COPPERAS COVE — Veterans of World War II — also known as “the greatest generation” — are a vanishing breed with a reported 389,292 of the roughly 16 million Americans who served from 1939-45 still alive, and 370 of those dying every day.
Kenneth “Scooter” Barclay is one of those heroes of history still alive and well.
Now 96 years old, the Spokane, Wash., native enjoyed a successful real estate career in central Texas after the military and lives now in an assisted-living facility in Copperas Cove. He sometimes uses a wheelchair to get around, drives his own pickup — or used to, before the COVID-19 pandemic put restrictions on his independence — and plans to be around for at least a few more years.
“I want to make it to a hundred,” said Barclay, a decorated former U.S. Army Special Forces (Green Beret) member who retired in 1973 as a lieutenant colonel after 30 years’ service. “I would like to do anything I can to get people who make it to a hundred recognized.”
The father of two, grandfather and great-grandfather volunteered to be drafted when he was 18, fought in the south Pacific, got out of the military for a while after the war, went back to school and earned a degree in political science and economics, then re-joined the Army.
“I enjoyed the Army, and just always thought I would go back,” Barclay said.
He was stationed at Camp Hood (now Fort Hood) in 1949, and met a local girl on a blind date. That girl would later become his wife, but things did not get off to a flying start that first night.
“At that time in Texas, liquor laws were by city and by county,” Barclay explained. “Killeen and Fort Hood were completely dry. They didn’t have a liquor store at Fort Hood, (and) 3.2 (percent alcohol content) beer was all you could get. If you went to Temple, you could drink beer and what-not.
“There was this place across from the (military) hospital in Temple called the Idle Hour. We went to this place and, apparently, I drank too much. Well, I’d been brought up to be a gentleman, so I took my (future) wife home, walked her to the door; she got inside, shut the screen door, and said, ‘Good night. I don’t ever want to see you again.’
“I thought, ‘Man, I’m a better guy than that.’ So I called her and prevailed on her for another chance. I said I was sorry; I got out of bounds; I’m a better guy than that; let’s try it again — you know.
“So we went out again, and we saw each other for about a year. I’d always wanted to go airborne in World War II, and so when I finally got orders to go airborne, I asked her to marry me before I left. I went off to six or eight weeks of jump school, then on to Fort Campbell. Every Friday, I’d go to bingo, and I’d call her after bingo and ask her to marry me.
“She finally surprised me and said yes, so we got married in 1951.”
Barclay, who lost his wife, Jacqueline, to cancer after 60 years of marriage, says he is sometimes a little reluctant to talk about his military career because he does not want to be seen as tooting his own horn. But he thinks it is important that the sacrifices of veterans like himself and his buddies are never forgotten.
“People who do brave things aren’t brave when they do ‘em,” he said. “They’re doing something because they’re in a situation where suddenly, it’s kill or be killed.”
“I’ve known several Congressional Medal of Honor members (the military’s highest award for bravery in combat), and they all told me the same thing. (Lloyd) Scooter Burke told me — I knew Scooter before he got (the honor) and after he got it — he was in Korea, they were facing the enemy and they weren’t doing very well. He said, ‘I can’t stand it anymore,’ and he grabbed a machine gun, jumped up and started firing. The guys who were with him saw him do that and they joined him.
“He didn’t start out to be a hero. He just said, ‘(Screw) it, I can’t stand this anymore,’ and he did something.”
One of the most intense battles he participated in during WWII came on the island of Saipan, considered by the Japanese to be part of the last line of defenses for the country’s homeland. That fight, regarded as one of the major campaigns of the war, lasted from June 15 to July 9, 1944.
When it was finally over, 3,426 Americans were dead and 10,364 wounded. Of an estimated 30,000 Japanese defending the island, a total of 921 were reportedly taken prisoner.
“When we went to Saipan, my infantry company had 188 men. When we got out of the line, we only had 48 people who were still there. Now, about half were killed or badly wounded, (and) we had a lot of heat casualties, where people had to be evacuated and taken to hospitals.
“I can remember some Japanese coming out to try and surrender,” Barclay says. “One of them was literally naked, carrying a bamboo pole with a bayonet on it. The others might have had a weapon, but I don’t think they did. A guy said, ‘You’re not taking my place on a boat back to the States,’ and he went bang, bang, bang, bang, and killed all four of ‘em.
“Now, that’s an atrocity, but it wasn’t in World War II.”
Along with the Bronze Star, Barclay says he apparently also was recommended for a Silver Star — the military’s third-highest award for bravery in combat — but never received a medal.
“On Okinawa, I got involved in a situation where I killed a bunch of (enemy troops), got up on top of a tank and led the tanks firing, and I got recommended for the Silver Star. My understanding is that it was approved, and one of the reasons I believe that is, one of the people who was in my company told me he saw the orders, but at the very end of the war, they had a big typhoon and a cruiser went down, and also a ship that carried records.
“My belief is that my records were on there. So, you know … I know what I did, and a Silver Star and a dollar will buy me a cup of coffee.”
Some of the things he saw and did during the war haunted him pretty severely when he got home, Barclay says, and on occasion, continue to bring him pause even today.
“One time, I was visiting at a school, and this kid looked at me — he was about 10 or 11 years old — and he said, ‘Did you ever kill anybody?’
“I think it was the first time I ever talked to a group of kids, and I thought, ‘What the hell am I supposed to say?’ I decided to tell the truth, so I said, ‘Yeah, I did, but you have to understand that the purpose of war is to win, and to win, you kill or be killed. If you don’t kill the enemy, they’re going to kill you.’
“After the war, when I came home … I used to have bad, bad nightmares. I would get up in the middle of the night, screaming and fighting and carrying on. My mother would run in and shake me, and ask what was going on. That went on for maybe a year, I guess.
“Today, once in a while, I’ll think about it, because I’ll remember somebody (long pause) …
“I’ve been blessed. I had a very interesting Army career; did all kinds of interesting things. The Lord has taken good care of me, that’s for sure.”