COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. -- On a sunny morning in Mississippi, a challenge coin was presented to Mr. Bradford Freeman, the last surviving original member of Easy Company, 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment, 101st Airborne Division. The coin was presented on behalf of Gen. Mark Milley, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and represented a connection between different generations and memories.
Milley’s first command was the 506th PIR, 101st AD, and he wished to send a coin and personal note on his behalf to Freeman to commemorate that shared bond. Freeman accepted the coin from Lt. Col. Jason Barlow, commander of the 43rd Flying Training Squadron on the front porch of his home on May 7.
In 1942, Freeman enlisted in the Army. Shortly after enlisting, he volunteered for the paratroopers. He was then assigned to Easy Company as a mortarman. In 1944 he parachuted into Normandy on D-Day with his fellow service members and an 18 pound mortar baseplate strapped to his chest.
“I’m blessed to say that Freeman is a friend of mine,” Rufus Ward, a local Columbus historian said. “He is a true American hero beyond description.”
Freeman was in every major engagement in Europe during World War II, and helped guide the realism in the HBO television series “Band of Brothers.” His experience helped the series emulate the reality of what Easy Company went through.
Last year on September 4th, Freeman’s birthday, a flag was presented to him by the 43rd Flying Training Squadron and Barlow. Columbus Airmen and members of the installation Honor Guard replaced his damaged American Flag with a new one that had been flown overhead in each aircraft on Columbus Air Force Base in honor of Freeman. This previous connection to Freeman made Barlow the perfect candidate to present him with this honor from the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff.
“It is an amazing opportunity to be here with Mr. Freeman and honor him and his service to our country,” Barlow said. “This coin is a small token of appreciation not just from Gen. Milley, but from a grateful nation.”
A challenge coin is a small coin or medallion that is traditionally given to prove membership or enhance morale. Historically, they were presented by unit commanders in recognition of special achievements by a member of the unit, or could be exchanged in recognition of visits to an organization. Some sources state that the history of the coin dates back to Roman soldiers receiving coins from the emperor, while others believe it originated in World War I. No matter the origination, the presentation to Freeman was clear: thank you for your service to your country, and for being a hero.
As the presentation came to a close, Freeman was presented with a flag that had flown over the capitol in honor of his service on April 26th, followed by a moment of silence and the playing of the songs from each branch of service.
Freeman was humble and thanked the people that had gathered and those that presented him with honors. “Me and my buddies did a job for America… now it’s time for new faces to take up the cause.”