Honoring our past: Better late than forgotten

U.S. Coast Guard Chaplain Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Plummer congratulates William D. Barber, Sr. after promoting him to honorary motor machinist's mate first class as Barber's wife Leona Barber looks on at their home in Muncie, Ind., July 7, 2011. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Lauren Jorgensen.

Written by Petty Officer 2nd Class Lauren Jorgensen and Petty Officer 1st Class Charles Reinhart, Ninth District Public Affairs.

The fog of war has a way of eventually settling to pay its just rewards to both the fallen and the victors.

William D. Barber, Sr., who was advanced to honorary motor machinist's mate first class in Muncie, Ind., July 7, 2011, more than 69 years after he was honorably discharged from the service following an injury on a Coast Guard patrol boat during World War II. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Lauren Jorgensen.

Nearly 70 years and three generations later, William D. Barber, Sr., 88, of Muncie, Ind., received an honorary promotion to motor machinist’s mate first class after wading through World War II’s fierce Battle of the Atlantic aboard a lightly-armed sentinel.

Barber was in the engine room of the Coast Guard patrol boat, Stephen McKeever, assigned to spot German U-boats off the east coast of the United States, when an explosion occurred, severely injuring him and another crewman who was also in the engine room.

The violent seas made it too dangerous for anyone to walk on the decks outside of the ship’s interior spaces, and it was also too rough for the Stephen McKeever to go into a port.  The two men laid in pain in the engine room for eight days waiting for the weather to subside while the crew’s cook climbed through the vessel’s ventilation pipes bringing the men food and drinks. When the seas finally calmed, Barber was taken to a hospital in Virginia, where he spent roughly two months in recovery.

Upon his release from the hospital, Barber learned he was also being discharged from the Coast Guard, effective Oct. 25, 1943. That was his last communication with the service –until recently.

Flash forward to 2011:  Barber’s son, William D. Barber, Jr., was building model airplanes in the family’s garage one afternoon when his father came in and the two reminisced about his sea duty during World War II.

“He told me that day that he felt like the Coast Guard had forgotten him,” said Barber, Jr. “I made it, that day, my mission to make sure that he was not forgotten.”

William D. Barber Sr. proudly displays a U.S. Coast Guard certificate which officially promotes him to honorary motor machinist's mate first class following Barber's promotion ceremony at his home in Muncie, Ind., July 7, 2011. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Petty Officer 2nd Class Lauren Jorgensen.

Barber’s son recently reached out to Coast Guard officers at the Ninth Coast Guard District in Cleveland and told them his father’s story. He told the officers that when his father told him about the accident, he mentioned the warrant officer aboard the Stephen McKeever was planning to promote Barber to motor machinist’s mate first class, but that never happened after the explosion.

“We can’t go back in time, but Rear Adm. Michael Parks, commander of the Ninth Coast Guard District, has the authority to do this for you now,” Lt. Cmdr. Jeffrey Plummer told Barber and his wife, Leona, before reading Barber’s promotion certificate at a July 7 ceremony at Barber’s home in Muncie. “Thank you for your service to our great nation,” Plummer continued. “We want you to know that you are a shipmate, and we are not going to forget about you.”

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