Lt. Col. Luther Wayne Freas Sr., formerly of Lompoc, California and Leland, died at Lower Cape Fear Hospice surrounded by his loved ones on Sunday, Sept. 20, 2015, at the age of 94.
He was the son of Luther Wayne Freas and Elsie Freas. He was preceded in death by his wife, Gema and sisters, Janette Richards and Dorothy Myers.
He is survived by his son, L. Wayne Freas Jr. and wife Sally, of Leland; daughter, Jackie Heupel and husband James, of Fredericksburg, Texas; grandchildren, Eric Heupel, Brian Freas, Jennifer Livingston (Tim) and Jessica Kenny (Steve); and great-grandchildren, Samantha Johnson, Morgan Freas, Hannah Freas, Johann Heupel and Lexi Freas.
Born in Debois, Pennsylvania on June 14, 1921, Luther Wayne Freas Sr. started playing the piano at age 3, converting to the trumpet around age 10. He continued with music in high school, eventually becoming an all-state champion trumpet player. During his high school days, he was an airport “junkie” who loved everything about airplanes. He bummed rides as often as possible and wanted to become a U.S. Army Air Corps pilot, but his mother refused to give him permission to sign up.
He used music to go to Mansfield State Teachers College in Pennsylvania. On Dec. 7, 1942, after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, he signed up and attended Aviation Cadet School (ACS) in Tennessee, Mississippi and Florida. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant pilot in the Army Air Corps in 1943.
Lt. Freas was assigned to Courtland Army Air Field, Alabama, as a basic pilot instructor and squadron commander. While there, he met the love of his life, Genevieve (Gema) Baker, of Florence, Alabama and married her. While at Courtland Field he trained, working with B-24s and B-29s. In May 1945, he ferried new B-29s from Harrington, Kansas to the 497 Bomb Group, 73rd Wing in the Pacific Theatre. From May until July, 1945, he flew 12 missions to and over 11 Japanese cities and provinces.
The war ended and he chose to be discharged. He was hired by Robinson Airlines as a pilot, flying out of Ithaca, New York. He decided to rejoin the Air Force in 1946, with the rank of captain. In the fall of 1946, he volunteered for law school and found out that he was outranked by another volunteer and was given the option to receive training in several foreign languages. When he heard Persian was available, he said, “I’ll do that one! I’ve heard of Persian rugs before!” He was assigned to the Army Language School in Montgomery, California, followed by a year at Princeton University, learning the Persian language and culture. From 1949 to 1954 he worked with the U.S. Foreign Services as an assistant air attache in Tehran, Persia (Iran).
In 1954, he was assigned to the Air Technical Intelligence Center at Wright Patterson AFB in Ohio. He was later assigned to the KC-135 project office, which contracted for the production and delivery of the first Boeing 707 assigned to the presidential staff. It was the first Air Force One and now sits at the Reagan Library in Simi Valley, California.
In 1956, he became the program director for the U-2 program and entered into the very secret “black world” with responsibilities for the National Security Council. He was part of a team to furnish the replacement for the U-2 airplane which ultimately developed into the SR-71 Blackbird.
He retired from the Air Force in 1970 with 6,000 hours of pilot time. He was awarded the Legion of Merit from the Office of the Secretary of the Air Force and a commendation from the Office of the Secretary of Defense for his long service in the reconnaissance world. He then went to work for McDonnell Douglas Astronautics Division (now Lockheed) for six years. During that time he became familiar with Vandenberg AFB because of his many trips to the base and to the Space Launch Center IV, helping to coordinate a number of launches.
Upon retirement, he and his wife Gema, purchased a home in the Vandenberg Village Country Club in the fall of 1976. Throughout his retirement, he worked with the Lompoc Literacy Council through the local library tutoring students in English and reading.
On an additional note, Wayne’s ancestors were part the Pennsylvania Freas Clan who started the Groundhog Day celebration in Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania in 1886. It is still celebrated there and throughout the nation today!
Memorial contributions may be made to the made to the Alzheimer’s Association, P.O. Box 9611 Washington, DC 20090-6011; Lower Cape Fear Lower Cape Hospice, 1414 Physicians Drive Wilmington, NC 28401; or Lompoc Literacy Council, 501 E. North Ave., Lompoc, CA 93436
A celebration of life ceremony will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Oct. 24, 2015, at Myrtle Grove Presbyterian Church, 800 Piner Road, Wilmington. His urn will be buried at Greenlawn Memorial Park with military honors.
Please leave online condolences for the family at Wilmington Funeral & Cremation.
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