FAIRBORN — Fairborn High School JROTC, now in its 46 year, has seen almost 10,000 students complete its program. It held a special ceremony Monday aimed to honor veterans, which included a ribbon cutting for a flowerbed outside the facility to specifically recognize WWII Veteran Master Sergeant Lowell Freeman.
“It means a lot that we can give back,” Cadet Major Branden Cook, Ohio 31st operations commander said. “He did a lot for us and this is just a small token for what we can do for him.”
The flowerbed, now titled “AFJROTC Memorial Garden,” came to life after cadets brainstormed means for increasing pride within the unit, and decided to start a garden club. It first included 12 participants who began with planting and mulching the Rex Auckerman flowerbed, located at the school’s track.
The cadets later cleaned out and and planted flowers within a flowerbed located just outside Fairborn High School, which is where the ribbon cutting took place. JROTC leaders and students said they hope to use the AFJROTC Memorial Garden and ceremony as a means to honor a veteran each year for Veterans Day.
“It’s a shame not all the veterans get honored in a way this man did because they all deserve it,” Cadet Group Commander Austin Cook said. “This garden is not just for him, but for anybody that’s given to the [United States Military].”
The ceremony was led by Branden Cook and began with the Presentation of Colors by the JROTC, the singing of the national anthem by Cadet Zuza Livosky, an invocation led by Austin Cook, followed by the recognition of its guests and history of how the AFJROTC Memorial Garden came to be.
Cadets Rodlee Brown and Dylan Shope, who both served as co-officers for the garden club, then stepped forward to hold both ends of the ribbon, which was cut by Freeman.
“I think it’s good to expose our cadets to people who have really served their country in a world that is so [individualized],” Sergeant David Mackey, JROTC instructor, said. “They are part of something bigger than themselves. There’s just something about that, them understanding that there’s been a lot of sacrifice that’s happened.”
Freeman, 97, enlisted in May 1942 at Camp Grant in Illinois as a regular U.S. Army Airborne. He completed basic training at Fort Benning, Georgia, where he earned his jump wings and qualified as a sharpshooter, skilled sniper and light weapons airborne infantryman. He was then hand picked as a volunteer to complete training by the Elite British Commandos in England, and later was sent to North Africa where he served alongside Lieutenant Colonel William Darby, founder of Darby’s Rangers of the first Infantry Battalion in Tunisia.
During his service with Company L350, he battled Germans on Mount Battaglia, Italy on Aug. 16, 1944. A private at the time, Freeman spotted two wounded soldiers along the crest of the hill. In response, Freeman traded his rifle and equipment for a first aid kit, and went after them. He crawled across a mine-filled area as the Germans shot away, but he continued his rescue mission. When he reached the soldiers, he treated them to the best of his ability and carried one away to safety then returned to rescue the other.
While doing so, Freeman received injuries, but also came face-to-face with a German officer with maps in his hands. Freeman snatched them away, rescued the other solider and delivered them both to safety where they were both treated for injuries. The maps he retrieved included Germans artillery emplacements along the front lines north of Mt. Battaglia, Italy.
Freeman’s injuries led him to be discharged Nov. 30, 1944, but his efforts allowed him to be recommended for the Medal of Honor, and he received the Combat Infantry Badge, Distinguished Service Cross, Bronze Star, Sharpshooter Medal, Middle Eastern Campaign Medal, WWII Victory Medal and two Purple Hearts.
He said he felt wonderful being recognized, and saw “so many nice people” during Monday’s ceremony.
Freeman was selected as this year’s honoree after Mackey spoke with Staff Sergeant Tyler Hurley, an Army recruiter who serves FHS, about honoring a veteran.
Hurley met Freeman at church, and after hearing his story and doing his homework, he met with the Army Public Affairs Office for a story. Since then, Hurley visits and talks with Freeman.
“He’s an amazing man,” Hurley said. “… At 97-years-old, he’s as sharp as a tack. He’s just an amazing man; it’s an honor to be in his presence. He is the last living member of of the Darby Range — the original army rangers.”