SGT Bob Bearden

3rd Platoon Mortars, Company H, 3/507th Parachute Infantry Regiment

82nd Airborne Division

remembering.jpg (94310 bytes)

    Bob Bearden visiting his fallen comrades during the 60th D-Day Celebration, 6 JUN 04.  

    He is a long time friend of my family and a devout Christian.  Several of his sons are lunatic motorcyclists (like me) and one even was a professional road racer for 10 years.  The same gene that made a man seek the Airborne was manifested in his offspring via two wheel risk and excitement.  I knew his sons first from Fort Hood where one owns a Yamaha dealership.

Bob, my son, and me in Texas, 2010

    On the drop zone outside of St Mere Eglise during the D-Day celebration, I was shocked to see the sons and knew that their father must not be far away.  I had the honor and privilege of attending the 507 PIR reunion dinner as well as escort the Bearden family through the cemetery at Omaha Beach.  The names and units are computerized and we soon had a print out describing the location of Bob's friends who were killed.

meandbob.JPG (68785 bytes)

Bob and I pose in front of the Cemetery 6 JUN 04. 

Let me say that escorting the family was the highlight of the 60th Celebration for me personally.  When we would reach a grave, Bob would kneel down and we were all in tears.  He would then stand and tell us something about the individual.  Within 30 seconds, a crowd would gather to listen to the wrinkled hero speak.  As you can see, he was wearing a jump suit and everybody knew he was the real McCoy.  Many French would simply tell him "Thank you."  

gunka.JPG (51814 bytes)

    The grave of SFC Chester Gunka; the platoon sergeant and Bob's best friend.  Chester was the top poker player in the company and probably the 3rd battalion.  Bob says Chester's "poker lessons" were effective, yet expensive.  Bob won a $800 dollar pot with a pair of queens in the last poker game prior to the jump.  This was 6 months pay and Bob mailed most of it home.  Chester also was a lender of money.  If you borrowed $10 on the last day of the month, you owed $20 on the 1st of the next month.  As platoon sergeant, Chester was allowed to set up his "payment table" outside of the company HQ on payday.  The paratroopers received their pay in cash only to step outside and pay their debt to the platoon sergeant.   Chester was in the plane directly behind Bob on the night of the jump.  They never linked up on the ground and Bob was numbed by the news that he had been killed a week after the fact.  Bob said that this was the best man you could ever know and he misses him terribly.

mcclain.JPG (37496 bytes)

    PVT McClain was the only man KIA in Bob's 5 man mortar squad.  On the night of the jump, one of the men got caught in the door when his rifle became lodged as the jumper went out the door.  Bob could not see who it was, but was able to slip the barrel of the M1 off of the side of the door and the jumper was freed and the rest of the stick was able to jump.  After the war, Bob didn't know who it was that was caught, but he looked at the autopsy of Private McClain and he died of a broken neck.    Bob said the gymnasium was once evacuated for fear that the water heater was making a terrible noise and about to explode.  When the maintenance crew arrived, they found a snoring PVT Mc Clain asleep under the water heater. 

pettus.JPG (42733 bytes)

    According to Bob, 1SG George Pettus was the toughest man in the regiment.  Not only was he muscle bound, he was mean as hell.  In one instance, the NCOs all ganged up on the 1SG do to a disagreement about the training regiment and punishments for the lower enlisted men.  The lower NCOs only got their way once the 1SG beat the hell out of half of them and it took the other half to take him out.  He then wiped the blood off his face, grinned, and said that he respected NCOs who were not afraid to stand up for their men.  A few days after the jump, a German prisoner was taken carrying the 1SG's modified Thompson Submachine gun.  All who saw it knew it could only mean one thing; 1SG was KIA.  Bob knows for a fact that it must have taken a platoon of Germans to take down the 1SG. 

 

Update:

D-Day paratrooper, 87, saluted at Fort Hood

By Sig Christenson - Express-News

Web Posted: 06/29/2010 12:00 CDT
 
 
Maj. Gen. William Grimsley decorates World War II veteran Bob Bearden, 87, at a ceremony Monday at Fort Hood. The former Army sergeant received his 13 medals and badges, including a Bronze Star and Purple Heart, 65 years after the end of the war. JOHN DAVENPORT/jdavenport@express-news.net

FORT HOOD — As the last paratrooper to jump, Army Sgt. Robert Bearden stood near the door of a C-47 Dakota when he realized that one man had gotten hung up as he tried to leave the aircraft.
The plane's prop roared. Lightninglike bursts of anti-aircraft rounds flashed over the skies of France.
“I went around there and looked, and here's a helmet right on the deck and a rifle across a guy's throat from door jamb to door jamb, and his body was just flailing around on the outside,” he said. “It's very obvious that if you raise the muzzle or the butt of the rifle, he's gone, because that's what's hung him up. So I raised the muzzle, and he left.”
Years passed before he learned the fate of Pvt. Hubert McClain, and even more time elapsed before Bearden received all the medals and badges he earned from that jump over Normandy on D-Day. Blame the delay on lost paperwork and a man who got busy after being freed from a Nazi POW camp.
On Monday morning Bearden, 87, of Harker Heights rose from a wheelchair as Fort Hood's acting senior commander, Maj. Gen. William Grimsley, pinned 13 medals and badges on his chest, including a Bronze Star, Purple Heart and Prisoner of War Medal. Dressed in a uniform he said was like one he wore on D-Day — right down to the American flag with 48 stars on it and a pair of brown combat boots — Bearden grinned.
An audience of 100 or so in the III Corps' headquarters west atrium gave him a long round of applause after Grimsley, a veteran of the Iraq invasion, finished pinning the accolades as Fort Hood Command Sgt. Maj. Archie Davis stood by.
“Acts of courage, valor and willpower have no expiration date, and that's why we're proud to be able to do this,” Grimsley said.
“This is too much,” Bearden told the crowd.
It was, perhaps. His wife, Debbie was there, as were children and grandchildren. Old fraternity brothers were on hand, Jim Reichert and Robert Dawson among them, as were Iraq and Afghanistan veterans. Later in the afternoon, Bearden was taken to a hospital for heart flutter.
Now frail, Bearden once was a tough GI with a “Band of Brothers” story. He was an NCO with the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, a hard-luck outfit of sorts that was the last to jump on D-Day. They missed their drop zone, and some from the regiment drowned in the swift Merderet River.
Taking cover behind a hedgerow, he was injured by a German grenade. Later, a bullet fired by a light machine gun went through Bearden's left fingers, burning them. A soldier next to him lost his nose.
Their job was to secure the Merderet's crossings and prevent German troops from attacking Allied forces as they tried to fight their way off the beachhead, but the Nazis were ready. The badly scattered GIs banded together but didn't last long. On D-Day-plus two, Bearden was captured. He was liberated Jan. 31, 1945, from a Berlin camp.
Bearden came home, majored in business at the University of Texas and joined Sigma Nu, but didn't talk much of the war.
“He was too busy having fun and not paying much attention to school and trying to date any girl who'd go out with him,” said Reichert, 83, of Houston.
Originally from Dallas, Bearden earned his bachelor's degree in 1955 while commuting from Killeen to Austin. He served one term on the Killeen City Council, founded a number of businesses and was a substance abuse counselor for Vietnam veterans.
Along the way he learned McClain, the man he cut loose from the plane, had died of a broken neck.
“Between being Depression-era and a POW, he is the most grateful, appreciative, considerate person. ... He thanks me for laundry. He thanks me for every meal. He's just wonderful,” said his wife, Debbie, choking up. “I don't know anyone who doesn't love him.”
 

 


Home Up

       Email