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Jasper County’s very own ‘Band of Brothers’

Published: Friday, May 17, 2013 11:13 a.m. CST • Updated: Friday, May 17, 2013 11:43 a.m. CST

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A 1943 cutline from the Newton Daily News reads “Jesse Beard, a farmer living near Colfax, is shown bidding goodbye to his 18-year-old son, Robert — the fifth to enter the armed services.”

Robert was the youngest Beard brother to serve, as the sixth son, Francis, was too young to serve. Walter Beard was a staff sergeant and Merle Beard a corporal in the Marine Corps. Harold and Leo Beard were both privates in the Army. The Beards also had a brother-in-law, Andrey Conn, who served.

All five Beard boys made it home from the war, but at 88 years old, Robert is the last one left to tell the story.

“That’s why I went,” Robert said of his older brothers. “When I turned 18, my dad had to take me over to register. He begged me all the way over there to stay and help him with the farm. I said, ‘No, I’m going with my brothers.’

“So I got in, and I did a little volunteering,” Robert said. “I volunteered with the (Merrill’s) Marauders and then I volunteered to go on another mission. And from then on I didn’t do no more volunteering, I had had enough,” he added jokingly.

Robert is so proud of his time in the Army with the Marauders that he and his wife, Phyllis, bought commemorative unit patches for family members.

“(During the war) we didn’t have a patch on our uniforms,” Robert said. “(We) didn’t want the (Japanese soldiers) to know we were there ’til we stuck them.”

The Marauders were named after General Frank Merrill and fought in the China-Burma-India Theater of Operations during World War II.  Beard joined the unit after volunteering from Camp Stoneman in California.

“After a couple of months training, we went into combat in Burma,” Robert said. “We went behind the Japanese lines to capture the airport in Myitkyina, which we did that after four months of jungle fighting.”

During this same timeframe, Robert said he spent two months in a hospital battling malaria and typhus.

“He was in a coma,” Phyllis added.

As Robert previously stated, he did some more “volunteering” after his health scare.

“After a period of rest in the hospital, I went with the 475th Infantry back on the lines again to capture the Burma Road for the Chinese,” he said.

Robert said that he and a lot of other soldiers got sick from poor nutrition while fighting in Burma.

“We lived on K-Rations,” Robert said. “We ate K-Rations all the time.

“Those are hard on the immune system,” Phyllis added.

K-Rations are typically expected to keep a G.I. fed for a small time frame until a new shipment of supplies came in. Robert said that he and his unit had to live off of them, as their actions behind enemy lines were considered top secret at the time.

In addition to living off K-Rations, Robert said that most of their supplies were parachuted in, and they had to use a special means to carry the shipments.

“We didn’t have helicopters,” Robert said. “We had mules. That should tell you how tough it was. We had to carry the gear once the mules went down. We loved them ol’ mules.”

In all, Robert served two years and nine months in the Army and said that he spent seven of those months behind Japanese lines.

“I couldn’t wait to get in, and then I couldn’t wait to get out,” Robert said jokingly. “I wouldn’t want to do it again, and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world. It was something that had to be done, and we did it.”

Staff writer Ty Rushing may be contacted at (641) 792-3121, ext. 426, or at trushing@newtondailynews.com.

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