Private First Class Donald Owen Freidinger
- Unit: 1st Infantry Division, 16th Infantry Regiment, Company E
- Service Number: 36569171
- Date of Birth: August 14, 1923
- Entered the Military: February 9, 1943
- Date of Death: June 6, 1944
- Hometown: Linwood, Michigan
- Place of Death: Normandy, France
- Award(s): Silver Star, Purple Heart
- Cemetery: Plot J, Row 18, Grave 8. Normandy American Cemetery, Colleville-sur-Mer, France
Mentored by Mr. Craig Windt
Bay City Central High School
Donald Owen Freidinger was born on August 14, 1923, to John and Tillie Freidinger on his family’s farm in Linwood, Michigan. He was a middle child with an older brother Max, and two younger sisters, Gloria and Myra. He worked on the farm with his brother, waking up to deliver milk around the area in a delivery truck. One of the boys steered the truck while the other operated the pedals.
Donald attended Pinconning High School and graduated in four years in the same class as his brother Max. After graduating high school, Donald attended Bay City Junior College for one year. He then worked at the Fletcher Oil Company for a year as an attendant. While working at the oil company, Donald made enough money to buy his younger sisters a Christmas present when his parents could not afford to do so.
As the war effort escalated, Don’s father, John, worked at the Defoe Shipbuilding Company founded by Harry J. Defoe in Bay City, Michigan. The Defoe Shipbuilding Company built ships in rapid fashion for the war effort. As a whole, the Defoe Shipbuilding Company produced 154 boats for the United States Navy. They developed PC boats (Patrol Craft) and landing craft using a special type of construction called “roll over” and “upside down” welding, allowing welders to do most of the welding down hand. In other words, the vessel was built upside down so that welders did not have to weld overhead. Once the hull was built, the vessel was rolled over to finish its construction. Both of these boats were used to help fight the war on both the Pacific and Atlantic fronts.
Propaganda also played a huge role on the homefront. Newspapers of all sorts including the Bay City Times and the Pinconning Journal were filled with wartime propaganda. Almost every story and advertisement found in the paper was one form or propaganda or another, some were as simple as an advertisement for meat, while others dealt with saving rations, all meant to encourage support for the war effort.
Freidinger was drafted into the U.S. Army on February 9, 1943. He traveled to Detroit, Michigan to register. He was then transported to Camp Wheeler in Georgia for training. He later joined the 1st Infantry Division, 16th Infantry Regiment, Company E.
While Private Freidinger was training at Camp Wheeler, his future division was sent to North Africa to help weaken the Axis powers. The men fought their way through North Africa for months in 1942 and 1943. Company E, with the help of Company F, was able to take back several strategic hills throughout Africa greatly helping the Allies advance. The Italians and Germans finally gave up their war effort in Africa on May 8, 1943.
Company E began training for the invasion of Sicily almost immediately after North Africa was under the Allies’ control. In July 1943, the invasion of Sicily was underway. Company E landed at the beach of Gela on July 10. Sicily fell in 28 days to the Allies, taking Italy out of the war. Company E made camp at Sicily and trained there for the coming months. General Montgomery came to check in on the 1st Infantry Division and stated that if he had to fight with any division in the war, he would choose to fight with the 1st Infantry Division. Private Freidinger was shipped to North Africa on July 14, 1943 to officially join the war as a reinforcement for the 1st Infantry Division.
Eisenhower stated to the 1st Infantry Division in April 1944 that “the First Division will be one of the last to go home,” meaning that the boys would not be going back to the states anytime soon. However, Private Freidinger would see his brother, Sergeant Max Freidinger of the 9th Air Force Army Air Corps, one last time in London. There, Private Freidinger explained to Sergeant Freidinger that he probably would not make it home, and gave his belongings to his brother.
On D-Day, Company E landed on Omaha Beach, Easy Red sector at 6:45 a.m. Two thirds of the company suffered immediate casualties as they were under heavy fire from the start. Private Freidinger, according to first hand accounts from members of Company E, fought till his last breath. He was wounded before he died, but continued to take out German defenses, until a bullet hit him in the head by a German machine gun. He died instantly. Private Freidinger received the Silver Star award posthumously for his acts of bravery.
Private Freidinger’s 1st Infantry Division went on to complete the liberation of France. Because of sacrifices such as Private Freidinger’s, this victory was made possible.
Private First Class Donald Owen Freidinger was a true American hero. Private Freidinger grew up on a farm in Linwood, Michigan, with his parents, John and Tillie, his older brother Max, and his younger sisters, Myra and Gloria. He was known for his warm personality and his good sense of humor. Growing up, he worked long days on the farm. He would get up at the crack of dawn to deliver milk with his brother Max, with one operating the steering wheel of the delivery truck while the other would operate the pedals. In his free time, Private Freidinger enjoyed playing baseball. He graduated from Pinconning High School and attended one year of Bay City Junior College before working at the Fletcher Oil Company. One particularly difficult year for the family, his job there allowed him to save Christmas for his younger sisters by providing presents when there otherwise would have been none. One of those gifts, a record player, was enjoyed by his sisters and his nieces and nephews long after he was gone.
Today, his memory lives on in the hearts of his family. Private Freidinger’s sister Gloria remembered him by stating in a letter, “Don was the pride of our family.” Two of Private Freidinger’s nieces, Brenda and Lori, made the trip to visit his grave in Normandy, France, in 1973. His memory also lives on in the halls of Bay City Central High School, the same building where he attended his year of junior college, the same halls that I walk every day. On the first floor there is a plaque to preserve the memory of the sacrifice Private Freidinger and his classmates made for their country. Private Freidinger is truly an American hero. The memory and legacy of his sacrifice will live on for generations to come.
The Normandy: Sacrifice for Freedom® Albert H. Small Student & Teacher Institute made me aware of the numbers of those who gave their lives on D-Day. Being at the cemetery was a poignant experience. Walking up the steps and seeing the crosses and Stars of David marking the thousands of graves really hit home. The graves seemed to go back forever, disappearing into the horizon. My Silent Hero, Private Freidinger, is buried in the back of the cemetery. Walking to his grave, it all came together for me; that is when I understood the meaning of sacrifice.
Another touching experience was being able to see the Omaha and Utah Beaches, the two beaches where American troops landed. Being able to see Utah Beach at low tide and walking all the way out to the water and turning around was enough to put myself in the shoes of the soldiers. As I looked, I could see how far away the coast was and where the German defenses were located. I truly understood the hardship these brave young men had to face. One specific moment I remember vividly is going to the beaches for the first time. My expectations were that these beaches would be a place of remembrance, and I was confused about why the locals were having a “beach day” on them. At first, I thought this was very disrespectful, but then I was able to talk to my teacher. He explained to me a different perspective; he thought the troops who fought to liberate France would love to see this – this is what they fought for.
After looking at it from that point of view, it all made sense. It is because of sacrifices like those made by Private Freidinger that the locals are able to once again enjoy their beaches.
I also had the distinct honor of being able to have lunch at the 1st Division monument. I was able to locate Private Freidinger’s name on the monument. The monument is located near Omaha Beach in the general area where we believe Private Freidinger was shot and killed.
This experience also would not have been as powerful without the help of Private Freidinger’s niece, Brenda Kehrier. Through the process of researching Private Freidinger’s life and service, he has become part of my family as well.
1st Infantry Division; Records of the Adjutant General’s office, WWII Operations Reports 1940-1948, Record Group 407 (Box 5010); National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
1st Infantry Division; Records of the Adjutant General’s office, WWII Operations Reports 1940-1948, Record Group 407 (Box 5020); National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
1st Infantry Division; Records of the Adjutant General’s office, WWII Operations Reports 1940-1948, Record Group 407 (Box 5232); National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
1st Infantry Division; Records of the Adjutant General’s office, WWII Operations Reports 1940-1948, Record Group 407 (Box 5238); National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
1st Infantry Division; Records of the Adjutant General’s office, WWII Operations Reports 1940-1948, Record Group 407 (Box 5241); National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
1st Infantry Division; Records of the Adjutant General’s office, WWII Operations Reports 1940-1948, Record Group 407 (Box 5243); National Archives at College Park, College Park, MD.
Donald O. Freidinger, Individual Deceased Personnel File, Department of the Army.
Donald O. Freidinger, Official Military Personnel File, Department of the Army, RG 319, National Archives and Records Administration – St. Louis.
Freidinger family photos. c. 1923-1945. Courtesy of Brenda Kehrier.
Invasion of Omaha Beach. Photograph. June 1944. National Archives and Records Administration (320562). Image.
Michigan. Bay County. 1930 U.S. Census. Digital Images. ancestry.com
Michigan. Bay County. 1940 U.S. Census. Digital Images. ancestry.com
Pinconning Journal and Bay County News, Pinconning, Michigan, Wednesday, July 12, 1944, Volume 51, Number 28, page 1, column 2.
Brenda, Kehrier. Interview by the author. May 14, 2018.
Butterfield, George. Bay City Past and Present Centennial Edition. Bay City: Board of Education Bay City, Michigan.
“Donald O. Freidinger.” American Battle Monuments Commission. Accessed April 26. 2018 www.abmc.gov/node/408768#.W1pxn9JKiM8
McManus, John. The Dead and Those About to Die D-Day: The Big Red One at Omaha Beach. New York: NAL Caliber, 2014.