Friday, February 06, 2015

TOP STORY >> Recognition at last

Leader staff writer

Second World War veteran William Barnett of Beebe received war medals 73 years after serving in the Army.

The 92-year-old was a radio operator with the 32nd Infantry Division. He was in New Guinea and the Philippines helping to inform soldiers where Japanese fighters were coming from.

“When I was discharged in 1945, I did not get my medals. Three years ago, I wanted to get them. I put my life on the line for two and half years. I felt like I deserved it,” Barnett said.

He called Arkansas lawmakers in Washing-ton and said Sen. John Boozman was instrumental in getting his medals, when the Army did not help him. Boozman was able to get enough information from Barnett’s discharge papers to get the medals.

“William Barnett is a true hero. He rightfully deserves the honor of receiving the medals he earned for his service and sacrifice in World War II. I am proud to recognize his military service and happy to play a role in getting him the medals he deserves for his efforts to protect our nation’s ideals during such a trying time in our history,” Boozman said.

Barnett was presented his medals by retired Lt. Col. Steve Gray, a member of Boozman’s staff, during a ceremony in November at the Floyd United Methodist Church.

Barnett received an Asian Pacific Campaign medal with four bronze campaign stars and a bronze arrowhead, a Philippines Liberation medal with a bronze star, a World War II victory medal, a Good Conduct medal and a marksmanship medal.

Barnett was 20 when he was drafted into the war in October 1942. He was on the USS President Johnson, a troop ship that traveled along the islands of New Guinea.

“We didn’t have a convoy, just an escort, a French gunboat. We would zigzag to keep the Japanese submarines from popping up and blowing us up out of the water,” Barnett said.

On the islands, the radar unit followed the infantry on the beaches and jungles, he said. They sent information to headquarters to let troops intercept Japanese aircraft. Barnett said they were able to track the Japanese 150 miles out.

“It was deathly hot. The living conditions were tough. You don’t get fat on Army rations,” Barnett said.

While the Allies were landing at Normandy, France, on June 6, 1944, Barnett was landing on the beaches of New Guinea in a LST vessel. He said there was a lot of fighting even though he was in a noncombat company.

The unit was moved in November 1944 to battle the Japanese in the Philippines.

Barnett was at a movie theater in the Philippines on Aug. 14, 1945, when the Japanese surrendered. He said the film abruptly stopped, as if the reel had broken. Then, over the speakers, they said the war was over.

“That was a celebration,” Barnett said.

Barnett was born on May 4, 1922, in Romance. His parents were farmers. Barnett had eight brothers and six sisters. He graduated from Floyd High School, but was drafted in October 1942 before receiving his diploma at age 20.

He explained, “A lot of times, we couldn’t go to school because the weather was too bad. We had no buses and had to walk to school.”

Barnett returned to Arkansas after the war in December. He met his wife, Mary, on a blind date and they married six weeks later on Jan. 19, 1946. They have been married for 69 years and have three children.

He continued his education on the GI Bill, attending Draughon School of Business in Little Rock.

He went on to work 29 years for Kroger as a warehouse fruit and vegetable inspector. Barnett retired in 1980 and moved to Floyd. He helped establish the Floyd Volunteer Fire Department and retired from there in 2002, after 20 years.

He and his wife moved to Beebe 12 years ago to be near their daughter, who takes care of them.