June 28, 2010— -- Today at Fort Hood, Texas, a soldier's family looked on proudly as he received thirteen awards including a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart.
But this wasn't your typical ceremony. It was 66 years overdue.
The soldier was World War II veteran Bob Bearden, now 88 years old.
On D-Day, June 6, 1944, 73,000 American forces descended on the beaches of Normandy. Bearden was a 21-year-old sergeant in the Army's 507th Parachute Infantry Regiment.
'Five Days Without Water'
"We were ready, well trained, well equipped," he said.
Clutching an M-1 rifle, he jumped. He was shot and then wounded by a grenade, but kept fighting for four days before being captured by enemy forces.
"We went five days without a drink of water and we went seven days, I think it was, without any food," Bearden said.
He was ultimately freed from enemy forces by Russian armor units at Stalag IIIC, 15 miles east of Berlin.
To D-Day And Back
It was a story Bearden recorded in his modest memoir, "To D-Day And Back." After reading the book, three different readers, all strangers, had the same simple question: "Did you ever get the medal?"
His response: No.
One of those readers, motorcycle instructor Russ Miller, was puzzled.
"I think anyone that went through that trying time deserves all the medals they can get," Miller said.
Miller and two other readers, ski shop owner Herb Lahout and restaurant manager Bob Briggs, began writing letters and making calls that reached all the way to the Pentagon and to Texas Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison.
"People from that generation have a heck of a work ethic," Lahout said. "They do what they're told and they do what's expected of them."
Bearden said he never applied for his medals because it was country and not commendation that mattered to him.
"I had other things, other priorities, running businesses," Bearden said. "I had five children that I was raising."
A native of Oklahoma, Bearden grew up in California and Texas. Thirty-six hours after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Bearden enrolled in the U.S. Army Parachute School at Ft. Benning, Georgia. He was discharged from the Army in June of 1945.
He went on to start several businesses, including a rehabilitation center for Vietnam veterans and, most recently, a motorcycle business.
Today at the award ceremony, Maj. Gen. William Grimsley pinned thirteen medals on Bearden's chest, including the Bronze Star and Purple Heart.
"We are about to award him all of the awards that he is long overdue," Grimsley said.
Bearden, the dedicated Army man, asked that we honor all the men who have done what he has done.
"A hero is a combat soldier who's getting shot at who doesn't run," Bearden said. "There are many of them out there today in Afghanistan and Iraq, fine soldiers, lots of heroes."