Charles H. Freer of Atlanta was a highly decorated World War II fighter pilot, the type you read about in history books. His name is even mentioned in several tomes about one of history’s largest naval battles, the Battle of Leyte Gulf, said his son Richard Freer of Atlanta.
By the age of 23, Mr. Freer had flown 90 combat missions from the aircraft carrier St. Lo, and was awarded nine Distinguished Flying Crosses and 11 Air Medals.
But those medals were never more important to him than people, said the younger Mr. Freer, a law professor at Emory University.
“He never, ever lorded his medals over anyone,” said his son. “We didn’t grow up with a war hero dad, even though he was one. He was the humblest guy you’d ever meet.”
The son remembers when his father, a career naval commander, was being considered for a promotion to captain but would have to leave his family for a tour of sea duty. Mr. Freer asked for a six-month delay to help his older son prepare for college and his younger son with a medical issue.
When the Navy turned down the request, Mr. Freer turned in his resignation, said his son.
“Being Dad was more important to him than being a captain,” he said.
Mr. Freer, 88, died Dec. 23 of natural causes at his home in Atlanta. A memorial service will be at 3:30 p.m. Tuesday at A.S. Turner & Sons in Decatur. A second service is being planned for a later date in San Diego, where Mr. Freer and his wife, Marjorie, lived for almost 50 years. A.S. Turner & Sons is in charge of arrangements.
Mr. Freer was the son of a career Army medical officer. He had been a student for almost three years at the University of the South when the United States entered World War II. He was immediately commissioned as a naval aviator, said his son.
During the Battle of Leyte Gulf, Mr. Freer was flying a mission when the St. Lo was sunk. The pilot landed his plane safely in an area of the Philippines held by the Allies and returned home a hero.
While at home on furlough, he met his future wife, Marjorie, in Washington, D.C. She also had been raised by a career Army officer, and they knew some of the same people. Mr. Freer died the day before their 64th wedding anniversary, said the son.
At his family’s urging, Mr. Freer dictated his military memoirs, which his children and grandchildren edited into a book. “The Promise Aloft” was privately published in 2003 for family and friends.
Mr. Freer had been a Russian interpreter, flown airplanes and blimps, sailed around Cape Horn and was among the first 40 computer programmers in the U.S. Navy, said his son.
After retiring in 1964, the career naval officer found a second career teaching and coaching tennis at a private high school in San Diego. He had a knack for finding the kids who lacked confidence and giving them a boost, said Joan Maher of San Diego, who also taught at the school. Her son Hale Maher was one of those kids.
The Maher family had just moved to the area, and the 10-year-old had no friends, said Mrs. Maher. “He didn’t feel very good about himself,” she remembered. Mr. Freer was able to pull the boy out of his shell and instill confidence. Today Mr. Maher is a middle school teacher helping other students the way Mr. Freer helped him, Mrs. Maher said.
Mr. Freer continued playing competitive tennis into his 80s, said longtime friend and tennis partner Mike Mann of Atlanta. The Freers moved to Atlanta in 2007 to be closer to family.
Other survivors include his wife, Marjorie Freer of Atlanta, and son Douglas Freer of Denver.
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