Yell Leader & War Hero Bob Bearden: A UT Legend at 90
In 1949, Bob Bearden was elected head yell leader by his fellow UT students. For the next four years, Bearden, BBA ’55, Life Member, jumped for joy at dozens of football games and pep rallies. He set off fireworks, belted out school songs until he was hoarse, and radiated Longhorn spirit wherever he went.
Not long before, Bearden had parachuted onto the beach at D-Day, then survived seven harrowing months as a prisoner of war in France and Germany. Far from breaking him, the war only strengthened Bearden’s love of life.
“He’s the most optimistic person I’ve ever met,” says his wife, Debbie. “If we get a flat tire, and I’m going ballistic, he just says, ‘At least we’re not getting shot at.'”
Two years ago, Bearden was finally awarded a Bronze Star and a Purple Heart for his heroism. And today marks his 90th birthday. He took a break from celebrating to share stories with The Alcalde.
I came on the G.I. Bill. I got out of the POW camp in January of 1945 and started at UT in August of that same year. It was a big change, especially since I never finished high school—I left at 17 when the National Guard called me up.
Why did you become a yell leader?
I’ve always been a “rah-rah” kind of person, and it was a good way to make friends. The cheerleader thing almost became a profession. Anybody who’d pay me to represent their brand on campus, I said yes. I used to represent James K. Wilson’s Men’s Store, wearing their clothes on campus and talking them up.
You’ve been to a lot of football games. Which was the most memorable?
One year, the UCLA cheerleaders came up with a really clever cheer that everybody was copying. I wanted to outdo that, so I bought this triple firework—a sky bomb that would sail 100 feet in the air and then blow up three times. The cheer was that we would all shout “Tex! ’Horns! Fight!” with each explosion.
Well, I lit that firework in the middle of the field during halftime, and I threw it way up in the air. But it didn’t explode. It came down, down, and then exploded right over the Longhorn Band. Everyone dove for cover. On Monday, I got called into the president’s office and they told me the next time I had a crazy idea, please run it by them first. But boy, did I get bang for my buck.
Texas football season kicks off next week. Do you have any advice for those heading to the game?
Don’t worry too much about who wins. Just get out there and have a really, really good time. Those memories will stay with you for life if you do it right. Just go and really enjoy it. And enjoy everything else in life, too.
Bob Bearden’s 1945 UT Athletics season ticket; Bearden in 1949; Bearden in 2010 (photo by Dennis Darling).