Wednesday, November 20, 2019

Morgan S. Freeman: A Man of Courage and Honor - Part 1

Morgan Samuel Freeman was born on Jun. 11, 1915, in Ruston, La. to James and Elizabeth Freeman. He had two brothers and four sisters. In the early 1920s, the Freeman’s moved to Bossier City, where Freeman lived the rest of his life, which ended suddenly on “a beautiful, sunny January day,” according to Freeman’s son Morgan Earl Freeman. He died on Jan. 6, 1972, of a brain aneurysm while at the VA medical center when he was picking up a prescription.

Bossier High School 1932 graduating class.
Morgan S. Freeman is on the second row on the right.
Gaye Englad Colelction: 2018.034.005
Freeman graduated from Bossier High School in 1932, where fellow students voted him as the "wittiest boy" of his senior class. He was a member of the Bossier City Athletic Club, where he learned to box, training under Babe Kennedy. By the time he started college at LSU in Baton Rouge, his boxing skills were already well known in north Louisiana.

As a freshman at LSU, he earned the title as the champion of the featherweight fighters of the LSU freshman team and was declared “the best prospect” that Captain Brink, coach of the team, had ever had to that point. He completed three years at LSU, where he continued his boxing career and for at least the next few years afterward. After college, he worked in the oilfield in Rodessa, LA.

Staff Sgt. Morgan S. Freeman in his WWII uniform c. 1943
Morgan Earl Freeman Collection: 2019.061.001
On Jan. 22, 1942, Freeman enlisted in the U.S. Air Corps. After gunnery school, Freeman was offered a position as an instructor, but he declined this opportunity. Instead, he served on the 452nd Bomb Squadron, and in March of 1943, he was sent overseas to Rougham, Bury St. Edmunds, England, where he was an engineer/gunner for the 322nd Bomb Group commanded by Lt. Col. Robert M. Stillman.

Freeman was on the B-26 Marauder 41-17982 that was shot down on a low-level mission on May 17, 1943. The goal of the mission was to raid a Velsen power station in IJmuiden, Holland. The Marauder plane was hit by German flak and crashed into dunes west of Rozenburg, Holland killing three of the six crewmembers. The surviving crew members were Lt. Col. Robert Stillman, pilot; Sgt. Clyde D. Willis, radio operator/gunner tech.; and Staff Sgt. Morgan S. Freeman, engineer/gunner were pulled from the wreckage by Germans and placed in a prisoner of war camp.

In light of it being aviation history month, I feel it necessary to explain in greater detail what happened on May 17, 1943, as it served as a pivotal point in the history of the B-26 Marauder.
The B-26 Marauder that Freeman was on that day was only one of the 11 Marauders that went on this mission. All but one of these 11 Marauders were shot down by flak on that mission. The only plane not shot down that day experienced mechanical problems and turned back to base. There was a total of sixty airmen shot down in enemy territory, 22 survived as prisoners of war.

As a result of this ill-fated mission, tactics of how the military implemented the B-26 changed. The 322nd Bomb Group was stood down, and the B-26 Marauder program was put on
hold temporarily. Flying the B-26 at low-level was deemed suicidal and was only used at
medium levels from then on.

Be sure to pick up the Bossier Press-Tribune next week to read the second part of
Freeman’s ordeal. Remember, if you are researching veterans in your family tree that are from
Bossier Parish, be sure to visit the Bossier Parish Libraries History Center at 2206 Becket St.,
Bossier City.

By: Amy Robertson

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