Service Number: 341404
Birth and Early Life:
Freeman was the son of William and Leah Leitzel of Snyder, Pennsylvania. He was born in 1924, and raised on the family farm. (1)
Enlistment and Boot Camp:
Within days after the attack of Pearl Harbor, seventeen-year old Freeman was swearing his allegiance to the United States Marine Corps. He was sent to Parris Island for training with the Fifth Recruit Battalion, and was posted as a private to Company D, First Battalion, First Marines at New River in the spring of 1942.
As a member of his battalion’s heavy weapons company, Private Blair would have learned to use a water-cooled machine gun or an 81mm mortar. He practiced in camp at New River, North Carolina before sailing for New Zealand and then the beaches of Guadalcanal in August, 1942.
Date Of Loss:
On the morning of August 21, Freeman’s company – in division reserve – heard heavy gunfire from the area where their regiment’s Second Battalion was standing guard. The battle of the Tenaru was being fought; a Japanese regiment under Colonel Ichiki was throwing itself against the American defenses and being utterly destroyed. (2)
When daylight came and it was sure that Second Battalion could hold, the First Battalion – including Blair’s company – crossed the Ilu River to counterattack the enemy. The fighting lasted all day but, supported by a few light tanks, the Marines wiped out nearly every member of Colonel Ichiki’s detachment, and scattered the survivors into the jungle.
Private Freeman Blair was killed during this counterattack, but his tenacity in his final fight won him the notice of an officer. He was awarded a posthumous Silver Star.
The President of the United States of America takes pride in presenting the Silver Star (Posthumously) to Private Freeman Bright Blair (MCSN: 341404), United States Marine Corps, for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity as a member of a patrol of Company D, First Battalion, First Marines, FIRST Marine Division, during action against enemy Japanese forces on Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, on 21 August 1942. While engaged with several hostile patrols in the vicinity of the Tenaru River, Private Blair received a severe bullet wound in his side. Fighting on, despite intense pain and waning strength, he was eventually incapacitated by a bullet wound in his shoulder. While being carried to the rear for treatment of the second injury, he was struck in the head and killed by hostile fire. He gallantly gave his life for his country.
Next Of Kin:
Guardian, Mr. William Leitzel
Status Of Remains:
Manila American Cemetery and Memorial, Philippines.
(1) The exact relationship between Freeman and the elder Leitzels is unclear. He is listed as “Freeman B. Leitzel (son)” on the 1930 census, but the Corps only knew him by the surname Blair. Casualty records list William Leitzel as “guardian” rather than “father.” His sister’s 2011 obituary lists him by the name “Blair” as well.
(2) A geographical mix-up led to the misnaming of this battle; it was fought over the Ilu River rather than the Tenaru, but has been referred to as the “battle of the Tenaru” ever since.