LEBANON — Waife Emmett “Bud” Barnes has jammed a lot of life — unselfish service to his country, family and community — into a century of living.
Born and reared on an Idaho farm, the 100-year-old Barnes grew up to serve in the National Guard, the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force Reserve. For his service, he's been named the Veteran of the Year and was honored Friday evening during a banquet at the Linn County Fair & Expo Center, along with this year’s Distinguished Veterans.
Barnes is also the grand marshal of today’s Albany Veteran’s Day Parade, “A Century of Valor – WWI to Present Day,” which begins at 11 a.m. More than 200 floats and 400 motorcycles are expected, rain or shine.
“More than 40,000 cheering spectators come together each year, rain or shine to simply offer their appreciation to the men and women who have served our country,” said Patty Louisiana of the Veterans Commemoration Association. “This is a profound tradition begun so long ago, to bring our veterans together and honor them in the largest way possible with standing ovations as they pass by.”
Barnes grew up on a small farm near Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, where he helped his father milk cows by hand and work fields with horses.
He joined the Idaho National Guard when he was 17 years old, “because it was the only way I could earn money. The Depression was on and there just weren’t any jobs. It was hard to just pay property taxes."
Barnes' family was fortunate that in addition to their 80 acres, his grandfather had a nearby farm with several acres of fir and white pine trees.
“We bought a small truck and we logged with our horses,” he said. “We developed a wood yard. I weighed about 115 pounds and could lift a 100-pound sack of feed over my head back then.”
Barnes said he hauled three cords of wood at a time and the price was $5 per cord, cut and delivered.
Barnes attributes his long life and good health to hard work. By the time he was 20, he was working in lead and zinc mines in the far northeast corner of Washington state, but he developed bronchitis working underground and took a job as a laborer in Alaska. He worked for the Naval ship yards for three years on Kodiak, Island, before returning home when his father fell ill.
In November 1942, Barnes — who was nicknamed Waife, because when he was born, a midwife saw his shock of hair sticking up and said he resembled a waif — drove to Spokane, Washington, and enlisted in the Army Air Corps.
“They sent me to Fort Riley for basics and then to Aberdeen, Maryland, to learn how to handle ammunition,” he said. “I had a lot of experience with explosives from the mines.”
Six months later, he was transferred to Santa Anita, California, along with two other men, to train an ammunition company.
“Those guys didn’t have any training,” Barnes said. “Our job was to square them up. Then, they shipped us to Orange, New York, where we got them into shape. We did 10-mile hikes with 60-pound packs. It was 90 degrees and 90 percentage humidity. It was miserable.”
Thirty days later, his unit boarded the Queen Elizabeth along with 15,000 other soldiers and headed to Scotland and then Marlborough, England.
“We received and dispersed ammo,” Barnes said. “When we arrived, there was a lot of ammunition left over from World War I. Some of it was in bad shape. The nitro was leaking out of the caps.”
His unit cleaned up what ammo it could and then destroyed the rest.
Many of the soldiers who handled the ammunition were African-Americans, although later, German POWs were assigned to the job.
“They were all officers. The lowest rank was a lieutenant and most had been conscripted by the German government into the war,” Barnes said. “We became well-acquainted and got along fine. They got three meals a day and were treated well. They didn’t want to be on the front lines any more than anyone else.”
Barnes said the work could be dangerous, but only two men were injured during his three years at the depot. Both were Americans.
“We never lost a man,” he said.
Barnes was discharged in December 1945 and returned to the family farm.
“I built border fence and cross-fence on the 80 acres,” he said. “We also bought 1,500 chickens and had a good thing going until all of the neighboring farmers bought chickens too.”
It was during a visit to his sister in Lewiston, Idaho, that Barnes met the love of his life, a young registered nurse name Mary Denice Howard.
“She had beautiful red hair and was the prettiest girl I had ever seen,” he said.
They married on June 7, 1947. His father died a month later.
The couple moved to Lewiston and lived in a tent in his sister and brother-in-law’s backyard before moving to Kennewick, Washington, where he worked for the Hanford project. They lived in the Tri-Cities for about seven years, until Mary Denice developed asthma. Another sister was going to college in Corvallis and invited them to the mid-valley.
“We looked all over and Oregon was booming at the time,” Barnes said. “We really liked Lebanon. I turned down jobs in every other town and got a job at Champion here in town.”
He made particleboard for 27 years.
“I think Lebanon is the nicest place ever. It has been a lovely place to live,” Barnes said. “We bought this house in July 1956.”
Barnes never got too far away from military service. After more than two decades in the Air Force Reserve program, he retired at 60 as a senior master sergeant.
“We drilled in Portland, but two times per year, we would be assigned to work projects around the country,” Barnes said.
Barnes was active for years with the Santiam Fish & Game Association that operated Clear Lake Resort. He's also a member of the American Legion Post 51 in Lebanon and helped found what is now Linn-Co Federal Credit Union.
“I love fishing, but the truth is, I only got to go fishing at Clear Lake twice when we had work parties because there was always something to fix,” Barnes said. “When I was president, I was the first guy to get a call when one of the generators broke down or a water heater in a cabin wasn’t working.”
In July, friends and family gave him a 100th birthday party. Marilyn Nelson, who considers Barnes her adopted father, called him generous and friendly.
“He would help anybody if they needed help. He’s just very loving. Their whole family is,” she said.
Mary Denice died in November 2015.
Barnes has two sons, Don, who lives in Reno, Nevada, and Gene, who lives in Snoqualmie, Washington, plus six grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.
A daughter, Denice Ward, died in 2015.
Barnes said he doesn’t understand why he was chosen as the Veteran of the Year, but he's grateful.
“Why me?” he asked.