Seventeen-year-old U.S. Army Pfc. John Barnard was away from home for the first time when he was sent to Japan to help clear away rubble and debris following the dropping of the atomic bomb on Hiroshima.
“We were the occupational force; the cleanup detail,” Barnard said. “We were all young boys (who volunteered) right after high school. They had to give us World War II (status) because we were between the wars.”
Now 82, the Allenhurst resident will join other aging veterans on the May 20-21 Honor Flight of Savannah trip to Washington, D.C. The local Honor Flight chapter serves veterans who live in Coastal Georgia and South Carolina. On this trip, veterans will travel by bus to the nation’s Capitol to visit war memorials and Arlington National Cemetery. The chapter began scheduling trips nearly two years ago, Army Reserve Ambassador and Honor Flight Savannah board member Luis Carreras said. He said the local Honor Flight schedules four trips a year, two in the spring before the summer heat sets in and two in the fall before winter’s chill.
Honor Flight guardians, well-wishers and the Savannah High School Honor Guard will see off 25 veterans, half Army and half Navy, at 8 p.m. May 20 at the Air National Guard building located at Savannah International Airport, he said.
This trip is Barnard’s first to Washington, D.C.
“I’ve never been to the White House,” he said.
Barnard was assigned to the 24th Infantry Division in Gifu, Japan. His four-year service began in June 1946.
“I got promoted the month I got out,” he laughed.
An African-American, Barnard served his country before the Armed Forces were desegregated.
“We had three white officers,” he said. Barnard smiled when he remembered his company captain.
“His name was O’Hara,” he said. “He was from New York City.”
Barnard drove a truck during the massive cleanup. His job was to take loads of rubble to a dump.
“That’s where they had all the factories,” he said of the area he helped clear. “It was all mashed up.” Barnard said it was hard to tell one ruined structure from another. He spent six to seven months in the blasted-out city. He had heard about the terrible casualties of war but did not see any injured Japanese when he was there. Barnard added that he and his fellow soldiers did not wear protective clothing while they conducted their post-war sweep of the nuclear bomb site.
To his knowledge, Barnard said his doctors have not been able to connect any illnesses he may have had to his military service.
After he returned from overseas, the Liberty County native followed in his father’s footsteps and made a living in the paper industry.
“I got into pulp wood and logging,” Barnard said.
He worked for Union Bag Paper Company in Savannah. Later, he took a civil-service job at Camp Stewart, which became Fort Stewart. He put in “39 years and six months” of government service, including his Army service, Barnard said. He retired in 1993.
Barnard raised five sons and two daughters. Four of his sons served in the Army and one joined the Air Force. Barnard’s sons’ official military photos and commendations adorn a table in the foyer of his home.
“I talk to the young ones in church,” the veteran and Baconton Missionary Baptist Church deacon said. “I tell them to stay out of the jail houses.”
The next Honor Flight Savannah trip is planned for September. For more information, go to www.honorflight.org or call 912-492-0738.