Bob Bearden: The Cost of Freedom
POSTED: 2007-11-26 :: LAST UPDATED: 2007-12-19, 14:53 ET
When Bob was called to the service just six weeks prior to his high school graduation, he joined the U.S. Army's elite Airborne School. Parachute infantry had never been attempted prior to WWII, and Jump School training was the toughest the Army had at the time. But Bob completed the training and became a paratrooper in time to take part in Operation Overlord, the invasion of Europe.
His unit, the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment of the 82nd Airborne Division, was the last regiment to drop into France during the invasion. "By the time we arrived, the element of surprise was completely lost. The Germans had been shooting at Allied aircraft and troops for two hours. They knew we were coming and really did a lot of damage," he recalls.
Like many units in the invasion, they missed their drop zone and were separated from each other. "We ended up fighting in small squads pieced together with men from other units, however our training really paid off. All of us were in fantastic physical condition and fought well together, so well, in fact, that the Germans never knew if they were facing a platoon or a whole company," says Bob.
Despite being shot twice, Bob and his improvised unit continued to fight undersupplied, surrounded and severely outnumbered in an effort to prevent the advancing German Army from establishing a hold on the beaches of Normandy. For his actions, Bob was awarded the Distinguished Service Cross, the Army's second-highest decoration given only for extraordinary courage and risk of life against an armed enemy.
Four days after D-Day, Bob and his unit were captured and taken to several German POW camps when they remained until being "liberated" by the advancing Russian Army in December 1945. Bob escaped to the East to stay clear of the fighting; his odyssey took him through Russia, Turkey, Greece, Egypt and finally Italy where he boarded a ship that would eventually return him to U.S. soil.
Upon his return to civilian life, a good friend helped him enroll at the University of Texas, even though his military service had prevented him from graduating high school. It was there, that he was introduced to Sigma Nu.
"After what I'd been through, I thought I'd found heaven. I immediately wrote my good friend, ex-bomber pilot and ex-POW, Chuck Carrell (University of Texas), and told him he had to be a part of this with me," he says.
Bob treasures the memories from his college days and says his Sigma Nu experience was as unforgettable as it was influential. The words of the Creed and the White Star of Sigma Nu still echo in his mind and have played a significant role in anchoring his values as an adult. "It could not have made a greater impression on me," he shares.
Although college was a dream compared to fighting in the War, there were difficult times ahead for Bob. In 1968, while running a successful business with the Army/Air Force Exchange, Bob suffered a mental and emotional breakdown that drove him into virtual isolation for almost a year.
A prayer group that was meeting in his home invited him to participate. After some resistance he joined the group and began to find emotional healing through dependence on God, studying the Bible, consistent prayer and support from others in the group who had also overcome difficult circumstances.
It wasn't long before Bob's own recovery inspired him to help others who were struggling. The rampant drug culture of the late 60s was alive and well in his hometown of Killeen, Texas. He decided to convert a farm he owned outside of town into a rehabilitation facility, naming it "Christian Farms". Later, a separate 19-acre tract of land was transformed into "The Treehouse", a rehab shelter specifically for drug addicted women and their children. Thirty-five years later, both facilities are continuing to serve those in need of recovery. Though no longer involved in the day-to-day operations, Bob continues to serve as a consultant to both organizations.
Bob's first book "To D-Day and Back: Adventures with the 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment and Life as a World War II POW" is available now at his website www.boblbearden.com. He now spends his time traveling the country to speak about his WWII experience and promote the book. His favorite audience is students of all ages, grammar school through college. His message: Freedom is not free; it is very, very expensive.
He's been back to visit Normandy four times, and every time he goes, he visits the American cemetery where he puts his arms around one of the crosses and just talks to the man who sacrificed his life. "They paid the price so that I could come back to the University of Texas and chase pretty girls for four years. They were in their early 20s, some even in their teens, and here I am, 85 years old, still enjoying what they paid for," he says.
Today, as Bob studies his Bible and reflects on the principles of Sigma Nu's Ritual, he notices stunning parallels. Whatever the future holds, Bob continues to credit both for helping shape him into the man he is today.
For more information about Bob Bearden, his story and his new book, visit his website: www.boblbearden.com.