American hero showered with love in final days

Retired Topeka Police Chief and Marine Corps veteran Jim Freel passed away, days after turning 100 years old.
Published: Mar. 6, 2023 at 10:33 PM CST
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TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBW) - If Jim Freel reinforced one final lesson in his life of service, perhaps it was this: let people know how much you appreciate them while they are alive to hear it.

“I love it,” Freel told 13 NEWS last week as he had lunch with friends, who surprised him for his 100th birthday. “I love being with my friends. I like people.”

Freel certainly felt the love his final two weeks of life.

The City of Topeka honored the former police chief and Marine Corps veteran at the Feb. 21st council meeting with a proclamation honoring his upcoming 100th birthday.

On his 100th birthday, Monday, Feb. 27, Freel learned he was chosen to represent Kansas in the 2023 Purple Heart Patriot Project Mission in New York in September.

“Honored, of course,” he told 13 NEWS, who was there when he received the news. ”I’m either one of the more fortunate or one of the less fortunate. The people I’m associated with, the people I’m relatives with, my neighbors and friends, I’m just glad I’m one that gets to stay awhile.”

In February 1945, Freel was among the first Marines to invade Iwo Jima with the 5th Marine Division. Shrapnel from a mortar shell hit him in the back of the neck. He said it felt like a bee sting.

He earned the Purple Heart for his service, which also was saluted four years ago when Freel was honored with the Buck O’Neil Legacy Seat at Kauffman Stadium.

“I’m a Patriot,” Freel said in a 2019 interview ahead of the July 4th Royals game where he was recognized. “I love this country. I had the privilege of fighting for this country.”

Two days after his birthday, friends surprised Freel with a party. Two days after that, Friday, March 3rd, Jim Freel passed away peacefully in his sleep.

His daughter Diana Zimmerman and daughter-in-law Roberta Travis already have been invited to represent him at that September ceremony in New York, a mark of a life of service continuing even after his death.

A funeral service for Freel is 11 a.m. Thursday at Topeka Bible Church, 1101 SW Mulvane Ave. He will receive a police escort to Memorial Cemetery, where he will be buried with full military honors. Visitation is from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at Penwell-Gabel Midtown Chapel, 1321 SW 10th.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Topeka Rescue Mission, 401 NW Norris St, Topeka, KS 66608.