In 1987 the Chief of Staff of the Army General John Wickham added the phrase “to inspire each to a lifetime of service to the nation” to the mission statement of the United States Military Academy at West Point. The document that created this change singled out the selfless service of a 1946 graduate, DeBow Freed, as an example for this “lifetime of service to the nation” desired. To be singled out amongst 45,000 esteemed West Point graduates after 185 years is alone a lofty accomplishment. DeBow’s lifetime achievements epitomize selfless service. DeBow selflessly served our nation for sixty-five years, first in uniform and then as a University Dean and President.
DeBow Freed was born August 25, 1925 in Hendersonville, Tennessee and grew up on his families’ farm, graduating from the local public high school at Gallatin Tennessee High School. He entered West Point July 1, 1943 and graduated June 4, 1946 at age 20, nine months after the end of World War II. The Secretary of War Honorable Robert P. Patterson presented his diploma to him. DeBow was commissioned in the Infantry and would serve overseas for a total of seven years including Japan, Germany, Iran, Korea, and served a year in Vietnam during the Vietnam War. He would retire as a Colonel after twenty-three years.
Early in his service, he met Catherine Carol Moore, daughter of an Army physician, and they married in 1949. Together they traveled the globe and raised a son DeBow II. While overseas, DeBow had troop duty in the 1st, 7th, and 25th Army Infantry divisions. He attended and taught at the Infantry School, Fort Benning, GA, attended the Army Command and Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, KS, and the Air War College at Maxwell Air Force Base, AL. He was aide to the Assistant Division Commander of the 17th Airborne Division, a training division in the US, and aide to the head of the Military Advisory Mission in Tehran, Iran. He was chief of the nuclear branch of the Defense Atomic Support Agency at Sandia Base, Albuquerque, NM, liaison to the Los Alamos Scientific Laboratory for the military services, and, concurrently, earned a PhD in nuclear engineering at the University of New Mexico.
He was invited to return to West Point as a faculty member in the physics department. While at West Point, the Freeds lived in one of the large red brick houses on Thayer Road which overlook the Hudson River. The home, built in 1907, is about 200 yards from the Thayer Hotel. DeBow II would graduate from Highland Falls High School and then receive a doctorate from Rice University.
The Freeds greatly enjoyed military service and had long considered eventually going into higher education. They believed they could make a strong contribution, and for a longer period of time, in civilian higher education. The opportunity for daily association with students and faculty on a college campus was especially appealing to them. At that time DeBow had his PhD and Catherine had her BA, BFA, and MA degrees, and membership in Phi Beta Kappa and had taught at colleges and universities near their stations throughout Dr. Freed’s military career.
Dr. Freed retired after 23 years of active military duty as an Infantry Colonel and was awarded his second Legion of Merit, which was added to his Bronze Star Medal, and Air Medal among his many awards. He went directly into private higher education at Mount Union College where he was Dean of the College for five years. He was then elected President of Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois, where he served for another five years. He then became President of Ohio Northern University, Ada, Ohio, for twenty years and later served as President of the University of Findlay, Findlay, Ohio, for seven years. All of the institutions he served prospered greatly under his leadership.
Dr. Freed’s 32 years as a college or university president provided wonderful opportunities to positively influence the lives of thousands of young people. He presented diplomas to over 20,000 graduates in law, engineering, pharmacy, business, and other areas. He and Catherine personally knew many thousands of these young students.
Dr. Freed also served as head of state and regional academic, scientific, service and athletic organizations. He was trustee of a regional hospital, symphony orchestra, center of science and industry, and was a bank director.
The study cited by General Wickham that had added the statement “to inspire each into a lifetime of service to the nation” cited that during the first one hundred years of West Point’s history that it had produced 46 University Presidents. The study stated that “West Point graduates will advance in the Army as far as their talents and the needs of the service take them. Their dedication to selfless service, even beyond the time in uniform is both a national need and a historical expectation. They are to be leaders for a lifetime.”
DeBow Freed had indeed fulfilled that need and that expectation and served our nation for sixty-five years, having dedicated 23 years in uniform to the nation and 42 years leading the education of tens of thousands of students as a University President. He is an inspiration to all graduates who seek to continue service to the nation after they retire their uniform, by educating America’s future generations.