Veteran’s Day – Wayne Barham’s WWII Story

Remember Our WWII Veterans
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By Sharla Kattenberg and Mary Hurd


I moved to South Dakota just a few years ago and am enjoying getting to know the state’s agrarian landscape as well as its fascinating residents. This summer, while visiting my friend Mary Hurd on her family’s farm near Springfield, SD, Mary handed me a worn paperback book with the intriguing title, “A Sparrow Among the Bluebirds.” She explained it was a self-published autobiography that one of her friends, a World War II veteran, had written. The author’s name was Wayne Barham. The book covered his entire life, including his experiences fighting in the Pacific Theatre during WWII. I’m a WWII history buff, so I was fascinated. Then Mary told me that Wayne is still living, and resides at the Veteran’s Home in Sioux Falls, SD! I finished the book within 24 hours and went to visit Wayne a few days later. This is Wayne’s story–and the story of his best friend, Jack Rich.


Wayne Barham

16 million American soldiers served during WWII. Wayne Barham is one who came home and told his story. His best friend, Jack Rich, is one of the 400,000 who did not make it home. Wayne has spent the rest of his life keeping Jack’s story alive.

Wayne Barham joined the Marines in August 1942, just after graduating from high school in Champaign, IL. He and Jack Rich met during their training on the west coast.

One night, Wayne and Jack were at a dance. Jack, with his bright red hair and charming smile, never had any problems wooing the ladies, which sometimes led to trouble. Suddenly, Jack nudged Wayne. “See that pretty girl out there dancing with that big sailor? I’m going to go cut in and dance with her.”

“No way,” Wayne said. “That’s a bad idea. That sailor is huge and you’re not!”

Jack wouldn’t give up on the idea though, and strode confidently out on the dance floor.

Wayne watched with growing tension as Jack approached the large sailor and his dance partner. Without hesitation, Jack reached out and tapped the sailor on the shoulder. The sailor wheeled around, and for a split second Wayne was sure Jack was going to get knocked to the floor. Then, the sailor’s dance partner was throwing her arms around Jack and everyone was smiling. Jack led the girl back to Wayne and explained, laughing, “This is Gertrude and she’s my sister’s best friend from my hometown, Springfield, SD!”

Another time, still stateside, Wayne and Jack were strolling past some bars. Jack suddenly spotted a Marine major. Wayne and Jack, of course, were mere privates. Marine privates revered few things as much as a Marine major. Jack, though, immediately told Wayne, “I’m going to go kick that major’s ass!”

Wayne was shocked. “You can’t do that!”

“Oh, yes I can,” replied Jack. He walked right up behind the major, raised his foot, and tapped the major’s behind with the tip of his shoe. The major instantly spun around, rage and disbelief on his face. Just as suddenly, the major’s face broke into a huge grin as recognition spread over it. “Jack!” he said. “Imagine running into you here!” It turned out the major was also an old acquaintance from Jack’s hometown.

Both Wayne and Jack were sent to the Pacific Theatre to fight the Japanese. They were foxhole buddies. While huddling together in their foxhole, Jack would often described what an idyllic, peaceful place his hometown was, in stark contrast to the ravages of the war around them. He insisted that Wayne had to see this place.

On August 1, 1944, Jack was mortally wounded by a grenade. Wayne still gets tears in his eyes as he recounts these events many decades later. “Both of Jack’s legs were shattered. I touched his legs and they felt like a rabbit that had been shot at close range by a 12-gauge shotgun. Jack was still conscious and full of morphine. It was pouring rain, and his foxhole was full of water and blood. He looked up at me and smiled, ‘Don’t cry, buddy. Remember to go see my Mom and Dad. Okay? It doesn’t even hurt. Honest. Please don’t cry.’ The medics came. They carried what was left of Jack down the hill. His legs were amputated, but he didn’t make it. I knew he wouldn’t. They buried him in Hawaii. I sat in that damned blood-soaked hole and sobbed for a long time. No one came near me. I kept repeating, ‘Why?’ I don’t even know where we were that day. We were somewhere on Guam, on top of a mountain. Dammit…what a price to pay for a mountain.”

Wayne was critically injured just two days after Jack was killed. A grenade exploding near his face blinded him. Thankfully, surgery was able to restore partial sight to Wayne’s left eye a few months later.

After leaving the service, Wayne moved back to his hometown of Champaign, Illinois, where he married his high school sweetheart, Dorothy. However, memories of his best friend Jack kept pulling him to Jack’s beautiful hometown of Springfield, SD. “Jack and I always talked about going there after the war and playing football for the Pointers at Southern State College, the local college. Well…Jack never made it back. After he was killed, I just felt it was something I needed to do…for Jack, and for me.”

Wayne did enroll as a student at Southern State College in Springfield, SD, and despite his poor eyesight, he joined the football team just as he and Jack had discussed.


After college, Wayne became a high school teacher and counselor. Except for a few years in Wisconsin, he spent the rest of his life living in and near Springfield, SD. The rolling hills and peaceful fields kept Jack’s memory always near.



It was amazing sitting at Wayne Barham’s bedside and hearing him describe his still-vivid memories of wartime and his best friend. I’m privileged that my own story, however briefly, has overlapped with Wayne’s story. A world war and seven decades later, I sit and listen to the memories, held in awe of the sacrifice our soldiers have made–both those that lived to tell their stories, and those that didn’t.


My son and I visiting my friends’ farm near Springfield, SD

 


Mary Hurd
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31 Comments on “Veteran’s Day – Wayne Barham’s WWII Story

  1. Thanks for sharing.. God bless all our veterans, we give thanks for their sacrifice.

    • David, thanks for your note. Like Wayne, all our veterans have sacrificed so much in the service of our country. We are grateful.

  2. As our country is dealing with some disgruntled citizens due to their electoral loss, may we all pause for a moment to realize what has been sacrificed for them to protest their displeasure. Let us never forget those who paid the ultimate sacrifice, and those who are still living it. Only God can reward those brave souls with His blessings. But we, who enjoy the freedoms we have, can shut our whining mouths to think of others and honor those individuals who put country before self. May the richest blessings of heaven be bestowed on you all. Thank You, Thank you , Thank you!

    • D. Eatmon,
      Thank you for your note. As you say, it is only because of our soldiers, who put their country before their own self-interest, that we are able to enjoy the freedoms we have. We are so grateful for all that they have done.
      Wishing you the best!
      -Sharla Kattenberg
      VBeltSupply.com

  3. A wonderful story. As there were about 16 million GIs in WW2, and only about 500,000 left alive now, it is fitting to thank all who served, and the folks back home awaiting their return.
    We all have a story about a war. My dad served in armored division under Patton and McGullife. I still fly a flag every day and don’t need a calendar to remind me. God bless all veterans who have served, those that have passed on, and those still with us.

    • Rob,
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts in response to Wayne’s story. I’m grateful for your dad’s service to our country, as well. As you say, only a fraction of the WWII vets are still with us–I feel so very privileged to have had the opportunity to meet Wayne.
      Wishing you the best!
      Sharla Kattenberg
      VBeltSupply.com

    • Good Afternoon Chester. Thank you for your feedback and Thank you for the service that you have given our country.

      Take Care,
      – The VBeltSupply.com Crew

    • Chester,
      Thank you for your service to our country during the Korean War. My grandpa also served in that conflict. With a young wife and infant daughter waiting for his return, he always says, “It wasn’t an option to not survive. I HAD to return.” I’ll never forget his comment, because I feel it expresses the emotions of all our soldiers as they left their families behind to serve their country during wartime.
      Sharla Kattenberg
      VBeltSupply.com

  4. Freedom is not free. Thanks to so many that have paid the price. May we live our lives to honor those that gave us this land of freedom. This is the promised land.

    • Thank you for your words Brad. Today and everyday, we honor those who have served to protect this nation.

      Best,
      – The VBeltSupply.com Crew

  5. BS”D
    Such a powerful and heartwarming story of friendship and sacrifice. Unfortunately our current generation, spoiled by the luxuries and hedonism of peacetime, power, relative-wealth and technology have little idea of what sacrifices have been made on their behalf and for their enjoyment of the peace they live in.

    Thanks so much for sharing. Anarchy is raising it’s ugly head again and we need these reminders to keep us vigilant.
    Jonathan.

    • Jonathan,
      Thank you for your note. We are grateful for those who gave all so that we can enjoy peace and freedom today.
      Sharla Kattenberg
      VBeltSupply.com

  6. Thank’s to all the vet’s that gave us our freedom, it cost them all a piece of their life. Too many people in our country don’t have any idea what was the cost of their freedom.
    Again THANK YOU ALL.
    Bob M

    • Bob,
      Thank you for sharing your thoughts. As you say, it’s important for everyone in America to remember the extreme sacrifice our soldiers made to give us the freedom we enjoy today. When I met Wayne, I was reminded afresh of the importance of remembering.
      Sharla Kattenberg
      VBeltSupply.com

  7. I served during the Vietnam War, but never went to that country. Stories like this should be preserved for future generations. So many have sacraficed so much to keep us free. Every generation will have a story because so many in this world are envious of our freedoms. Thanks for sharing this one little part of a greater story.

    • Herb,
      Thank you for your service during the Vietnam War. I agree, preserving our soldiers’ stories is so important! I have 3 young children, and I consider stories like this to be an important part of their heritage.
      Sharla Kattenberg
      VBeltSupply.com

  8. A great story that reminds us that freedom is not free. Our veterans have left us a wonderful legacy.
    I served 39 years with the Army National Guard. God bless America and all our veterans.

    • Joe,
      Thank you for your 39 years of service with the Army National Guard. You are part of the legacy that has kept America free.
      Sharla Kattenberg
      VBeltSupply.com

  9. THANK YOU! That was a very good story and a good reminder that freedom is not free. It is thanks to Veterans like you that these people who are protesting today in the streets of our nation because of an election that is over and didn’t go there way and most didn’t even take the time to vote, would not have these rights if it was not for our veterans like you who gave so much and like Jack… gave all! My Dad was a Marine on Guam and came home safe and sound. He passed away five years ago at the age of 91 and we are still proud of him and all the those who served to protect this great nation. Thank you for reminding us.
    God bless them all.

    • Bernard,
      Thank you for your service to our country in the US Coast Guard. We are also grateful for your dad’s service as a Marine during WWII. It is thanks to the brave soldiers like you and your dad that we have the freedoms we enjoy today!
      Sharla Kattenberg
      VBeltSupply.com

  10. Thank you for this story. Born in 1944 I benefitted from that great generation’s sacrifice. It is always hard work and sacrifice that bring the greatest benefits.
    Thank you, Wayne Barham and all the veterans who have served in our military through the years.

    • Art,
      Thank you for your note. I was born in the 1980’s; my kids, in the 2000’s. I feel that the sacrifices of the Greatest Generation are still directly benefiting everyone living in America today. Without those sacrifices, we wouldn’t have the freedoms we enjoy today.
      Sharla Kattenberg
      VBeltSupply.com

  11. A bluebird among the sparrows will be a book I will add to my collection, and I hope to read it one day. I am a son of a Marine drill instructor that also served in the Kwajalein islands during the Korean war. After many years of military school, I joined the Air Force, with my love for aircraft.
    Modern day Vets are the ones that need our help these days. Simply to offer what they have missed out on during their internment fighting in for freedom. Our country is like no other, and never will be, as it should always be. Find a Vet, and keep them close. – Doug

    • Doug,
      Thank you for your note. We are thankful for your father’s service during the Korean War, as well as the years he served as a Marine drill instructor. Thank you for your years of service in the Air Force, also. Our country is like no other–thanks the the brave men and women who have given so much to keep it that way.
      Sharla Kattenberg
      VBeltSupply.com

  12. Great story, Sharla. You captured the spirit of Jack quite nicely and wrote eloquently of Wayne’s enduring effort to keep alive Jack’s legacy. Thanks for sharing.

    • Craig, thank you for your note. It was a privilege to share Wayne and Jack’s story with the readers of this blog. I especially like the South Dakota heritage element of the story, as I’m a SD transplant but love this state.
      Sharla Kattenberg
      VBeltSupply.com

  13. Sharla, This was a privilege for you to meet Wayne in person and hear his story. And then a privilege for us to read his story of sacrifice and honor. My dad too served in WWll. But he’s been gone over 22 years already. Lois

    • Lois,
      I’m grateful for your dad’s service to our country during WWII. Knowing how many WWII veterans are no longer living today, it was indeed a privilege for me to meet Wayne and hear his story.
      Sharla Kattenberg
      VBeltSupply.com

  14. Sharla, Thanks for telling Wayne and Jack’s story and for going to visit him. I am sure he enjoyed visiting with you. There are not many WWII vets still alive. It’s easy to take our freedoms for granted. It is good to be reminded of the sacrifices so many have made and continue to make for this country.
    Wendy

  15. Wendy,
    Thank you for your note. Yes, I think Wayne enjoyed my visit as much as I did–I think he could tell he had a captive audience. 🙂 I stand in awe of the sacrifice that he, and all our soldiers, have made for America.
    Sharla Kattenberg
    VBeltSupply.com

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