Vernal Ray “Vern” Freeman was born Oct. 1, 1929 in Rush Springs, Oklahoma. His farming family of eight lived in a two-room house; Vern and brother Bill slept under the kitchen table -- a humble beginning to a very interesting life.
The family would soon move to Plainview, Texas, then to Olton, Texas, where Vern graduated from high school in 1946. The following year the family moved to Elida, New Mexico. One day in Elida, Vern and brother Bill went to a dance just for something to do. There he met an attractive high school girl. Her name was Josephine May Wilcox. At the time he would have never guessed how significant that meeting would turn out to be.
Vern wasn’t quite ready to settle down. He later recalled that he “roamed around” from 1946 to 1951, sometimes returning to work on the family farm. Then, in 1951, came atruly significant change: Vern was drafted into the Army. After basic training at Camp Chaffee in Fort Smith, Arkansas, he boarded a ship in Seattle for Yokahama, Japan.During the five or six day trip he had one job: “KP” (Kitchen Patrol) duty. He was not amused.
In Korea he was assigned to the 92ndArmored Field Battalion and shipped to the front lines. While Vern rarely spoke about his combat experiences he did recall, much later in life, being lost for a day behind enemy lines. That, he said, was a very long day. He also remembered that sometimes the enemy would be so close his artillery unit would fire directly into their lines. He stayed on the front lines for about a year, then returned to the U.S. and was honorably discharged as a Staff Sergeant in October 1952.
A new chapter was opening in Vern’s life. In 1954 he enrolled at Texas Tech. The GI Bill paid $110 a month but Vern was initially charged out-of-state tuition because, the school said, Vern was officially a New Mexico resident. Vern would have none of this, arguing that he had been drafted from the state of Texas and therefore should pay the lower in-state rate. He won that argument and got the in-state tuition rate -- and much better things were just ahead.
On Jan. 29, 1954 Vern married Jody, the girl from Elida, who was now a student at Texas Tech. Vern and Jody settled in Lubbock, where they rented a small apartment for $45 a month. Jody graduated with a business degree in 1954. The next year, Susan was born, and Sondra came a year later. Vern graduated in 1956 with a degree in electrical engineering, leading to a highly successful career with General Electric.
That job took the growing family many places, including Schenectady, New York, Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Rome, Georgiaand Chattanooga, Tennessee. Along the way David was born in 1959, Sharon in 1961 and Michael in 1963. From there the family moved to Fairfax in June, 1970. After many years with GE, Vern would eventually take a new job with Divesco while Jody went from raising five children to working for the Central Intelligence Agency.
Vern made another significant change in his early fifties -- one that led to a passion he pursued for the rest of his life: helping people manage and overcome addiction. Vern was a counselor, advocate, sponsor and friend to countless people -- always “on call” for those in need. He rarely missed Saturday morning AA breakfasts where he dispensed support, advice, and friendship.
From his children, he was blessed with 10 grandchildren: To Susan and Dave Shiflett: Christian, Branch; Sondra and Ron Arnold:Brenda, Dennis, Clayton; Dave and Donna Freeman: Jodi, Sarah; Sharon and Phillip: Erin, Rebecca, Sarah. Three great-grandchildren were to follow: Raiya, Monica and Cora. He continued traveling to family reunions and remained a spirited fan of the Texas Tech Red Raiders while struggling to retain a hopeful attitude toward the Washington Redskins. He eventually experienced health setbacks, including a heart attack in 2006, but remained physically active until the final weeks of his life and mentally sharp until his passing. Spiritual renewal was reflected in re-baptism three years ago and a deep interest in Biblical study and fellowship.
Vern died at Inova Fairfax Hospital February 8 in the presence of family, including Jody, with whom he had celebrated 66 years of marriage on January 29. He will be honored with a military burial at Quantico National Cemetery.
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