Fallen Astronauts

Book highlights life, death of last USAF Captain Freeman
By Hazel Brittingham

“Fallen Astronauts: Heroes Who Died Reaching for the Moon” is the title of a book recently published by the University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln and London. The first 31 pages of the 271-page book are devoted exclusively to the life, education, selection as a NASA astronaut and death of Theodore C. Freeman, late of Lewes. The authors are Colin Burgess and Kate Doolan, with Bert Vis. The book is a compendium of research into the lives, including their tragic deaths, of astronauts who gave their all in pursuit of their personal goal, and that of their country, of reaching the moon.

The introduction states that all of the deceased heroes “undoubtedly would have had a profound participation in NASA’s Apollo program. The composition of several Apollo crews would have been different had they lived.” It continues, “Ted Freeman, killed in a T-38 crash in October 1964, was on the verge of being appointed to back-up duties on a Gemini crew and would definitely have flown on an Apollo moon mission.”

The story of Captain Freeman, the first astronaut to lose his life in the line of duty, is given initial attention in the book, followed by chapters devoted to the loss of men whose names are familiar to many interested in moon exploration: See, BassettGrissom, White, Chaffee, Givens and Williams. One chapter, devoted to the contribution of Russia’s cosmomauts, is titled, “By the Light of a Soviet Moon.”

Chapter one, titled, “A Routine Training Flight,” continues through page 31 and includes an intensive treatment of the final day of Freeman’s life and events that followed. Illustrations include a photo of him as a test pilot; an at-home view with his wife and daughter, both named Faith; and an aerial photo of the accident scene following the crash of the T-38A Talon.

Acknowledgments include the deceased’s family members – daughter Faith Freeman Herschap, sister Anna Mae Thompson, nephew Perry McGinnis – as well as Lewes friends Hazel Brittingham, Joe Hudson and the late Ernestine Edwards. References include mention of an article about the Lewes High School honor graduate, Freeman, in the school’s newspaper, “Pirates’ Log” (December 1963), written by Richard Beebe and Ralph Seabrease.

There remain in Lewes some residents who recall their trip to Arlington National Cemetery on November 4, 1964 to attend Freeman’s funeral service.

The book notes that the service was attended by all 28 astronauts as well as John Glenn – newly retired. It points out that this was the final occasion in history when all of NASA’s astronauts were gathered in the same place at the same time.

The book lists several tributes to the life of Theodore Freeman:

Captain Theodore C. Freeman Memorial Library, Houston, Texas, dedicated in 1966, when fellow astronaut Charlie Bassett cited Ted as a shining example of American manhood. (Bassett lost his life in a similar aircraft crash 16 months later.)

The Freeman Highway, Lewes approach road to the Cape May-Lewes Ferry, was dedicated in his honor in 1966.

In 1967, four islands off the California coast were named after Freeman and the three astronauts who died in the Apollo 1 fire – Island Chaffee, Island Freeman, Island Grissom and Island White.

A lunar crater 54 miles in diameter was named for Freeman and marked by the three astronauts during their successful flight of Apollo 8 in December 1968.

Captain Freeman’s mother, the late Mrs. John C. Freeman, was named Delaware’s 1965 Mother of the Year. Mrs. Freeman performed praiseworthy work with the state’s school children following her son’s death as she shared the story of space exploration.

Freeman’s name is included in the Astronauts Memorial at the Kennedy Space Center, Florida. A gigantic granite space mirror contains the names of those who have lost their lives in furthering the goals of America’s space program.

“Fallen Astronauts” is on the shelf of the Lewes Historical Society library.

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