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Local veteran turns 100, talks about his life

Barden Finch’s experiences in the U.S. Army during World War II took up what has turned out to be a relatively short span of his life.

But those experiences turned out to be life-changing, he said last week when asked about his life and military service.

Finch, a resident of Rogue Valley Manor, turned 100 Sunday.

Barden Finch

He is one of the more than 100 residents of the senior living community who are military veterans and was among those who attended last week’s Veterans Day ceremony there.

Finch’s mother died before he turned 5. He only knows that she died of some sort of an infection. He and his brother, Richard, were sent to live with their grandparents.

His father was a traveling salesman and was “trying to get his life together” at the time, Finch said.

But when his father remarried, he took a job that kept him off the road.

Many people complain that a step-parent was indifferent or even troublesome. His stepmother’s presence improved their lives and for that he remains grateful, he noted.

Both his mother, who sang opera, and stepmother, a pianist, were musically inclined. He began playing the cornet in elementary school and said he preferred it over the piano.

He didn’t like the piano lessons he was given as a child. His stepmother embraced his musical preference and found an excellent music teacher who allowed him to find joy playing the shiny brass horn.

“I was quite serious about the cornet,” Finch remembered. “I was thinking about a music career.”

In 1939, he was a freshman studying music at Fresno State Normal School (now California State University, Fresno) with the goal of becoming a professional cornet player.

His music teacher at Fresno State was also the band master for the area unit of the National Guard. Student musicians in the college band routinely ended up joining the National Guard to play there, too. So did Finch.

By March of 1940, he was called up for active military duty. During this period he learned how to fly with civilian training and played in the band.

After the Dec. 7, 1941 attack by the Japanese on the naval base at Pearl Harbor, Finch said he knew the United States was going to be involved in World War II “for the long-term.”

Before the attack, he had applied to the Army Air Corps and ultimately ended up in that organization and served as a flight trainer. Later, he was sent to Karachi, India (now in Pakistan).

The war in Europe was over not long afterward and “the Japanese were pretty much on the run by then,” he said.

Finch flew a small number of missions before atomic bombs were dropped on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.

When he returned to California after the war, the GI Bill allowed him to resume his college education. This time his study focus was different.

“I gave up on a musical career. I put my horn away and I haven’t picked it up since,” he said. “I just thought that was the end of it.”

He finished up some credits at Fresno State, then enrolled at Stanford University and studied economics.

He had enjoyed his last year of high school, which included typing and bookkeeping classes. He became a certified public accountant. It was the same type of work his father did when he had settled down.

“I wanted a day job, and a family,” he explained.

The idea was to have a happy life. And Finch did exactly that.

His wife, Caroline, died in 2016. She was 91. They were married for 66 years. Much of their life together was spent in Palo Alto, California. They moved to Medford in 2004.

“She was very spiritual,” Finch said.

He said Caroline enjoyed new age experiences but was highly compassionate toward others.

Finch also said their children, Zoe and Peter, and his stepson, Richard, have made him feel “very proud.”