Ask Rufus: An Evening with Heroes

 

When Brad Freeman spoke of his war time experiences in the

When Brad Freeman spoke of his war time experiences in the "Band of Brothers" at the Aliceville Museum this past Thursday evening, he was joined by three other World War II veterans and heroes. Shown, from left, are Joe McGee of Eutaw, Alabama; Clyde Marine of Aliceville, Alabama; Freeman of Caledonia; and Ken Lucas, of Aliceville. Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

Brad Freeman was asked if the American paratroopers landing behind German lines the night before D-Day really had metal clickers, or

Brad Freeman was asked if the American paratroopers landing behind German lines the night before D-Day really had metal clickers, or "crickets," like in the movie "The Longest Day." He said they did and he had earlier shown me one the Army had given him.
Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

 

Rufus Ward

 

 

In late January, Steve Wallace, Danny Coggins and I went with Brad Freeman to the German POW Museum in Aliceville, Alabama. We thoroughly enjoyed viewing the exhibits and talking with museum director, John Gillum, and with Everett Owens. The folks at the museum were so fascinated with Mr. Freeman's stories they asked if he would return and speak to a gathering at the museum.  

 

Thursday evening, we returned to Aliceville, not just to a gathering but a gathering of heroes. 

 

Among the almost 60 people who came to hear Freeman speak were three other World War II veterans. They were Joe McGee of Eutaw, Alabama, and Clyde Marine and Ken Lucas, both of Aliceville. People came from Pickens, Sumter, Greene and Tuscaloosa counties, some driving for an hour, to hear Brad Freeman's story. Mr. B. did not disappoint. 

 

The presentation by Freeman, an original member of the renowned "Band of Brothers," of Easy Company of the 506th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 101st Airborne Division, was spellbinding. He told of his experiences during World War II where he was in every major western European battle from D-Day to Market Garden (detailed in the book and movie "A Bridge Too Far") to the Battle of the Bulge. After his talk he took questions from the audience. It was a chance for people to ask about scenes from movies and if they really happened. 

 

He was asked if the American paratroopers really carried metal clickers, or "crickets," to use as signaling devices when they landed behind German lines the night before D-Day like was shown in the movie "The Longest Day." Mr. Freeman said that was true and they really did use them. He also commented he still had one the army had given him. He had earlier shown his clicker to me and I noticed that they had been made by the "Acme Co." in England. 

 

In the movie "A Bridge Too Far" a British armored column rushing to cross bridges and rescue British paratroopers fighting to hold the Arnham Bridge in Holland during Operation Market Garden suddenly stopped for afternoon tea. Freeman said it not only happened, but he was there and even asked a British officer why were they stopping. The British officer looked at him and responded, "A spot of tea ol' Bloke." 

 

After Mr. Freeman finished, he and the three other World War II veterans visited, posed for photographs and signed autographs. Mr. Freeman even autographed an old World War II helmet someone had brought. It was interesting to hear some of the stories and background of the other veterans. 

 

Joe McGee was a fighter pilot flying first P-47s and then P-51 Mustangs in the Pacific. During the war he flew 97 combat missions, both search-and-destroy and close air support with the 460th Fighter Squadron. In late July early August 1945, McGee was flying bombing missions over Japan. His P-51 was named Chief Eutaw.  

 

On Aug. 6, the pilot's maps were red-lined with a no-fly zone. That zone turned out to be the area around the city of Hiroshima and that was the day the first atomic bomb was dropped. On Aug. 9 the second atomic bomb was dropped. It was on Nagasaki and a flight of P-51s from the 460th fighter squadron, including McGee, was flying over Japan and saw the huge mushroom cloud created by the bomb as it exploded over the city. Two days later, McGee flew over Nagasaki at tree top level and saw firsthand the devastation caused by an atomic bomb. 

 

Clyde Marine enlisted late in the war, and after basic training, began working and training with scout dogs in preparation for the invasion of Japan. The two bombs were dropped and Japan surrendered before he shipped out.  

 

Ken Lucas was only 16 and had to have his parents permission and signature when he enlisted. He served in the European theater. 

 

It was an evening to be with, listen to and talk with four members of "The Greatest Generation" and real American heroes. And if you haven't been, it's well worth a 30-minute drive down Highway 69 from Columbus to see the Aliceville Museum, which has the largest German POW Camp collection in the U.S. The museum is at 104 Broad St. in downtown Aliceville and its phone number is 205-373-2363.

 

Rufus Ward is a Columbus native a local historian. E-mail your questions about local history to Rufus at [email protected]

 

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