands made on the body—anything, that is, except letting down their buddies.”

Stephen E. Ambrose

Band of Brothers: E Company,

506th Regiment, 101st Airborne,

From Normandy to Hitler's Eagle's Nest

 World War II paratrooper from E Company, 506th Regiment, 101st Airborne, Brad Freeman planned to quietly celebrate his 96th birthday on Sept. 4, as you might expect a nonagenarian to do, but this year he enjoyed a surprise visit (and gift) from the Air Force Reserve's 43rd Flying Training Squadron Firebirds and their honorary commander, historian Rufus Ward (who writes for the Commercial Dispatch, Columbus, Miss.) that livened up the occasion.

The 43rd FTS, located at Columbus AFB, Miss., is one of seven squadrons assigned to the 340th Flying Training Group, headquartered at Joint Base San Antonio-Randolph, Texas.

The idea for the birthday visit and gift started with Ward, who noticed during an earlier visit that the U.S. flag displayed in front of Freeman's house was worn. Ward approached the Firebirds about replacing it.

In typical Firebird fashion, however, they did more than just buy a new flag.

Lt. Col. Anthony McKee, 43rd FTS assistant director of operations, set the plan in motion, reaching out to squadron members and base officials, purchasing a flag and scheduling celebration details. Lt. Col. Tom Collins suggested that the flag be flown during training flights in the T-38, T-1 and T-6, to lend additional significance. Two Firebirds – Maj. Kelly Hook and Staff Sgt. Jordane Knoob – volunteered to serve as the honor guard, and one of Freeman's friends volunteered his vintage WWII Army jeep (to ensure the flag arrived at the Freeman house in appropriate style).

By Sept. 3, 2020 the American flag, the honor guard, a flight of Firebirds commanded by Lt. Col. Jason Barlow, Rufus Ward, and the vintage jeep were ready to roll to Freeman's house, where the Hook and Knoob officially posted the new flag, and the Firebirds thanked the WWII veteran for his service, presenting him with a certificate documenting the occasion.

"Mr. Freeman is a GIANT among giants and he continues to inspire so many of us on a professional level, but even more so on a personal level," said McKee, who relished the opportunity to honor a great American hero.