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WWII vet awarded 13 medals 66 years after D-Day

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WWII vet awarded 13 medals 66 years after D-Day

Imagine parachuting behind German enemy lines on D-Day at Normandy. Imagine getting wounded — twice — and then being captured with your unit by Germans and then spending the rest of the war in a concentration camp. And then imagine not receiving the proper credit for it. No medals, no recognition, nothing. Could you be the type of person who never complained?

This is exactly what happened to one World War II vet, and now, 66 years later, he’s finally getting his due.

Robert Bearden of Belton stood front and center Monday at III Corps Headquarters wearing a crisply-pressed, vintage World War II Army uniform.

On D-Day, June 6, 1944, Bearden parachuted behind German lines with the 82nd Airborne Division.

Monday, 66 years later, 13 awards were pinned to his uniform by Maj. Gen. William F. Grimsley, acting commander of Fort Hood, during a ceremony that filled the west atrium at headquarters.

The presentation of the decorations that should have been pinned to his chest those many years ago didn’t happen for a variety of reasons. Commanders in the aftermath of the war didn’t submit the paperwork. It all fell through he cracks and Bearden never complained.

Grimsley said it finally came together from the combined efforts, hard work and diligence of U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, and her staff, the Department of the Army and the Department of Veterans Affairs.

He read a letter from Hutchison that charted Bearden’s military career beginning with his joining the Texas National Guard’s 36th Infantry Division in 1940. He went for training at the U.S. Army Parachute School at Fort Benning, Ga., in 1942. He parachuted into Normandy on D-Day in 1944.

Bearden was wounded twice in the first two days of battle. The Germans captured his unit when they were totally surrounded, out of ammunition and without food. He spent the rest of the war in a German concentration camp – Stalag IIIC just 15 miles from Berlin. The Russians liberated him there in January 1945.

Grimsley said it was a huge privilege to honor a living legend whose experiences are an account of courage and sacrifice.

“Finally, after 60 some-odd years we are about to reward him all of the awards he is due,” Grimsley said. “Courage, valor and willpower have no expiration date.”

It took about 10 minutes for Grimsley with the aid of Command Sgt. Maj. Archie Davis, the III Corps rear detachment command sergeant major, to affix so many medals at one time.

After a standing ovation, Bearden took the podium. He made no reference to the awards having come so late in life.

“I have been following this great Army since about 1940 – that’s about 70 years,” Bearden said. “I haven’t been separated from this Army by any distance for those 70 years. And I can tell you that today we have the best manned, most intelligent, best trained and best equipped fighting force ever.”

Bearden said he wanted to mention that a friend was in the audience who was a U.S. Marine.

“When I talk about D-Day I talk about Normandy,” he said. “But I can tell you he’s got several other D-Days he can talk about in the Pacific. Those great marines fought from one end of the Pacific to the other and if they hadn’t done a good job we would be speaking another language.”

Bearden said he appreciated the efficiency the III Corps military and civilian staff showed in putting together the ceremony.

“I just wish they had been planning the D-Day jump in Normandy,” Bearden said. “I might even have hit my drop zone.”

Bearden’s friends at the ceremony said he never once mentioned not getting the medals and the recognition.

“It’s just like him,” said Robert Dawson, 82. “He lived it. He didn’t need to fuss about it. He had the personal satisfaction of knowing even if nobody else knew.”

Jim Reichert, 83, said Bearden and Dawson were both cheerleaders for the U.T. Longhorns in 1946.

“He was always full of fun,” Reichert said. “He was always the center of attraction whenever we did anything. He made life worthwhile because of his positive attitude.”

Command Sgt. Maj. Donald Felt, the command sergeant major for the garrison command, told Bearden that World War II paratroopers were his heroes.

“It’s guys like you that inspired me to join the Army and the only thing I wanted to do was be a paratrooper,” Felt said.

How did Bearden feel about the honor?

“I am sharing some of the same emotions I feel when I go back to Normandy to visit,” Bearden said. “I go put my arms around the only man I lost there and I just talk to him.”

He was given the Bronze Star, a Purple Heart, a Presidential Unit Citation, a Prisoner of War medal, an American Defense Service Medal, an American Campaign Medal, a European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one Bronze Service Star and Bronze Arrowhead Device, a World War II Victory Medal, a Combat Infantryman Badge, a French Fourragere, an Expert Badge with Rifle Bar, a Basic Parachutist Badge with one Bronze Service Star, and an Honorable Service Lapel Button: WWII.

What an amazing story. I’m glad to see that a hero is finally getting the credit he so deserves. When someone makes this kind of sacrifice for their country, when they so honorably serve, they deserve to be recognized for it. I’m glad to see that he, finally, was.

Hat Tip: C.J. Crisham

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