Opelika family celebrates three generations of military service
By Morgan Bryce
By Christmas Eve 1944, the Allied Powers were inching closer and closer to toppling Hitler’s Nazi regime in Europe. France was one of the Nazi’s last strongholds, and the Allies were preparing for a final, brutal battle with the Germans to push them back to their home country, known in history as the Battle of the Bulge.
On that cold, frigid Christmas Eve night, a troopship called the S.S. Leopoldville, which had departed from the port city of Southampton, England, was on its way to Cherbourg, France. Carrying more than 2,200 American soldiers of the 262nd and 264th Regiments, 66th Infantry Division of the U.S. Army, these troops were being counted on to help lead the Allies push to clinch victory in the European theatre.
Within five miles of the French coast, a German U-boat, U-486, torpedoed and sunk the Leopoldville, and the lack of life jackets and a poorly conducted lifeboat drill left many of the ship’s crew and soldiers in the water, leaving them susceptible to hypothermia, frostbite and shark attacks. More than 800 died, and many of the bodies have never been found. One of the survivors, Charles E. Barber, floated in the icy waters for nearly four hours until his rescue. His survival proved key in his family’s continuance of military service, as his son and future grandchildren would carry on the tradition.
His son Chuck Sr. and grandsons Chuck Jr. and Bob would all go on to serve in the military, with Chuck Jr. being the last active member. Chuck Sr. said seeing that it was very meaningful to him to see the family legacy continued.
“I was proud of our boys, very proud of them. Their granddaddy started it, I followed, and seeing them do it too and be successful … we’re just so proud,” Chuck Sr. said.
Chuck Sr., a longtime Opelika resident, Opelika High School teacher and coach, joined the Alabama National Guard in 1970, after graduating from Auburn University with a degree in Health, Physical Education and Recreation. He worked as an intelligence officer at a branch in Birmingham and as a member of the 231st MP Battalion in Opelika. Serving nearly 25 years with the Guard, he retired in 1995 and joined the Army Reserve, working for five more years teaching Command and General Staff School to majors. Reminiscing on his years in the military, Chuck Sr. said it was a rewarding but difficult venture for him and his family.
“You never knew where you were going when you signed up with the Alabama National Guard … so that made it difficult for Jerry and the kids when I was away,” Chuck Sr. said. “It was hard to raise four kids on a teacher’s salary, and serving in the Guard helped provide extra income for us.”
Chuck Sr. said that he and his wife Jerry raised their children with discipline and respect, to better prepare them for life. Their four sons, Chuck Jr., Scott, Bob and Jon, all played sports and participated in extracurricular activities like piano lessons and boy scouts, which he believes helped lay a firm foundation in all of their lives.
“Being a coach and teacher and being in the military too … that goes hand-in-hand with discipline, and that’s how we raised our sons, believing that it would give them the best chance to have a good life,” Chuck Sr. said.
Jerry added that Chuck’s sacrifice did not go unnoticed by her or their sons.
“Once a month, he would be gone to drill on weekends so they could see the sacrifice he was making and the benefits that the military offered our family. By the time the boys were in the seventh or eighth grade, they could see and realize how much of a sacrifice their father was making for us,” Jerry said.
In their high school and college years, Chuck Jr. and Bob discovered that the military was their calling as well, with Chuck Jr. pursuing a career in the Army as an intelligence analyst officer and Bob as a major in the U.S. Marines. Bob went on to receive the Bronze Star Medal twice for heroism in combat, and Chuck Jr. is one of the highest ranking intelligence officers in Afghanistan, where he currently serves.
Bob retired from active duty in August 2014, and does civilian work for the Marines out of Saint Augustine, Fla., working as an Operational Logistics Planner. Chuck Jr., whose family lives in Virginia, will return home for Thanksgiving this year, and conclude his Afghani tour at the end of March 2017. He is unsure about his future in the Army after he returns home.
With the present threats of terroristic groups like ISIS in Afghanistan, Chuck Sr. said that he and Jerry are very concerned about the safety of their son, who has had several close calls in his time in Afghanistan.
“People that think we’re just having a little skirmish over there, and that nobody’s getting hurt … that’s just not true. It’s a dangerous place to be and we are so ready for him to be home,” Chuck Sr. said.
Chuck Sr. and Jerry both noted that as Chuck Jr. and Bob’s parents, that they believe that both their sons have an unwavering loyalty to America.
“They’re a loyal friend and have your back. They’re the kind of soldiers you want protecting and serving our country,” Charles Sr. said.
Friday is the 97th Veteran’s Day, and for both Chuck Sr. and Jerry, it is more important than ever to honor and recognize America’s men and women in the armed forces, both living and dead. For them, it is a day to reflect on past soldiers like Charles E. Barber and their sons Chuck Jr. and Bob who have most recently served.
“If it hadn’t been for people like my father who served in World War II, we could all be speaking German right now. On Veterans Day, I think of the sons and daughters, and men and women that did what they did for our country,” Chuck Sr. said. “To me, on Veterans Day, I think about all the people who made those sacrifices and died for us, from World War II to Afghanistan.”
Jerry said she appreciates the loyalty and courage displayed by American soldiers throughout the nation’s history.
“I think about the people that have stood up to defend and respect the flag … they didn’t think twice about leaving and putting themselves in harm’s way. They did it for love of country, for love of family, for love of future generations,” Jerry said. “Our sons have done the same thing … and seeing the sacrifices that all our brave men and women have to make … it makes me proud to be an American.”