SGT Bob Bearden
3rd Platoon Mortars, Company H, 3/507th Parachute Infantry Regiment
82nd Airborne Division
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
By Sig Christenson - Express-News