Teen plays General Lafayette
For the Fourth of July, though, he exchanged his tunic for a dark blue coat with gold braid and his cap for a tri-corner hat. Dressed in a uniform that George Washington would have recognized, he portrayed General Lafayette in the city of Lafayette’s annual patriotic celebration.
Freeman admires the Revolutionary War general, who was born in France, but came to North America in the 1770s to fight for the nascent United States. And he wanted to make sure the residents of Lafayette know about their town’s namesake.
“People need to learn about Lafayette,” said Freeman, who studied the general extensively in preparation for his role in the patriotic celebration. “What he did was so amazing.”
Freeman is a junior in McMinnville High School’s Engineering and Aerospace Sciences Academy. He joined the Naval Sea Cadets about a year and a half ago, not long after his family moved to McMinnville from Culver, a small town in Central Oregon.
His mother, Kourtney Freeman, encouraged him to join and remains his biggest supporter.
She was in the Sea Cadets when she was a teen. In fact, she participated alongside the Old Ironside unit commander, Angel Uscanga.
Listening to his mother’s stories about the program, Freeman said he regarded it as a great opportunity.
“I’ve always dreamed of being in the military,” he said. “Sea Cadets has so many opportunities, such variety of training — learning marksmanship, flying planes, going out with the Coast Guard ... “
Before his debut as Gen. Lafayette, he spent a week training with the Coast Guard in Portland. He and other cadets learned about maritime interdiction.
Later this summer, he will fly to San Diego and board the aircraft carrier Midway for another two-week training session. He’s also due to be tested on his pay officer third class coursework, so he can rank up in the Sea Cadets.
Next year, he wants to go through SEAL training. Like other tests in Sea Cadets, he said, the training will be physically and mentally challenging.
“This program definitely pushes me,” he said. “The training is intense.
“But there’s no feeling like completing it. I find out what I can do is beyond what I’d imagined I could do.”
Freeman said he also enjoys the camaraderie among cadets. And he likes being part of a team pushing toward a common goal.
All in all, he said, being a Sea Cadet has been “one of the greatest opportunities I’ve ever had.”
So, naturally, Freeman said yes when his commanding officer suggested he play Lafayette in the Fourth of July celebration. “He said it was an opportunity that would be fun and would help the community,” the teen said.
It fit right in with Freeman’s interest in history. He has a special interest in the beginning of the United States and how the country has persevered through wars.
As he prepared to portray Lafayette, Freeman did a lot of reading and research. He learned Lafayette was a major asset to Washington as the future president led American troops into battle.
The two warriors had a father-son relationship. “George Washington was like Lafayette’s ideal father, and Washington loved him like a son,” he said.
Lafayette’s military skills helped the revolutionary soldiers defeat the British troops. Freeman said he also admires the French general’s leadership and commitment to the cause.
Lafayette stood up for the U.S. and used his debate skills to persuade others to follow him. “I hope I share some of those qualities,” Freeman said.
He is honing his leadership skills in Sea Cadets, he said, and he already has a strong commitment to his family and country.
His mother, recalling her own days in Sea Cadets, said she is proud of her son. She recently had a set of dog tags made for him, marked with the words “Honor. Courage. Commitment.”
“He does live by those words,” she said. “I’m just in awe of Samuel.”
She was proud to see him teaching people about the general this year, just as she proudly watched him marching in the Sea Cadets color guard that opened last year’s Lafayette Fourth of July parade.
Freeman also has been in color guard formations at veterans’ events, other ceremonies and the Portland Rose Festival Parade. Marching through the Veterans Memorial Coliseum at the start of the Rose parade, he was pleased to see the crowd stand and cheer the passing flags.
“That was one of the proudest moments,” he said. “Carrying the U.S. flag ... that’s one of the coolest things ever to do.”