While several veterans were mentioned Monday during the annual Veterans Day program held in the Emma Kelly Theater, a Marine and Army veteran of World War II and the Korean War was the focal point of the keynote speaker.
Statesboro’s Municipal Judge Keith Barber was emotional at times during his speech — understandably so, because he was talking about his father, Harold L. Barber, who is 93.
The elder Barber, who lives in Newnan, was unable to attend the program, but his son’s words described the heroic deeds of a man born in Atlanta but with Bulloch County roots.
Judge Barber is a veteran himself. He was born on a U.S. Army base in Fukuoka, Japan, and served in the U.S. Army from 1973 to 1977.
He served in law enforcement as a sheriff’s deputy and in the marshal’s department for more than 10 years, then became an attorney in 1992. He opened a private practice in Statesboro in 1998 and became the city’s municipal judge in 2010, having been court prosecutor under the previous judge, J. Lane Johnston.
“I am truly humbled to be sharing at this event today,” he said as he took the stage Monday.
Barber spoke of his father’s history of military feats and honors. Harold L. Barber volunteered in 1942 for the U.S. Marine Corps and was dispatched to the Pacific theater.
“He participated in landing assaults against strongly defended Japanese positions on islands of the Guadalcanal group in the British Solomon Islands Marine Division, to which he was assigned,” he said.
Then, he “completely routed all the enemy forces and seized a valuable base and airfield in the Solomons.”
“His division received their first Presidential Unit Citation for their gallantry and resolve in successfully defeating the enemy.”
After promotion to corporal, the senior Barber was “again in the thick of a landing assault over a treacherous coral reef against hostile mortar and artillery fire when the First Marine Division seized the island of Peleliu,” Keith Barber told the crowd.
His father and fellow soldiers in the First Marine Division received their second Presidential Unit Citation for “their aggressiveness and their fortitude.” It was then also that the senior Barber was awarded his first Purple Heart for a shrapnel wound received during the battle.
When he was discharged from the U.S. Marine Corps, Harold Barber enlisted as a corporal in the U.S. Army’s 82nd Airborne Division. When the Korean War began, the then-Sgt. Barber answered the call for Ranger volunteers and trained at Fort Benning, Georgia.
He joined the 3rd Ranger Infantry Company (Airborne) on Oct. 4, 1950, and “Ranger Barber served as platoon sergeant of the 2nd and 1st Platoons during the first and second training cycles of 3rd Company,” his son said. “Arriving in the Korean War zone on March 24, 1951, the company was attached to the 3rd Infantry Division. On April 11, 1951, the company was given the mission of spearheading the division advance.
“Clearing the village of Kantonghyon, Ranger Barber's platoon was crossing open terraced paddies and came under heavy mortar and machine gun fire against a well-defended enemy hill,” he continued, pausing with emotion. “(Harold) Barber led his rangers in a bayonet assault on the enemy entrenchments. Although wounded by a grenade fragment, Ranger Barber encouraged and led his men in continuous combat as they responded with individual acts of bravery.”
The unit “entered the enemy trenches, killed approximately 17 enemies and captured one prisoner.”
Only eight rangers — just three were not wounded — were able to continue. Just 2,000 yards away, they seized Bloody Nose Ridge. For that leadership and aggressive bravery, Harold Barber was awarded the Silver Star and recommended for a direct commission.
“Ranger Barber was commissioned as second lieutenant on Dec. 29, 1951, and held continuous jump status until his retirement on July 1, 1965,” Barber said of his father. “His personal actions and leadership in combat clearly demonstrated that Ranger Barber lived.”
Harold L. Barber was a 2006 inductee of the U.S. Army Ranger Association's Ranger Hall of Fame.
The Veterans Day program, produced every year by the American Legion Dexter Allen Post 90 and hosted by the Averitt Center for the Arts and Joiner-Anderson Funeral Home, drew a full-house crowd. The members of the Archibald Bulloch Chapter Daughters of the American Revolution served veterans coffee and doughnuts before the program, which began at 10:30 a.m. with patriotic music and was followed by several recognitions of veterans of all branches of military.
Herald reporter Holli Deal Saxon may be reached at (912) 489-9414.