Humble disabled veteran shares helpful message
Barry Baron has never been shy about talking to school groups about his service in Vietnam.
Baron, now 69, was in the Mekong Delta, Feb. 26, 1969, when a mine detonated underneath him, costing him his legs. But after rehabilitation, he has led, and still leads, a full life.
He would tell the students that people in wheelchairs are just like everyone else.
“We are all the same on the inside,” he said.
Baron, among many other accomplishments, spent 18½ years as the Adjutant at the Illinois Veterans Home at Manteno. His job was to help other veterans gain administration, filling out the paperwork, “getting all their ducks in a row.”
“It was the best job in the world,” Baron said. “It was so rewarding. Once they were admitted, we became friends.”
Baron still goes to the veterans home, volunteering. He deals blackjack and helps with the fishing at the pond.
“They catch a 3-inch fish, and it’s like a marlin in their heart.”
For his service and for his work with veterans, Baron was named as a member of the Illinois Bicentennial Honor 200 — 200 veterans honored as part of the state’s bicentennial. The group was honored at a ceremony at the United Center in Chicago Monday. The veterans were selected by the Illinois Bicentennial and the Illinois Department of Veterans Affairs.
Baron, a Bourbonnais resident, says he was humbled to be named.
“There are so many great veterans in our area who could have — and should have — been picked.”
The honor was unexpected but appreciated, and Baron attended the celebration with Janine, his wife of 48 years. They raised three daughters, Cheri, Lesley and Brooke, and have five grandchildren and one great-grandchild.
Baron had volunteered for the Army after graduation from Bradley-Bourbonnais Community High School. After rehabilitation, he went on to graduate from Kankakee Community College and the University of Illinois. He got two athletic letters, one for wheelchair football and one for wheelchair basketball.
He was active in government. An accountant, he served for four years as treasurer for the village of Bourbonnais. He also served for 12 years on the village board and for a term on the Kankakee County Board.
In 2016, he was given the Outstanding Alumni Achievement award from BBCHS.
Throughout the years, Baron has spoken of his experiences with students at BBCHS, in other schools and as part of the Kankakee Area YMCA Living and Learning program.
Baron has attended reunions of his Vietnam unit. He received a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart. He attended the 1984 dedication of the national Vietnam Memorial and the 1987 local dedication of Goselin Park in Bourbonnais, named for Robert Goselin, who died in Vietnam.
Now retired, Baron spends part of the year in Fort Myers, Fla. He plays cribbage with his wife and builds plastic models.
Never one to stop learning, he has taken up golf. There is a specially-built cart with a swivel seat that allows him to motor up to the ball, pivot out and hit it. He’s played twice, he says, but is hooked.