By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Fort Hood Herald
Terry Bearden and his siblings heard their father's stories for years, funny tales about soldiers' antics in Texas and abroad. It wasn't until former Sgt. Bob Bearden, a paratrooper who fought on D-Day and was captured by the Germans, visited France 15 years ago that his loved ones learned of the other stories.
The Bearden family knew a little about Bob's service, but they didn't get details until more than 50 years later.
These new stories focused more on the combat Bob saw as a young soldier during World War II and his experiences as a prisoner of war.
"We didn't have any idea what he actually went through," Terry said Monday during a celebration at Fort Hood in his father's honor.
More than 66 years after he made that jump over France with 82nd Airborne Division's H Company, 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment, Bob was presented with the Combat Infantryman Badge, Bronze Star, Purple Heart, Presidential Unit Citation, Prisoner of War Medal, American Defense Service Medal, American Campaign Medal, European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with one Bronze Service Star and Bronze Arrowhead Device, World War II Victory Medal, French Fourragere, Expert Badge with Rifle Bar, Basic Parachutist Badge with one Bronze Service Star and Honorable Service Lapel Button-WWII.
Monday's event was the result of an effort between Bearden's friends and family, the Army, Department of Veterans Affairs and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison's office in Washington.
This kind of process is long and involved, said Maj. Gen. William Grimsley, III Corps and Fort Hood acting senior mission commander, because officials must go through service records and ensure the right people are getting the right recognition.
Receiving the Combat Infantryman Badge was important to those who initiated Bearden's award inquiry, and was perhaps the hardest to get approved. Rightfully so. Grimsley said soldiers are "very protective" of awards like that.
As Grimsley affixed the badge to Bearden's tan jump suit, the former sergeant told the general, "This is the one."
"Absolutely," Grimsley said, tapping his.
It's important to infantrymen, Grimsley said later, because "we're the only ones who get it" and it provides a nice line of continuity through the generations.
Bearden, who is 87, said he was no hero.
"I was trying to get back to Killeen, Texas, to my mommy," he said with a smile last week while describing a seemingly heroic fight that involved him, Germans, grenades and a hail of gunfire.
"I've never been a hero and I ain't today," he added.
Instead, Bearden insisted the heroes were the ones who didn't make it home. He said there was only one way he could accept Monday's awards and honors.
"I can do it in all humility knowing that the heroes are under those white crosses," Bearden said.
Bearden wrote a book about his experiences: "To D-Day and Back: Adventures with the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment and Life as a World War II POW: A memoir." It was published in October 2007 and is available on his website, www.boblbearden.com.
Terry said the trip back to France 15 years ago helped his father open up about his experiences. Terry is thankful, too, because he said it was important to share Bob's stories because there aren't many veterans of his era left.
"He's walking history right there," Terry said.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at firstname.lastname@example.org or (254) 501-7547. Follow her on Twitter at KDHmilitary.