AUBURN — World War II veteran Ben Barr is a member of what has become known as this country’s “Greatest Generation.”
A career salesman and amateur musician, Barr is humble and thankful for everything in his life.
“I have lived a charmed life and am lucky to be married to the most wonderful woman in the world, and am blessed with four fantastic sons, eight grandchildren and a great-grandchild,” he said.
Barr, who lives in Auburn, was born in Revere, Mass., in 1924. His father worked in the shoe industry there, moved the family to Auburn and started a wooden heel factory. Barr was 8 years old.
After high school, he joined the Army and was assigned to General Omar Bradley’s Europe-based 1st Army Group as a combat engineer. When General George Patton began his push toward Germany, Barr’s unit was on the front lines building bridges and clearing minefields.
“I don’t like to think about those times much. We saw things that I don’t like to talk about, but it was part of what we had to do.”
Barr was a radio operator probing the front lines with reconnaissance units, communicating with Patton on the status of bridges needed for tanks to cross rivers in the push into Germany. If any had been blown up, his unit would build portable bridges to support heavy armour, often under enemy fire.
“When I came back home, we arrived at Fort Miles Standish in Cape Cod. It was a quiet homecoming with just a few people from the Red Cross and a guy from the American Legion from Auburn, Maine. He came up to me and told me to look him up when I got back home. I did, and he gave me a job as an office worker at the Maine Shoe Company on Spring Street, which of course is long gone now.
“I never sat still,” Barr said, and found office work just wasn’t for him. “I became restless. I didn’t want to go back to school, so I saved some money and went back to Europe and met up with some friends from the Army who never came back to the states. We traveled around Europe and spent a lot of time in Paris. I guess I just had to get it out of my system.”
When he came back to the states, he went to work for his dad at the heel factory but soon found work in the dye factories was more interesting. He also found he had a knack for sales, and began a long career in sales. He owned his own vending business, the first to sell microwave ready items, and also sold screen printings, calendars and “just about anything that could be sold, I sold it.”
His love of music started when he was a child, playing the trombone. He gave up his music in the Army, because there was no place for it during the war.
Decades later, one of his sons living in Los Angeles was walking past a pawn shop and noticed a trombone in the window. He bought it and sent it back home.
“It was a little banged up, but I had it fixed up and began to play again,” Barr said.
Since then, he purchased a new trombone and has been a regular in the Auburn Community Band for the past 17 years.
“I think I have lived quite a charmed life but, in the end, I’m just a frustrated musician.”
And a family man. And a successful businessman. And part of the “Greatest Generation.”