ARLINGTON, Va. — On Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery, even the vice president of the United States couldn’t match the star power of people like Bill Freeman.
Freeman, 81, a Macon native, spent Monday participating in Memorial Day ceremonies at America’s most revered shrine to its military.
His entry into the city was modern-day regal. Freeman was escorted into Washington by about 20 bikers from a Georgia chapter of Rolling Thunder, led by Harper Faulkner, a Vietnam-era veteran.
Monday’s ceremony was the capstone of a week that included a 12-hour motorcycle ride to the capital and plenty of war stories traded between the Korean and Vietnam War-era veterans.
“These guys treated me like I was a king,” Freeman said. “They wouldn’t even let me buy a bottle of water.”
Few veterans, even on Memorial Day at Arlington National Cemetery, stand out like Freeman. He spent more than two years in a North Korean prisoner of war camp before his release in 1953. Six decades later, Freeman has made the POW/MIA cause his own, leading an effort last year to build a memorial in Macon.
This was the first time he had been to Arlington National Cemetery since 1988. “I wouldn’t have missed it for a million dollars,” Freeman said.
Freeman’s day started when he stood among a select group of veterans in front of the home of Robert E. Lee. There he watched Vice President Biden, just 20 feet in front of him, ceremoniously place a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknowns.
After Biden’s speech — a speech the vice president said was “the greatest honor of my public life” — representatives from several dozen veterans groups formed a single-file line near the tomb.
This Memorial Day, the honor of representing all American prisoners of war in the Korean War — through a group called the Korean War Ex-POW Association — was given to Freeman.
Marching with two Veterans of Foreign Wars representatives, Freeman, with a little help from Faulkner, handed the wreath to a sentry, who posted it at the tomb. His Rolling Thunder escorts watched nearby.
The Freeman caravan departed for Macon later Monday. Even the 90-degree heat failed to slow down Freeman.
“He’s worn out seven or eight people half his age,” Faulkner said.
To contact writer Thomas L. Day, call 744-4489.