Tom Barless

As featured in the Whitman County Gazette

Local veteran Tom Barless, 85, of Colfax, lived in Duluth Minnesota when he was drafted into the Army in 1960. 

“I served in the Army in Germany,” Barless said, “I was in the mortar platoon as a communications man.” During his time in the service Barless explained that he would run string wires from one place to the other when they were in the field, and climb poles to tie the wire up sometimes even in the middle of the night.

Barless said that when the mortars were firing, the observers would fall back and talk to them to tell them to make their corrections where they were shooting, and how far off they were.

In the service, Barless had just missed Vietnam, “had it been six months later I would of been in Vietnam,” he said, noting that at the time soldiers didn’t receive a warm welcome back from the Vietnam war, “Now people will me on the street if I’m wearing my hat, and say thank you for your service time, that always feels good.”

In the United States, Barless was stationed at three military bases Fort Hood in Texas, Fort Ord California, and Fort Dix in New York. Barless recalled that at Fort Ord they had to wear their winter clothes due to the cold, but when refueling in Oklahoma the men were overheated.

Barless spent 18 months in Schweinfut, Germany, noting that in a conversation with someone he recently found out that the post he was stationed at is completely gone now, “they tore it completely down,” he said.

For Barless, his military time gave him interesting experiences, but nothing serious he said. He recalled a story in which his commander said they couldn’t get beer, “We went to a place, and we told the fraulein what we wanted,” he said, “we had a tank with us we backed up there far enough, and elevated a gun so we could reach the window,” he explained that the fraulein went up, took bottles of beer, and slipped them down through the canon and the gutter caught them. “We packed them away, got back to camp, and we had beer that night. The guy couldn’t figure out how we got that beer,” he added that, as a GI, they figured out any kind of way to get the job done.

Barless learned a lot about the culture of Germany, “It’s different there, in the little towns people would live upstairs, and in the lower level of their houses they kept their barns,” he noted that it wasn’t always the nicest smelling.

Though Barless was drafted, and at the time didn’t want to be in the Army he looks back at it as a good time in his life, “when I look back I think it was good experience, and  other people should do it. Not necessarily combat, but the experience and learning how to follow orders.”

After the military, Barless married his wife and moved to Bonners Ferry, Idaho, before being offered a job at Arrow Machinary, and moving here to Colfax. He noted that his wife missed the trees, but grew to love Colfax. “She passed away a year ago she really liked it here. She found Autumn wasn’t so bad, and we bought a place were there were trees all around us, so she enjoyed herself up there until the end,” he said. 

Barless  worked for Arrow Machinary as a mechanic, then went up to the hospital as an engineer for two years, and then worked at a power plant at WSU.

“I met a lot of good guys in the military, in fact I still see some of them once in a while,” Barless said, “I can’t say I had any bad experiences.”


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