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Hero returns home

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SALUTE: Marines perform a 21-gun salute during a funeral for Pvt. Fred Freeton Thursday at the Marion Indiana National Cemetery. Freet was posthumously issued the Purple Heart for wounds received in action resulting in his death, the Combat Action Ribbon for service during World War II and The Presidential Unit Citation, among others.
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THE BUGLE PLAYS: Marine Corps Capt. Pierce Virag from Grissom Air Force Base folds the flag above Marine Corps ReservePvt. Fred E. Freet’s casket during Freet’s funeral service Thursday afternoon. Freet was killed in actionin World War II and recovered in October 2018 before being laid to rest this week with full militaryhonors.
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WELCOME HOME: Marine Corps Capt. Pierce Virag, right, presents the American flag to Roger Covey during the funeral of Pvt. Fred Freet at the Marion Indiana National Cemetery. The funeral was attended by multiple family members, military organizations, the Marion City Fire, Police and Sheriff’s Department and veterans who came to pay their respect.
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HONOR AND SACRIFICE: The Rev. Dr. Tom Mansbarger speaks at the funeral service of Fred E. Freet, an18-year-old Marine Corps Reserve private killed in action during World War II. Freet was laid to rest inMarion National Cemetery with full military honors on Thursday afternoon.

BY Emily Rachelle Russell


Marion’s own Marine Corps Reserve Pvt. Fred E. Freet, killed in action in the South Pacific in 1943, was finally laid to rest with honors in Marion National Cemetery on Thursday afternoon.

The remaining relatives of Freet, including his half-brother Roger Covey and several nieces, nephews and cousins, gathered with many friends and local community members to celebrate the memory and return of their fallen Marine.

During the course of her life, Freet’s mother sent letters to the Marine Corps trying to get her son’s body found and returned home, according to Needham-Storey-Wampner Funeral Director Jason Fafinski. The U.S. military still has her letters on record.

“It took 76 years for him to come home,” Fafinski said. “Both of his parents as well as his two brothers passed away before this occasion, and it’s just amazing that we’re able to fulfill her wishes now today.”

Following a well-attended visitation at Needham-Storey-Wampner Funeral Home on North Baldwin Avenue, a procession carried Freet’s remains to a funeral service at Marion National Cemetery.

U.S. flags lined the streets in several areas. Fourth through sixth grade students from St. Paul Parish School waved flags along North Baldwin Avenue as Freet’s procession passed.

The hearse carrying Freet was greeted at the cemetery by a bagpiper, veterans with the Marine Corps League, a member of the Honor Flight, members of History Flight, a crowd of friends and community members. Also paying respects at the ceremony were Marion firefighters, police and officers with Grant County Sheriff’s Department members, along with several Marines and an honor guard sent from Grissom Air Force Base.

The Rev. Dr. Tom Mansbarger opened the service with a brief message about the World War II Battle of Tarawa, during which Freet was killed, and the suffering his family went through trying to find his body. He closed his portion of the service with a poem about veterans.

“(Freet) believed that, through what he did, he could make a difference, and he did make a difference,” Mansbarger said. “America prevailed, just as we always have. And today we have the privilege to come and to pay respect to a man that gave his life for a better cause.”

Freet was a descendant of the Native American Miami nation. Following Mansbarger’s speech, a trio of members from the Miami nation performed a blessing with sage. They invited the public in attendance to come forward and give their own personal blessings, which many relatives and community members did.

The service concluded with a 21-gun salute, the playing of “Taps” and the folding and presenting of the U.S. flag to Covey as next of kin.

Among the people gathered were Julie Webb and Frank Davidson, cousins to Freet’s niece Dorothy Street.

“This man fought for his country, and I would be here whether he was a cousin or not, because I’m a patriot,” Webb said. “I believe in our men and women that serve, and I back them up. We take care of our veterans. It’s an honor to be here.”

Davidson, her brother, added, “we’re proud to say, ‘no one left behind.’”

Freet died in the Battle of Tarawa, a crucial four-day fight in the Pacific Theater of World War II. He was 18 years old.

He was buried in an unnamed cemetery, referred to as Cemetery #27, on Betio Island, where the battle took place. His and many other fallen Marines’ and Soldiers’ remains were recovered in the late 1940s but not identified until recent years.

The nonprofit History Flight, Inc., excavated the graves. The Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency (DPAA) was able to identify Freet in October 2018 based on dental records and other evidence. His remains were returned home to Indiana from Hawaii on Tuesday, greeted by a Marine honor guard from Grissom Air Force Base and several relatives.

“This is a story that can help us remember how many people ... gave their lives during the course of World War II,” Fafinski said. “Especially (the battle of Tarawa) alone.”

History Flight is still working to identify or locate the remains of roughly 400 fallen veterans. For more information on their work and how to help, visit historyflight.com.