By Amanda Kim Stairrett
Killeen Daily Herald
FORT HOOD - Bob Bearden has been a fixture in the Central Texas community for years, and anyone who knows him has heard his stories about World War II and D-Day.
They are epic tales that transform an 87-year-old man into a 20-something paratrooper, jumping from a plane with a rifle stuck down in his parachute reserve. This paratrooper tells of the men with whom he served, throwing grenades to clear buildings, blasting Tommy Guns, running from German tanks, facing certain death and being forced to march through Paris as a prisoner of war.
Though Bearden told his stories for years, it was only recently revealed that he never received the awards and honors he earned more than 66 years ago.
That was remedied Monday as Bearden 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.
While the celebration at Fort Hood was in his honor, his thoughts drifted to friends buried under white crosses almost 5,000 miles away,
"I think that I wish that some guys were here that really deserve this," Bearden said.
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 has followed "this great Army" since the 1940s, never being separated by any distance, he said.
Bearden said his fellow soldiers paid an awesome price, and men and women in uniform today are paying that same price.
"Boy, let's don't forget 'em," Bearden added.
He went on to praise soldiers, saying they were the most intelligent, best-trained, best-equipped fighting force ever.
Those men and women continue to learn from veterans' service and sacrifice, Grimsley said. Every soldier feels a great swell of pride and inspiration as they spend time with those of the Greatest Generation, the general said about soldiers like Bearden, and they look back on them with pride, admiration and respect.
"We use the service of your generation and every veteran before us as examples of service of sacrifice of patriotism and most importantly, it gives us a source of strength on which to build and continue to serve and fight," Grimsley said.
It is said time and time again, Grimsley said, but "they really did save the world as we know it" and men and women in uniform today are doing that same thing, day by day.
Contact Amanda Kim Stairrett at email@example.com or (254) 501-7547. Follow her on Twitter at KDHmilitary.