Coast Guardsman receives WWII medals

Former Coast Guard Petty Officer William J. Barnes with Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard Vice Admiral Sally Brice-O'Hara after being presented with four medals for his service in World War II and the Coast Guard Public Service Award for his efforts to preserve Coast Guard history. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Ademide Adedokun.

Former Coast Guard Petty Officer William J. Barnes with Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard Vice Admiral Sally Brice-O’Hara after being presented with four medals for his service in World War II and the Coast Guard Public Service Award for his efforts to preserve Coast Guard history. U.S. Coast Guard photo by Ademide Adedokun.

Written by Ademide Adedokun.

The December 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor marked the beginning of World War II for America and the entry point to the military for the Greatest Generation. The day after the attack, William J. Barnes drove 75 miles from his hometown of Clarksdale, Miss., to Nashville, Tenn., ready to serve his country in the Navy. After seeing the “four or five blocks long” line, a Navy officer suggested he consider the Coast Guard. Barnes freely admits he’d never heard of the Coast Guard before that day but spotting the shorter line, he immediately signed up.

On February 4, 1942, Barnes reported for duty in Manhattan Beach, N.Y., to work on the construction of a Coast Guard training center. His high school piccolo skills were called into service when Barnes was asked to play in the Coast Guard Band. The band assisted in Coast Guard recruiting efforts by playing in venues all over New York City, including Radio City Music Hall. That assignment didn’t last too long after a professional piccolo player arrived!

After washing dishes in Long Island, Barnes sought a little more action. He answered an ad in Coast Guard Magazine for a yeoman on a patrol boat performing escort duties in the Pacific.

Barnes' patrol boat, USS Patrol Craft 590, breaking up on a reef in the South Pacific. U.S. Navy photo.

Barnes’ patrol boat, USS Patrol Craft 590, breaking up on a reef in the South Pacific. U.S. Navy photo.

During an especially rough typhoon, the boat was damaged after being caught between two reefs, barely escaping sinking. After patchwork repairs, the boat prepared for towing to Pearl Harbor. On the journey, their tow suspected Japanese submarines nearby so they cut the lines. Barnes found himself stranded at sea for 60 days alongside his 63 shipmates. After being located by an American submarine and towed back to shore for repairs, they continued their patrol efforts until the end of the war.

Barnes left the Coast Guard at the conclusion of the war but remained committed to the service. In the years since, he has worked to educate his family, friends and community about the Coast Guard’s role in WWII by producing videos made up of photos  accompanied by his oral testimony of his time in uniform and speaking to community groups.

One of his videos made its way onto the desk of Vice Commandant of the Coast Guard Vice Adm. Sally Brice-O’Hara who began a correspondence with Barnes. Through their letters, Barnes revealed that he had not received his service medals upon his return from the Pacific. After WWII, the Coast Guard faced a shortage of awards. As a result, many awards were conferred but never presented.

On Saturday, April 16, 2011, Brice-O’Hara met Barnes at the Coast Guard Recruiting Office in Jackson, Miss., to present him with the World War II Victory Medal, Good Conduct Award, Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal and American Campaign Medal – all long overdue to this American hero. She also presented him with the Coast Guard Public Service Award in honor of his work to preserve Coast Guard history.

“First-hand accounts of service are invaluable to the Coast Guard’s historical collection,” explains Coast Guard historian Scott Price in speaking about Barnes’ video project. “Mr. Barnes’s story provides a wonderful perspective of Coast Guard service during World War II.”

Bravo Zulu to William Barnes for his service to the Coast Guard and our country!

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  • William F. Hoover

    I salute Mr. Barnes for his USCG time at the service of his country during War. He sure has an interesting story to tell.

    I am third generation Coast Guard. My Grandfather was USRCS/USCG WW1 and WW2.
    My Father was USCG 1939 – 1946. BM1 WW2 Pacific Campaign.
    I was USCG GM2 Squadron One Div 12, DaNang, Republic of Viet Nam.

    Like Mr. Barnes, my family has served their country by way of the Coast Guard. We of the Coast Guard are the elite of the elite. So small, so efficient, so proud yet, no one knows us and no one but us cares. No matter what our Countrymen know we should be very proud of ourselves and our service as a Military Arm of our country.

    Mr. Barnes is another of our ilk who quietly did his job and never boasted about it.

    Sir, you are another of my heros.

    I send my regards to all former and present members of the United States Coast Guard.

    William F. Hoover

  • Jim Koshar, LT, USCG(Ret.)

    Vice Admiral Sally Brice-O’Hara – thank you for your vigilence and sensitivity in continuoulsly looking out for and taking care of our Coast Guard personnel…V/R Jim Koshar, LT, USCG(Ret.)

  • Fandb2

    Thank you so very much, Mr. Hoover, for your most kind words about my service in
    World War II. I am now 90 years old and while I have not made a big fuss about not getting my earned medals in World War II, I must say that I am now very proud and appreciative of these medals. And I was most pleased with the Public Services Commendation for the DVD I wrote and produced on the Normandy Invasion.

    In researching the role of the Coast Guard at the Normany Invasion, approximately 80% of the books and material I read and studied never mentioned the Coast Guard at the Normandy Invasion. Although it has been almost 65 years since I served in the Coast Guard, I have always been a most interested and faithful supporter of “my” Coast Guard and it always hurt my feelings that the Coast Guard, one of the five branches of the Armed Forces of this great Nation and one of the earlier armed force to be created in 1790, never seems to get the credit for their contributions to our country. So that lead me into the writing of this Normandy Invasion DVD – putting the Coast Guard in their true and faithful
    role as one of our Armed Forces and attempting to give details of the invasion not generally seen in other preivious videos.

    Thanks again, Mr. Hoover, and I do appreicate your response. thanks Bill Barnes