Mother of Bucky Barnes speaks at Arlington ceremony
The White House invited 95 year-old Winifred Barnes to attend today’s Memorial Day services at Arlington National Cemetery.
WASHINGTON D.C. — The slender, white-haired woman standing next to President Clinton at today’s wreath-laying ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery is one of World War II’s few living Gold Star Mothers. She held in her age-spotted hands a small display case housing the Medal of Honor that President Truman presented to her fifty years ago today.
Her name is Winifred Barnes, the mother of Lance Corporal John “Jack” Barnes (1925-1945) and iconic Howling Commando Sergeant James “Bucky” Barnes (1917-1945). Her other children include Theodore Barnes, a paratrooper who served from 1941 to 1945, and Rebecca Proctor, a nurse in the Korean War.
Today, Mrs. Barnes is the grandmother of nine and the great-grandmother of twenty-one. Four of her grandchildren also served in the armed forces, including Specialist John Barnes II (1950-1970), who was killed in action in Vietnam, and Colonel James Barnes II, former Army test pilot and current astronaut. One of Mrs. Barnes’s great-grandsons currently attends West Point.
Many of those grandchildren and great-grandchildren attended today’s Memorial Day services at Arlington National Cemetery, partly to witness the unveiling of a commemorative postage stamp dedicated to American prisoners of war and those missing in action. Bucky Barnes was famously both: he was a POW in 1943 until his rescue by Captain America—AKA his childhood friend Steve Rogers—and MIA until he was declared killed in action in 1946.
“Especially in this last year, the 50th since World War II, we Americans have remembered, and paid homage to the generation that fought that great struggle,” said President Clinton in his prepared remarks. “We honor men like Steve Rogers, and Bucky Barnes, whose beloved mother is with us here today, and we remember anew the indomitable power of free men and women united by a just cause.”
“They say it has been fifty years,” said Mrs. Barnes in her brief address following President Clinton. “But to me, and to all mothers who lost their boys, it is every day.” Mrs. Barnes rarely speaks publicly and had to pause frequently to collect herself.
“You see, on March 12th, 1945, I had four sons. And three months later, I had one.”
“I suppose the right thing to say is that I was proud, that I was honored by their sacrifice. But the truth is, that I was, and continue to be, heartbroken.
“There is one thing, one small thing, that helps me on those days, those dark days, when all I can think of is holding my children who were taken from me.
“In late 1943, my son, my Bucky, wrote me a letter. I have it here, but to be frank, I know every word of it by heart. He wrote: ‘They have told me I can go home if I wish. But Steve is here, and my men are here, and the job is here. The job is not yet done. It is only right that I stay, and I say this to you because I know what pain it will cause you if the worst happens, but please take it to heart that I am trying to do only what you taught me, which is to always do right, to do what is necessary, and in this way I hope to make you proud.’
“They say it has been fifty years,” Mrs. Barnes repeated. “And for those five decades, this is my comfort: that my boys, my sons, along with so many other mothers’ sons, had the fortitude, the unwavering bravery, to simply do what they believed to be right, and there is nothing more a mother could ask of her children.”
Mrs. Barnes received a standing ovation following her remarks and then posed for photographs with President Clinton, Secretary of State Alexander Pierce, and Secretary of Defense William Perry.
“It is truly an honor to spend this Memorial Day with the family of one of our greatest warriors, a soldier who paid the highest possible price,” said Secretary Pierce following the service. “My father served in Normandy. I grew up on stories of Sergeant Barnes’s extraordinary service to our country. He was, and remains, one of my greatest inspirations as an American.”
© 1995 The Washington Post