PORTLAND, Ore. — Six veterans so far have lost their lives due to coronavirus at the Oregon Veterans' Home in Lebanon and among them was 95-year-old World War II veteran Robin Barrett.
"I’ve had a lot of fun in my time of life," he said in February 2019 during an interview with KGW News as part of our Those Who Serve series. "I met a lot of people - including five presidents of the United States!"
He was just 17 years old when Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, and his mom allowed him to join the Marines, where he learned how to jump out of airplanes.
"I got stories I could tell 'til hell freezes over," he had said with a laugh.
He barely survived the training. On the very first flight, instructors tested the Marines to see if they would really jump, catching them just before they left the plane.
"My turn came. I hooked up, came down, made a right turn, hit an air pocket, they missed me and I was gone. With no instructions on what to do or how to do it or a darn thing! What happens when the ground comes up to meet ya!" he recalled.
He was not supposed to leave the plane.
"These two big ugly guys were supposed to catch me. When I got down they said, 'How many jumps have you made?' I've never jumped in my life before and I don't think I jumped this time. I fell out!” Barrett recalled.
He of course survived and became a mortarman, carrying the heavy base plate used with mortars during the war.
One day in combat, it saved his life.
"It weighed 82 pounds of solid steel. At the end of the day, somebody very politely said to me, 'Oh Rob, what happened to your baseplate?' 'Nothing happened to my baseplate!' 'I suggest you flip it over and take a look at the bottom!' And you could see where a machine gun had walked right across that sucker ... whose head was right behind it? [Mine]," Barrett said.
More than 70 years ago, Barrett was part of the U.S. assault of Iwo Jima. It was a heavily fortified island the Japanese used to issue early warnings to the mainland when American bombers approached.
It proved a terrible fight, with 2,400 Marines killed.
"Yeah, everyone was scared. I didn't find any atheists anywhere -- it was all, 'Save me God, God save me, please!'"
Barrett went on to a successful life as a salesman and Little League baseball coach. He and his wife had four kids -- three boys and a girl, Dana.
Dana rushed to the Oregon Veterans’ Home from her house in Port Angeles, Washington this past week.
Her father had caught the coronavirus.
"The guy has just dodged the bullet so many times," Dana said. "That's why everybody was kind of ... we were hopeful that he's been through so much ... maybe he can get through this one too."
Soon after the coronavirus invaded the US, the veterans' home where Barrett lived and a nearby school stopped one of his favorite activities: visiting the grade school across the street.
During his interview with KGW in 2019, Barrett recalled how much he loved visiting the school.
Dana, who works as a social worker at a hospital, talked with him about his frustrations over the change.
"I'm was like, seriously dad, they're protecting you and the children. But that was really hard on him because he loved those kids. And the kids, teachers, and the principal loved him, and they're all so sad now," she said.
When Dana got to Lebanon last week to see her dad, she had to visit him through the window of his bedroom.
"I could pound [on the window] and he would kind of wave at me and give me a smile," Dana said.
But earlier this week, he took a turn for the worse. He passed away at the veterans' home on April 14.
"Even though it was horrible he got it and we lost him, he never had to leave [the home]," Dana said. "He still had people that were familiar to him, that cared about him and they did everything possible to try and save him."
She said they had a nightly ritual - they would chat every night between 6 p.m. and 7 p.m.
"I think after I get back to Port Angeles is when it’s really gonna hit me," she said.
The Oregon Department of Veteran Affairs allows family members to be with a dying loved one during their last moments, even now, with the proper protective gear.
Dana took the opportunity and held her father’s hand as he passed away.
Barrett certainly lived a full life, one that was still cut short.
"He was an amazing man," his daughter said. "No one can be replaced. But that man was really special, just a really special man."
KGW would like to honor more people and tell more stories about those who are dying from complications connected to the virus or the virus itself. If you are interested in sharing a loved one's story please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org