Korean War vet wants D-Day 80th anniversary event


A Kingsbridge Korean War veteran is looking to honor the thousands of young men who fought and sacrificed their lives on the shores of Normandy in the battle referred to as the beginning of the end of World War II.

Herb Barret, 93, is holding a D-Day 80th anniversary event at Memorial Grove in Van Cortlandt Park on June 2 and said even if he finds himself alone at the event he’ll turn around and talk to the trees.

“What people should remember is that it happened,” Barret told The Press. “People too young to even know the name. The invasion site was a horror. They came in at high tide, so the landing craft could come in as close to shore as possible and even with that, they couldn’t make it too far and the troops had to actually walk in water up to the chest and up to the neck and then go fight.”

More than 156,000 soldiers from the United States, United Kingdom and Canada stormed Omaha Beach at Normandy, France, in an effort to liberate France and Europe from Nazi Germany. More than 4,400 Allied soldiers were killed on D-Day, including 2,502 Americans, according to The National D-Day Memorial Foundation.

“The only good part there was the Nazi cannons couldn’t be lowered enough to attack all the troops closer to the shore, so they were being attacked by small arms in a matter of speaking,” Barret said. “The Nazis, according to research, were not prepared for an invasion. It made things easier, luckily. You can imagine as tough as it was, as many people were lost, it’s tough to think about, and we were lucky.”

The Memorial Grove was designed in 1948 and planted to tribute 21 Bronx servicemen who were killed in World War II. The grove later received tributes and plaques for soldiers who lost their lives in the Korean War and Vietnam War.

Barrett, an airplane mechanic in the Korean War, was too young to participate in World War II, but had several relatives in the battle, including his brother, who was in the Air Force. Thankfully, none of the family were wounded or killed.

Those who survived World War II came home in 1945 to a hero’s wecome, Barret recalled.

“It was such a big celebration in the streets, all over the place, everybody,” Barret said. “Troops were coming home by the drove. There were hundreds and hundreds of uniforms. Troops all over the place looking for someplace to live, someplace to say hello to mom and dad, someplace to go find a girlfriend.”

When Barret came of age, he joined the Marine Corps. He was sent to Memphis, Tennessee, where he learned how to repair reciprocating engines for propeller-driven aircraft.

“My hands were (busy) all the time, I was always doing something,” Barret said of being a mechanic. “I was the kid on the block that fixed the bicycles … made the adjustments on the bicycle and changed tires and all that kind of stuff.”

After six months of training, Barret was assigned to a squadron in Cherry Point, North Carolina. To his surprise, a sergeant assigned him to a jet he had never even heard of. He described the plane as a two-seater for a pilot and radar operator. It was capable of shooting planes down at night without the pilot seeing them, he said.

During that period of training, Barret flew over North Carolina, Florida and once flew in formation to Washington. Back then, he said, the mechanics had no gloves, helmets, or goggles, and repairing the engines would be paired with loud wind and debris blowing everywhere.

Barret and his squadron were being trained to go to Korea to relieve another squadron stationed on the west coast, but they never ended up going as the war ended in 1953.

Long after returning, in 2006, Barret was sitting on a bench in Van Cortlandt Park when he found the Memorial Grove and realized it was a memorial to World War II veterans. He described the grounds then as a horror, filled with debris from barbecues and dogs, with no care at all.

He contacted the recently hired park manager about it and the next day she cleaned it up and put up a temporary wire fence, he said. Thanks to Barret’s advocacy in 2012, the City Council restored and enhanced the grove with replacement memorial plaques. He held the Veteran’s Day Ceremony there for 15 years before passing the torch.

At 93, Barret said he is a little too old to be hosting events, but nonetheless he has committed to commemorating the D-Day anniversary. The park’s manager has volunteered to set up chairs and a speaker outside the Memorial Grove, Barret said, and he has reached out to several local elected officials and community members about attending, but has not yet heard back.

“My wife has been telling me to stop, not to do this memorial for the 80th D-Day because I don’t have that much to say and she thinks that nobody will arrive, whether to speak or to watch,” he said. “She’s saying I’m going to be there all alone. So if I am, then I’ll turn around and talk to the trees.”

Those interested in attending can join Barret at the Memorial Grove in Van Cortlandt Park on June 2 at noon.


Kingsbridge, Korean War veteran, D-Day anniversary, Memorial Grove, Van Cortlandt Park, World War II, Omaha Beach, Normandy invasion, Allied soldiers, veteran tribute, community event.