War hero and campus legend Bob Bearden, 90, is one of the best cheerleaders the Forty Acres has ever seen. He’d been through hell—but he raised some of his own, too.
In 1949, Bob Bearden was elected head yell leader by his fellow UT students. For the next three 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. Few of his many fans knew the horror he had just come through.
Not long before, Bearden had parachuted onto the beach at D-Day, then survived seven harrowing months as a prisoner of war. 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, a Purple Heart, and 11 other medals for his World War II heroism. And this fall, he celebrated his 90th birthday with a big party. Unlike many older adults, he loves his birthdays. “Ninety is great!” he exclaims. “Age doesn’t hold me back. I even tried snowboarding at 75.”
Bearden attended UT on the G.I. Bill, enrolling just two months after his release from a prisoner-of-war camp. “It was a big change, especially since I never finished high school,” he says. “The National Guard called me up at 17.”
His naturally infectious enthusiasm led Bearden to sign up as a yell leader. He was so successful at it that he became something of a professional cheerleader—a clothing store hired him to promote their brand on campus. Decades before social media, there was Bob Bearden, virally spreading enthusiasm among the student body.
“Anybody who’d pay me to talk about how great they were, I’d do it,” he remembers. “I’ve always been a ’rah-rah’ person.”
Sometimes Bearden was a little too ‘rah-ah.’ For one football game, he devised an elaborate cheer involving a triple-exploding firework. With each explosion, the crowd was to shout “Tex! ’Horns! Fight!”
At halftime, Bearden marched to the middle of the field and launched the firework high in the air. To his horror, it didn’t explode. And then, as it fell back to earth, it did—right over the Longhorn Band. “Everyone dove for cover,” Bearden recalls. “It was lucky that nobody got their hair singed.”
The following Monday, he was called into the president’s office for a stern talking-to. “They told me the next time I had a crazy idea, would I please run it by them first,” he laughs. “But boy, did I get bang for my buck!”
A veteran of hundreds of UT sporting events and pep rallies, Bearden has some simple advice for Longhorn fans: “Don’t worry too much about who wins,” he says. “Just get out there and have a really, really good time.”
From top: Bearden in 2010; on the field in 1949.
Credits: From top:Dennis Darling; the 1949 Cactus yearbook.