Irvine’s Heroic Park
In the June issue of Irvine City News, in the story about ways to improve Irvine, item #22 suggested that we “study Irvine parks to see how senior-friendly they are,” citing studies that say parks need walking paths and other accessible amenities to help keep older residents healthy.
At Colonel Bill Barber Marine Corps Memorial Park at least, no further study is needed, as all ages enjoy the outdoors at Irvine’s central park. An early Saturday sees cyclists using the park as a base to circle the city; young women playing softball on the park’s four fields draw crowds of family and fans to cheer them on; kids have already started their play day on the imaginative bridges, ladders and monkey bars in the creative central playground; and seniors can be seen strolling and power-walking around the miles of paths that circle the park, and connect to bike and walking paths that extend throughout the city.
The park is home to many civic events throughout the year, including Global Village Festival held in September; the Alan Dugard Softball Classic and other tournaments; and the Memorial Day Ceremony in the Formal Garden, to name some of the largest events.
While we all look forward to the evolution of the Orange County Great Park on the south side of the city, we can be happy in the knowledge that we already have a pretty darn good central park right next to the Irvine Civic Center.
Though we can’t expect everyone visiting the park to take time to read the plaque that only begins to explain why the place honors its namesake: “To commemorate Colonel Bill Barber, Irvine resident and Congressional Medal of Honor recipient for heroism under fire at Chosin Reservoir, North Korea, November 28th through December 2nd, 1950, and to the USMC whose presence in and around Irvine symbolized the security of our Nation. Thank You. The Residents of Irvine.”
Bill Barber died at age 82 in Irvine, where he and his family moved soon after he retired from the U.S. Marine Corps in 1970, after 30 years of service in three wars. His service to his country is legendary. He was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions in Korea, at what’s known as the Battle of the Chosin Reservoir.
U.S. and British forces were trapped and woefully outnumbered by 120,000 soldiers from the People’s Republic of China. Barber and 220 Marines under his command held an icy mountain pass for six days against a division of 1,400 soldiers. On the second day, Barber was shot in the leg and ordered to evacuate. He refused: “We will hold, sir,” he famously responded.
And the Marines did hold, repelling multiple attacks. At the end of the battle, 82 of his men were able to walk away, and 1,000 Chinese solders were dead. Had they failed, 8,000 Marines in his division would have been trapped.
Barber’s Medal of Honor cites his “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty.”
At Bill Barber’s park, flags wave in the breeze and the playground is packed with kids. Cyclists and seniors enjoy the warm weather, and the sound of softballs hitting mitts fills the air. The diversity of Irvine’s population is apparent at this park, all drawn by the freedom that Barber and his fellow Marines helped ensure.