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Charles Freeland: Fighter pilot, farmer, teacher

By Staff | Mar 27, 2009

Charles Freeland

In the summer of 1935, twelve year old Charles Freeland went off to camp in Rock Oak, West Virginia and was set on a path he has traveled for more than seventy years. It was at that particular camp during that particular summer he spied “the most beautiful girl I had ever seen in my life.” The young lad never spoke with the startling vision, nor she to him, but Charles never forgot her fabulous face. The young lady’s name was Clara Lorean Poland.

Fast forward five years. Charlie Kreiger, asked his buddy Charles Freeland to double with him because it seems Charlie’s date’s cousin was visiting and if Charlie couldn’t get a date for her cousin then their date was off. Following me so far? Charlie really wanted to go on this date and he basically bribed his buddy by offering to pay for everything. Charles went reluctantly but, hey, it wasn’t going to cost him a dime and how bad could it be. The upshot of the story Charles Freeland recalls “We walked up on the porch to pick up our dates and there she wasClara Lorean.” Now is that something out of a romance novel, or what. It was love at second sight. Their high schools were fifty miles apart so over the next two years, their dates were few but constant.

Charles Freeland was born in in Dixie, West Virginia. (Dixie is now Wileys Ford.) Cora and Thomas Freeland had five children: Clarence, Emory, Lillian, Charles and Geraldine. Thomas was a life-long railroad man and kept the trains running, rebuilding engines and repairing everything else, in a day when rail was the major mode of long distance transportation.

Charles graduated from Ridgeley High and went into US Air Force pilot training School. He was stationed in Augusta, Georgia and hopelessly in love with Lorean, so after flight school graduation he proposed long distance and entrusted an engagement ring to the US Postal Service. Lorean responded saying she’d “think about it.” Andshe would keep the ring while she was thinking.

Persuasion is more effective in person so Charles got a three day pass, went to visit Lorean and asked again. This time she said “yes.” About to be shipped overseas, Charles got a 15-day pass. Lorean, with the help of the whole community of Rock Oak, planned the wedding celebration in a week. “We were married for five days when I got a call to return to base.” The 15-day pass was cut short and the newly married Mr. and Mrs. Charles Freeland didn’t see each other again for 18 months.

For the next four years Charles saw the world from the cockpit of a jet fighter. His assignments included him flying the “Hump” from India to China, The Battle for Burma and flying the Red Ball Express from Casablanca to Calcutta. Duty also flew him to South America, Central and North Africa, Russia, Pakistan, the Middle East, the South Pacific Islands, and all over the United States. “I loved to fly.” He said. “From the introductory flight to my last landing as an Air Force pilot I never had a dull or unhappy moment in the air. At times the fear was almost overwhelming but there was never a regret on my decision to fly.”

The awards Charles received include: the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Presidential Unit Citation, the Air Medal, Medal of Commendation from the Republic of China, The European, Africa, Middle East Theater Medal, The Asiatic, and Pacific Theater Medal with a Battle Star. Many years later he was made an honorary pilot in the Republic of China Air Force.

“Were you ever shot down?” It was a logical question. “Yupover Burma” he said.

“We landed safely, but while we were coming in our radio operator was standing between me and the co-pilot. It was bumpy and he fell forward and hit his head and bled. He was awarded a Purple Heart. “Charles laughed. “and we weren’t.”

In 2005 Charles captured his adventures and impressions in “Hot Rock over the Himalayas,” a folksy, historical memoir, published by Rose Dog Books (and available at Four Seasons.)

Charles was discharged in 1945 and bought a farm in Hampshire County and with the help of the GI Bill and the US Dept. of Agriculture spent the next four years farming and studying at agriculture school. “We raised Eisenhower beef cattle and Truman calves and I lost my shirt.” He laughed and I thought, I guess after being shot at for four years the farm thing didn’t seem so bad. Their family grew to include two babies, Charles Douglas and Nancy Lorean.

During these years Charles became an ordained minister in the Church of Brethren. The Church was Lorean’s and when they married he became a member. He went on to become the Pastor of the Beausettlement Church of the Brethren for thirteen years.

Now that the farm wasn’t a viable money-maker, Charles made lemonade out of lemons as seems to be his nature and turned to a long-time passion as a career choice. He’d always wanted to teach and that’s what he did.

Charles is still passionate about teaching and has definite ideas about the system. “Put most of the money in early childhood development, grades one through three, and focus on reading. Kids should know how to read, and read well, by the third grade. Reading is the key to all other subjects. If you can’t read well then everything else will suffer too.”

He graduated with honors from Shepherd College in 1958 and then earned a Masters in Teaching, again with honors, from WVU. He did post Masters work at WVU, and American University and received a Superintendents Certificate in 1966 and went to work in Hampshire County School System. Lorean was also an elementary school teacher in Hampshire County and early on she and Charles were chosen “Outstanding Young Teachers of the Year” for two consecutive years. Charles was also President of the Hampshire County Education Association.

Charles went on to be a secondary school Principal and was elected president of the County Principal’s Association and President of the Potomac Valley Athletic Association of principals and coaches. He also worked at Shepherd College where he taught for sixteen years and served coordinator of media services when Shepherd had first used television equipment I the classroom.

Charles and Lorean moved to Shepherdstown in the early ’60s and Charles began his 9 year project of building a home for Lorean. And you should see his work. Every stone hauled down from his farm turned into terraces and walls and the house itself. Unbelievable! He also found time to volunteer in his new hometown, including: The Men’s Club (former president), Caregivers, the Visitors Center and with the Alumni Assoc. of Shepherd U. He’s a member of the Shepherd College Emeritus Faculty for 25 years of service and a charter member of Phi Delta Kappa, WVU Chapter.

Douglas Freeland, graduated from the Naval Academy and was a pilot in Viet Nam. He’s today a commercial real estate broker living with his family in San Diego. Nancy Lorean (Colbert) is head nurse and director of the recovery room at City Hospital and lives with husband Kyle in Shepherdstown. The Freeland Family has grown to three grandchildren: Christopher and Scott Colbert, and Tiffani Hyde; and nine great-grandchildren. The great ones include one set of twins and one set of triplets.

Lorean Poland Freeland passed away in 2001 after a four year battle with cancer in which her husband was always by her side. Charles still lives in the spacious family-friendly home he built, stone by stone, for Lorean out near Cress Creek. Today it’s filled with children’s toys, family photos, awards, books, and really impressive collections (Examples: 750 elephants and every Shepherd College/University yearbook dating back to 1912) and about a million happy memories. Right now the dining room table is covered with the manuscript in progress of another book.

Charles Freeland is a really nice guy, he’s interesting and interested, and his life is filled with children. He’s a happy man. But let’s face it when you’ve defied death at the age of 19 and gone on to live happily for sixty years with the most beautiful girl you’ve ever seen and now you get to play with your great-grandchildren, you have every reason to be a happy man.

– Sue Kennedy is a former public relations executive and Emmy Award winning screenplay writer.