Festival will honor veterans at front of the parade
Six vets selected to serve as grand marshals
There was a time Herb Wood never wanted to be in a parade again.
"We were parading everyday," he said of his Marine boot camp days in 1944. "We'd get back from a 16-mile march and start parading. Whenever somebody was retiring, we'd have to parade for him."
In recent years, Wood has made peace with parades. He and other Korean War veterans marched in an Overland Park observance of that conflict. Saturday, Wood will join five other members of Linden/Tripkos VFW Post 6654 as grand marshals of the De Soto Days Festival Parade.
With the American Freedom theme of the De Soto Days this year, honoring local veterans seemed a natural, said Festival Committee Chairman Max Atwell. Picking the grand marshals was left to the post, whose members voted to have Wood, Jack Bowers, Del Barnett, Archie and Doug Bedford and Hubert Osburn represent them as grand marshals.
Among them, the veterans represent service in the European and Pacific theaters in World War II, the Korean War, Vietnam and the first Persian Gulf War.
Five of the grand marshals gathered at the post Friday, trading inter-service barbs long after they've donned civilian clothes. Two Marine veterans, Bowers and Wood, were the focus of much of the kidding, both incoming and outgoing.
He and Bowers were also the two youngest World War II vets in the post, Wood said.
Wood joined the Marines at 16. At that same young age, he took part in one of the fiercest battles of the Pacific campaign. On Okinawa, his platoon was ordered to root out Japanese fighters holed up in underground caves and tunnels.
The experience gave Wood an aversion to caves that, unlike parades, he never put behind him. It is an aversion born out of respect as he repeatedly witnessed Japanese soldiers in the caves survive bombing and shelling.
"You think nobody could be alive in those caves, but they were," he said. "You can't get them out of there."
During the deadly fighting -- the battle for the island claimed 12,000 American lives, 140,000 Japanese soldiers and native conscripts, and an estimated 100,000 civilians -- Wood and his fellow Marines learned to maneuver in ways not taught on the parade grounds of San Diego.
"We starting having a guy walk backward behind us," he said. "The Japanese would pop up out of spider traps and shoot us.
"We did what we had to. If I could have went home, I would have went home."
But when the war ended less than two months after the battle, Wood stayed in the Marines. We served in China in 1947 and 1948 as the Communists ousted Nationalist forces from the mainland.
Back in San Diego in 1949, Wood got a shot at Hollywood immortality. He and two other Marines were in the barracks when their sergeant major barked that half of them should follow him. Unable to decide how to divide three people in half, all three followed.
"They were always doing stuff like that," Wood said, admitting he made the same confusing request on a generation of De Soto Boy Scouts. "We thought it would be some lousy detail."
The three Marines ended up on a movie set as extras in "Sands of Iwo Jima," starring John Wayne. Wood even got a speaking part, "Mail call, first platoon."
The movie earned John Wayne his first Oscar nomination and a dislike for co-star John Agar. Wood explained Agar was newly married to Shirley Temple, and their noontime trysts delayed production often enough Wayne vowed never to work with the younger man again.
Wayne was OK, Wood said, but not his favorite actor on the set.
"Forrest Tucker was the greatest guy of all of them," he said. "He was classic."
Soon, Wood was fighting real battles again. He was still in the Marines on June 25, 1950, when 135,000 North Koreans launched a surprise invasion of South Korea.
Wood first saw action in Korea at Inchon, Gen. Douglas MacArthur's daring amphibious landing near Seoul. Fellow Marine Jack Bowers was also at Inchon, landing troops in an amphibious tractor and then securing strategic points.
Bowers had served in the Marine Air Corps in World War II but didn't see action. After being called back to active service, he saw plenty in Korea.
The Inchon invasion Sept. 15, 1950, started seven months of spectacular advances and calamitous retreats as American led United Nations forces first pushed to the northern limits of North Korea and then fell back in the face of an overwhelming counter attack led by 200,000 Chinese "volunteers."
In the worst of the winter retreat, American forces were surrounded near Chosin Reservoir in North Korea's mountainous interior.
"It was 40 below," Wood said. "We lost more guys to frostbite than to gunfire. All we had was long parkas. They didn't keep you warm. That's were we learned quilted clothes from the Chinese."
Bowers didn't remember the clothing being inadequate, but then he had the shelter of his fighting vehicle. It was a long way from the beaches, but the tractors were needed with all the bridges blown.
"I kept the tractor heated," he said. "I didn't have it as bad as the grunts."
His tractor didn't afford complete protection, however, and Bowers' war ended when he got a "$90 million wound."
"I was shot in the leg," he said. "I was sent to the San Diego Naval Hospital. I got out in 1952."
Archie Bedford arrived in Korea as the war quieted down. A Seabee, he helped build an air base there and then a Marine base in Japan. Bedford spoke in awe of the exploits of Wood, Bowers and other veterans who saw hard fighting in the frozen land.
"Korea was the coldest place I've ever been in my life," he said. "You couldn't get warm. Those poor guys sleeping in fox holes -- I don't know how they survived."
Seabees operated under relaxed regulations but maintained an intense work schedule, Bedford said. Weather permitting, the Seabees worked 10 to12 hours a day, seven days a week.
Bedford, who became a civil engineer after leaving the service, said he remained impressed with the skills his fellow Seabees possessed.
"I saw a guy in Korea mill a cylinder sleeve out of a piece of sewer pipe," he said. "They were very, very capable individuals. I spent my career in highway construction. The heavy equipment operators I saw overseas were among the best I ever observed."
Bedford, Bowers and Wood all left the service in the 1950s.
"I didn't want to go to another Korea," Wood said. "We had one. It was called Vietnam."
That was Del Barnett's war. The Army special forces combat engineer served in Vietnam from November 1968 to November 1972. As a Green Beret, he was a sniper and a demolition expert, called on to blow up various enemy structures and ordnance.
It was in the sniper capacity he and a team went to "take out a civilian" in an area near the unjustifiably called demilitarized zone that separated North and South Vietnam, Barnett said.
The mission went bad. Barnett said his best friend and another member of the team were killed. He and four others were captured, beginning a six-month ordeal in an enemy transfer camp.
"I was tortured," he said bluntly. "I was in a tiger cage with water up to my neck. When I got captured, I weighed 216 pounds. When I came back to the States, I weighed 132."
Faith in his fellow Green Berets sustained him during his captivity, Barnett said.
"I was confident another team would come after us," he said. "Another team got us out."
The youngest of the grand marshals, Doug Bedford, was also in the special forces. The son of Archie, he served as a Navy from 1989 to 1997. He graduated as a member of the 168th class of SEALs in July 1990, just weeks before Iraq invaded Kuwait.
After a quick paratrooper trainng, Bedford arrived in the Gulf as the fighting was "pretty much over." Still, the younger Bedford said he had plenty of opportunities to become acquainted with the region. During the remaining six years of his enlistment, he returned seven times to train units in Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Jordan. Other tours took him to such places China, Singapore and Kenya.
"We'd be in places while stuff was going on, but we were in training capacities," he said.
Doug and Archie Bedford said the goal was to represent the post at the parade with vets from a cross section of services branches and different wars.
The theme with its patriotic them was an experience he was eagerly awaiting, Barnett said.
"It's the first time I've been in a parade," he said. "I take it as an honor my peers here recognized me to do that."