Bristol resident John “Jack” Barton, 91, will be participating in the WaterFire Salute to Veterans on Saturday, Nov. 9 in Providence. It is the first large-scale community-wide celebration of veterans in Rhode Island.
Jack Barton graduated high school in 1940 during a time of uncertainty.
The world was engaged in World War II, and the United States was on the fence about entering. Many of Jack’s friends enlisted in the service while he chose to attend Cornell University.
It wasn’t until after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, that the Plattsburg, N.Y. native dropped out of college and enlisted in the army.
“The air force, navy, marines…they didn’t want me, turned me down,” he recollected. “My eyesight was bad at the time.”
Jack trained with the medical corps and was asked if he’d like to train recruits to ski as part of the 10th Mountain Division.
“Very few of us skied,” he said. “But we were trained in how to use them.
“The whole idea was to train the unit how to get along in the winter. These are kids who’d never seen snow before a day in their life.”
So Jack was shipped to Wisconsin for training, and shortly thereafter, Alaska.
Now, at 92, he recalled that time in the barren winter dessert in detail.
“I remember it distinctly. There was nothing around, nothing,” he said, his eyes slowly studying his memory. “There were no televisions, nothing to do.”
When they did have down-time, Jack joked that he and his platoon sat around reciting their ABCs. Many of his fellow service members suffered from frostbite.
“We went up there because we thought the Japanese were on the Aleutcian Islands,” he said. “That’s the closest that the Japanese got to America.”
Jack and his platoon were stationed in Alaska for five months before learning of the Battle of Attu, which took place in May 1943. The Japanese retreated after that.
Even though his company never saw battle, they lost 81 members due to the heavy thick fog and friendly fire.
“I got a Dear John letter while I was there,” he smiled. “It’s a good thing too, because I got to marry the girl I was meant to marry.”
After Alaska, Jack was shipped to Texas, where he later entered Officer Candidate School. When he left, his former regiment shipped out to Italy to fight with the Allies. It was within four months that he lost many of his best friends.
“It could have been me,” he said, his tone muffled. Jack paused for a moment. “That’s enough about that, though.”
Once that was completed, he traveled to Washington, D.C., to find his love.
“(Dorothy) was to be in Washington, because her father was called back to service and that’s where they were stationed,” he said. “But I found out she went back to Plattsburgh. So there I went.”
The courtship was short and sweet. Jack proposed over the telephone, and two months later, the two wed in 1945. They were married for 62 years before her death in 2007.
With the war over, Jack was released from active duty, but maintained his military affiliation with the army reserves. He and Dorothy had two girls before his marching orders to Korea came.
“My girls weren’t too happy with me that I was shipping out,” he said of his daughters, who were 4 and 2 at the time.
Jack served as a training instructor in South Korea for about 11 months.
“Back then, you knew when you were coming home when you were recalled,” he said. “So I was activated for 17 months, I knew I’d be coming home after that.”
Then, after 22 years of service, Jack retired with full military benefits. He finished his college degree using the government GI Bill, and worked various jobs before retiring in 1987. He has lived in Rhode Island most of his adult life.
“It was different back then,” he said of the military. “A private in the army made $50 a month base pay.”
Those in the military today are far more trained, too, he added.
“I had a sergeant come and serve with me when I was in Korea,” he said. “His training was all of three weeks.”
Family members had to rely on letters as the sole means of communication. There wasn’t an internet, email or telephone service for most of his military career.
“It was hard. It was tough,” he said. “You waited a long while.”
Jack is one of the oldest, active members of the Bristol Veteran’s Council. He, and the council president Karl Antonevich, will be one of 300 Rhode Island veterans holding torches in WaterFire’s Salute to the Veteran’s event this Saturday. The event honors military service members from all branches of the military, past and present, in advance of Veterans Day, which is Monday, Nov. 11.