Front Royal man recalls his six years in the Navy during WWII
FRONT ROYAL – Heroism is a term most commonly associated with a member of the U.S. armed forces, but Vernon Beard’s story is striking even among the many examples of valor found among World War II veterans.
Beard, now 97, and a resident at Commonwealth Senior Living at Front Royal, was a radioman second class in the Navy from 1941 to 1947. He still remembers it like it was yesterday. “We had a ring-side seat to the invasion of Guadalcanal,” Beard recalled.
That was just the beginning.
After the bombing of Pearl Harbor in December 1941, Beard enlisted in the Navy back home in Mississippi. For six years, Beard served in the Philippines, Australia, Japan and the United States. His first destroyer was the USS Blue, stationed in the Pacific Theater. A torpedo struck the Blue while it was on patrol with Beard on board, and the ship had to be scuttled. Beard spoke like it wasn’t a big deal; just the conflict of war, but his son, Daniel Beard, of Middletown, quickly added, “that was one of four he actually survived.”
Beard returned to the states on the destroyer tender USS Doblin and was assigned to the newly commissioned destroyer USS Ross, which Daniel Beard explained, “stuck two mines during the Marianas campaign and was towed to dry dock for repairs.” That dock was struck by a kamikaze plane, but the Ross didn’t sustain any major damage and was towed back to the states with its crew on board.
After returning home for a short period, Beard was then assigned to the seaplane tender USS Curtis. The Curtis went on-station in Okinawa where it also was struck by a kamikaze plane. Following the attack, Beard transferred to the seaplane tender USS Norton Sound. From Okinawa, Beard made one last trip back to the states aboard an aircraft carrier and away from the war. After a brief assignment at the Navy Electronics Technicians School at Great Lakes Naval Air Station in Lake County, Illinois, Beard transferred to Washington where he separated from the service.
Beard was given an honorable discharge; a Philippine Liberation Ribbon with two stars; an American Defense Ribbon; an American Theater Ribbon; an Asiatic Pacific Ribbon with five stars and a World War II Victory Medal.
Despite his accomplishments in the Navy, Beard said his most memorable story during his enlistment is not about the tragedy of war or the loss of fellow sailors, it’s the tale of meeting his wife, Barbara Mary Sullivan, a member of the Women’s Army Corps, also known as the WACs. She was stationed in Washington.
“I had just gotten off watch,” Beard recalled. “One of my buddies came in and said, ‘Beard get up, get shaved, showered, I have a date for you.'” Beard did just that. They went to dinner, and Beard knew she was the one.
“I liked her well enough that I asked her for a second date right then and there,” he said, smiling. On the second date he proposed.
“She told me she hadn’t known me very long,” he said. “And I said you’ve known me as long as I’ve known you.”
After pondering it over for a minute, Barbara said “yes.”
“And we lived happily ever after,” he added.
For the next 65 years, Beard and his wife experienced life together. In 2012, Beard lost the love of his life. Barbara Beard was given full military honors. After a brief period of living alone, Beard moved to the Commwealth Senior Living at Front Royal.
When asked about the importance of Veterans Day, Beard paused, clearly overwhelmed by emotion. He said he believes in the freedoms of America.
“It’s about respect,” he said. “Please need to realize what some of us went through and sometimes I think they aren’t given the respect that they deserve.”
As for Beard, he said he was treated very well, and has no complaints.
Beard’s sons, Dan Beard, also a veteran, and David Beard agree with their father. For Dan Beard, it’s a moment to stop and think about the sacrifices.
“It’s too easy to forget the impact that all of this has had on families and lives,” he said. “I really feel for the veterans of the Vietnam War. They weren’t treated like heroes when they came back. A lot of them were treated like dirt.”
David Beard added, “There was no victory for them to come home to.”
Dan Beard added, “As a veteran myself, I was so glad to see how the soldiers were treated when they returned from the Middle East. They were accepted and seen as heroes.”
Patriotism weaves the Beard family together. If they could change one thing, David Beard said it would be getting people to remember that “we sleep soundly at night because of the men and women that fight for our country. If that isn’t enough, I don’t know what is.”