Freeman photo

Wilson Freeman served with I Company 501st, 101st Airborne during World War II.

My husband Wilson Freeman was a man of few words. I seldom heard him talk about “The war.” If I did hear him speak of his experiences during WWII, I would write them down. They were priceless to me.

One such story was about a shipwreck in the Azores Islands, when another ship hit the transport ship that was taking Wilson and the other troops to war. Seventy military men were killed. While on the deck after the wreck occurred, Wilson saw a young soldier that came up on deck, shaking uncontrollably. Wilson, thinking he was cold, gave him his overcoat. The man put on Wilson’s coat and then “took a flying leap” into the ocean. When this young man’s body was retrieved, the only identification he had was the coat that was marked “Wilson C. Freeman.” Wilson’s family was notified that he died at sea. It was some time before they found out the truth—that Wilson was alive and heading for the battle.

When Wilson got to Bastogne (in the winter of 1945) he was still without his overcoat, which was a terrible disadvantage in the snow and ice. Our troops were fighting off Hitler’s massive effort to push allied forces out of France, but our boys persevered.

Wilson told me about being on patrol and seeing a facility that was used to house blonde, pregnant women who were part of Hitler’s “Superior Race” experiment. The girls had been impregnated by elite German solders and spent time working at the facility while they waited to give birth to their babies.

At some point, Wilson was on patrol in the Alps. There was a troop of Gypsies that were hungry. They didn’t have a gun, so he shot two deer for them to eat. He kept the skulls and antlers of those deer, and they are currently hanging in our den.

At the end of the war, Wilson told me how he and I Company went inside the Dachau concentration camp to liberate the poor prisoners there. He described horrible conditions and people who were skin and bones. I Company found out another unit was also there, so Wilson’s unit moved on.

In 1976, when Mimi sang with the Georgia Youth Choral in Europe, I went as a chaperone. During that trip, we saw the former location of the Dachau camp and the furnaces where Jews and other prisoners were incinerated.

Wilson told me that toward the end of the war, the 101st climbed up a mountain and captured “Eagle’s Nest” which was Hitler’s retreat. They had hoped to capture Hitler, but they found the place deserted. Many of the young soldiers took photos of themselves and their friends at the historic place.

On Wilson’s 85th birthday, Mimi arranged for Wilson to go back to Fort Benning where he had become a paratrooper. He visited the sweat shed and the field where new paratroopers would be jumping for the first time. Wilson walked among them, telling them they “could do it.” He explained that he had survived his first jump many years before, so that was proof it could be done. His face beamed as he walked among them.

Our “guide” for the day, Major Risdon, gave us a tour of the place. Wilson revisited the road where he ran 10 miles before breakfast every day. Then we were driven to Lawson Field where there were bleachers set up for families to observe the first jump. However, we were given VIP service to actually drive onto the field.

As the big planes came over the field, parachutes started to open. The commanding officer, Major General Michael Ferriter, jumped first, followed by a sky filled with parachutes. The Major General rolled up his chute and headed straight towards Wilson. The commander presented Wilson with a commemorative brass disk and thanked him for his service. What a birthday! What a day!

Wilson left us on March 16th, 2014. The day before he died, American Legion brothers stopped in on their way home from a funeral. They were in uniform and surrounded his bed, saluting him. I wept at this moving expression of brotherhood and gratitude. I told them the next day, after Wilson died, that they were a “band of angels coming to take him home.”

I heard Wilson tell his son Scott and other family members, “The most important thing about my military service was that it gave me the strength and fortitude to come back and get into college.” The GI Bill gave Wilson an education that turned into a career working with children and teachers in the field of education.

I tried to persuade Wilson to let Dr. Martin include his war stories in Dr. Martin’s book “Ordinary Heroes.” Wilson was steadfast in his choice of “not being a hero.” He said, “I just did what we all did—our duty.” Wilson was my hero and a hero to people in our nation. We owe our gratitude to those who served. We live in a free nation, and we should never forget the sacrifices of so many.