Rex T. Barber
Official military photograph of Rex Barber
Born(1917-05-06)May 6, 1917
Culver, Oregon
DiedJuly 26, 2001(2001-07-26) (aged 84)
Terrebonne, Oregon
Place of burial
Redmond Memorial Cemetery
Redmond, Oregon
AllegianceUnited States of America
Service/branch
Years of service1941–1961
Rank
Colonel
Battles/warsWorld War II
Awards
  Navy Cross
  Silver Star with oak leaf cluster
  Purple Heart
  Air Medal

Colonel Rex T. Barber (May 6, 1917 – July 26, 2001) was a World War II fighter pilot from the United States. He is best known as a member of the top secret mission to intercept the aircraft carrying Japanese Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto in April 1943.[1][2]

Personal life

Born and raised in Culver, Oregon, Barber's parents were Charlotte F Barber and William C Barber.[3] He was a student at Linfield College and then Oregon State College in Corvallis; he majored in agricultural engineering from 1937 to 1940 before enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Corps in September 1940.[3]

Barber married Margaret I Trollope (February 11, 1918 – April 26, 2005[4]) at Tyndall Field on October 3, 1947.[5] They had two sons, Rex Barber Jr. and Richard Barber.[3]

Military service

Barber received his commission as a U.S. Army officer and his pilot's wings on October 31, 1941. He joined the 70th Pursuit Squadron, which arrived at Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, in December 1942. Flying a Bell P-39 Airacobra, he scored his first victory by downing a Japanese bomber on the 28th. Upon transfer to the 339th Squadron, he began flying P-38 Lightnings and claimed two Zero fighters on April 7.

On April 18, Lieutenant Barber figured prominently in the Yamamoto interception, also known as Operation Vengeance. Intelligence sources had learned that Yamamoto would be flying in a "Betty" bomber on an inspection tour of Japanese bases in the northern Solomon Islands. Historian Donald P. Bourgeois credits Barber with the sole kill of Yamamoto's aircraft.[2] In 1991, Barber and Captain Thomas George Lanphier, Jr. were officially credited with half a kill each in Yamamoto's bomber after the Air Force reviewed the incident. Barber also shared a second Betty destroyed on the same mission. In 2003, Barber was credited by the Governor and Legislature of Oregon with the sole kill after an inspection analyzed the crash site and determined the path of the bullet impacts, thereby validating Barber's account and invalidating Lanphier's claim.[6][relevant? ] However, despite numerous appeals, the US Air Force refused to reverse its 1991 ruling giving each pilot half credit for the kill.[7]

Lanphier also claimed to have shot down a Zero fighter during this mission, although Japanese records show that no Zeros were lost.

After his tour of duty ended in June 1943, then-Captain Barber requested a return to combat. Late that year, he joined the 449th Fighter Squadron in China, still flying P-38s. He claimed three further Japanese planes probably destroyed and damaged, but he was shot down on his 139th mission, bailing out near Kiukiang on April 29. He was rescued by Chinese civilians, who treated his injuries and escorted him to safety five weeks later. At the end of the war, Barber attained the rank of major and commanded one of America's first jet squadrons. He retired as a colonel in 1961.

Decorations

Navy Cross

Citation:

The President of the United States of America takes pleasure in presenting the Navy Cross to First Lieutenant (Air Corps) Rex Theodore Barber (ASN: 0-429902), United States Army Air Forces, for extraordinary heroism while serving as Pilot of a P-38 fighter airplane in the 339th Fighter Squadron, 37th Fighter Group, THIRTEENTH Air Force, U.S. Army Air Forces, attached to a Marine Fighter Command in action against enemy Japanese forces in the Solomon Islands on 18 April 1943. Participating in a dangerously long interception flight, First Lieutenant Barber contacted a formation of two enemy bombers escorted by six fighters in a complete surprise approach. Quickly engaging the enemy, he pressed his tactical advantage and struck fiercely, destroying one Japanese bomber at such close range that fragments from the explosion lodged in the wings of his plane, and shooting down the escorting enemy fighter plane which had been attempting to divert the attack. His brilliant airmanship and determined fighting spirit throughout a daring and vital mission were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Armed Services.[8]

Commendations

Barber was awarded the following awards over his military career, including the Veterans of Foreign Wars Gold Medal of Merit.[9]

Badge U.S. Army Air Forces Command Pilot Badge
1st row Navy Cross Silver Star
with 1 Oak leaf cluster
2nd row Purple Heart Air Medal American Campaign Medal
3rd row Asiatic–Pacific Campaign Medal
with 2 Campaign stars
World War II Victory Medal National Defense Service Medal
with 1 Service star
4th row Korean Service Medal Air Force Longevity Service Award
with 4 Oak leaf clusters
China War Memorial Medal
(1941-1945)
5th row Republic of Korea Presidential Unit Citation United Nations Korea Medal Korean War Service Medal

Return to civilian life

Upon his retirement from the military, Barber returned to Culver, Oregon, and resided there for the next forty years. He worked as an insurance agent and, at different times, served the city of Culver as mayor and judge.

He was a strong supporter of Little League Baseball, and often helped out local youth.[10][11] He was actively involved in service organizations until his death at his home in Terrebonne, Oregon. His son, Rex Jr., is quoted as saying that his "afterburner just flamed out on him."[citation needed]

60th anniversary of the Yamamoto shootdown

On April 18, 2003, Governor Ted Kulongoski proclaimed the day "Rex T. Barber Day." The previous week, the Oregon State Legislature had declared that the new bridge on U.S. Highway 97 over the Crooked River was to be named the Rex T. Barber Veterans Memorial Bridge in his honor. (This bridge replaced the Crooked River High Bridge.) The new bridge, plaque and kiosk honoring Barber were dedicated on August 9, 2003 at Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint.

References

  1. ^ Goldstein, Richard (August 1, 2001). "Rex T. Barber, pilot who downed Yamamoto, dies at 84". New York Times. Retrieved February 11, 2014.
  2. ^ a b Bourgeois, Donald P. (April 18, 2013). "Historian says Oregonian Rex Barber shot down Yamamoto in World War II". Oregonian. Portland, Oregon. Retrieved February 11, 2014.
  3. ^ a b c Matheny, Susan (August 7, 2001), "Flying ace Rex Barber dies", Madras Pioneer
  4. ^ U.S. Social Security Death Index. – U.S. Social Security Administration.
  5. ^ Bailey, Joseph W., County Judge; and MacLeod, Roy M., Chaplain (October 3, 1947), Marriage Certificate # 9488, Office of the Clerk of Circuit Court, Bay County, FloridaCS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  6. ^ "Oregon Secretary of State: Notable Oregonians: Rex T. Barber – WWII Fighter Pilot and Ace". sos.oregon.gov.
  7. ^ Sowell, John (November 10, 2014). "Did an Idahoan or an Oregon native shoot down Yamamoto?". Idaho Statesman.
  8. ^ "Rex Theodore Barber, Navy Cross". valor.militarytimes.com. Retrieved December 17, 2020.
  9. ^ "Barber, Rex, Theodore, Col". airforce.togetherweserved.com. Retrieved December 17, 2020.
  10. ^ "Oregon Secretary of State: Notable Oregonians: Rex T. Barber – WWII Fighter Pilot and Ace". sos.oregon.gov.
  11. ^ "Rex Barber Proclamation – Oregon Historical Markers on Waymarking.com". www.waymarking.com.

Media related to Rex T. Barber at Wikimedia Commons