Firebirds honor original 'Band of Brothers' paratrooper

  • Published
  • By Debbie Gildea
  • 340th Flying Training Group

“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.