Kind, quiet, gentle, patient, always greeting people with a friendly hello and shy grin …
Preparing to interview Barney Ward, when he retired as Baytown Municipal Court judge in October 1968, I already had formed a general impression of the man who spent a decade as city judge and before that, more than four decades with Humble Oil & Refining Co. At the Baytown Refinery he headed the labor department.
I based my opinion about this well-liked individual on my assignment as a police reporter, observing the fair and respectful way Judge Ward treated everyone, and on rave reviews about his management skills at the refinery. After the interview, I held those thoughts but added interesting facts about his background. I had no previous knowledge about his exciting service in the U.S. Navy during the First World War, that “Red” was his nickname or that he was a former boxer. (Keep reading and you’ll understand why “former” had to precede boxer.)
Go back to 1918 to a lively party aboard the Battleship Texas, docked at Guantanamo, Cuba. One of the sailors happened to have a boxing reputation even bigger than Red Ward’s, and as the party got more lively, Mister Big Man in the Ring felt like showing off. When he challenged anyone there to a boxing match, someone yelled, “Throw Red in there!”
Red went in there, all right, and almost didn’t come out. Decades later, he still remembered. “He put my lights out. He busted my shoe strings. That ended my career as a pugilist.”
During the war, Ward crossed the Atlantic 30 times, serving as an engineer first-class aboard the USS Von Steuben.
I wondered about the German name for an American ship, and Ward explained. Once the flagship of Germany’s Crown Prince Wilhelm, the Von Steubben had been captured in the harbor at Hampton, Va., three days before war was declared. Renamed the USS Von Steuben, the German ship became an American troop ship.
Ward recalled the wreck the Von Steuben had near France, colliding with another American ship in a convoy. “We were going in a zig-zag course and one zagged when it was supposed to zig, I guess, and got the signals mixed up.”
Before repaired, the unsinkable Von Steuben carried on, without lights and with a hole on the side.
Ward told about a another incident when the Von Steubben was sailing near Halifax, Nova Scotia. Two Canadian ammunition ships had exploded in port, devastating the town of Halifax and surrounding area. Sailors from the Von Steuben soon were doing rescue work at Halifax in below-zero weather. Martial law had to be declared in the town. One school, with an enrollment of 250, counted only three survivors.
Years later the Reader’s Digest printed a story, titled “Hell in Halifax,”about the explosion. Reading the article renewed terrible memories for Ward, and he said he couldn’t sleep for two nights.
His career with Humble Oil & Refining Co. actually began before the war in 1916 in the town of Humble. He left in 1917 for service in the Navy but returned to the company 1919 when he went to Baytown to work at the refinery. On several occasions he was sent to other locations to help build new refineries.
After Ward retired from his last career as Baytown Municipal Court judge, Neel Richardson – a future Harris County Court-at-Law judge – took his place.
Wanda Orton is a retired managing editor of The Sun. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org, Attention: Wanda Orton.