T. Barber was born in Culver, Oregon, on May 6, 1917. He briefly
attended Linfield College then transferred to Oregon State College
where he majored in Agricultural Engineering. Barber enlisted in
the Army Air Corps in September, 1940 and applied for pilot training.
He won his pilot wings and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in
the U.S. Army Air Corps.
Barbers first duty assignment was with the 70th Fighter Squadron
at Hamilton Field, CA, where he initially flew Curtis P-40s and
Bell P-39s. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, December
7, 1941, the 70th Squadron moved to Guadalcanal where the Squadron
acquired twin-engine Lockheed P-38 Lightnings.
most significant event of Rex Barbers military career occurred
in mid-April 1943. A coded Japanese message was intercepted, telling
in precise detail the planned route and scheduled arrival for Admiral
Isoroku Yamamotos flight to the island of Bougainville on
the morning of April 18, 1943. Yamamoto served as Commander in Chief
of the Imperial Japanese Navy. He was Japans foremost military
leader and architect of the infamous December 7, 1941 Japanese attack
on Pearl Harbor.
John Mitchell, Commanding Officer of Barbers squadron, the
339th Fighter Squadron, was selected to plan and lead a flight to
intercept and to shoot down Yamamoto's plane. Four pilots had been
designated to carry out the actual attack against Yamamotos
bomber: they were Capt. Tom Lanphier, Lt. Rex Barber, Lt. Besby
Holmes, and Lt. Ray Hine. The flight took off on schedule on April
question of who shot down Admiral Yamamoto has been disputed for
several decades. The U.S. Air Force gave Lanphier and Barber each
half credit. In 1997 the American Fighter Aces Association gave
Barber 100 percent credit for shooting down the bomber carrying
Yamamoto. In 1998 the Confederate Air Force recognized that Barber
alone and unassisted brought down Yamamoto's aircraft and inducted
him into the American Combat Airman Hall of Fame.
all, Barber flew 110 combat missions from Guadalcanal. He transferred
to China in early 1944 and flew another 28 combat missions in P-38s.
During the course of the war, Barber shot down several more enemy
aircraft. He also suffered injuries, but managed to evade capture,
after his plane was shot down. Upon returning to the United States
in January 1945, Barber test flew the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star,
the country's first operational jet fighter.
the end of World War II, he was credited with five confirmed kills
conferring "ace" status, sinking one destroyer, and three
"probables," including what was likely the most notable
aerial victory of the war - the downing of Yamamoto's plane. Barber
was awarded the Navy Cross by Admiral Halsey, two Silver Stars,
a Purple Heart, numerous Air Medals and a wide array of theater
ribbons, campaign medals, and decorations from foreign governments.
married Margaret, his partner-for-life, in Panama City, Florida
in 1947. They had one child, Rex Jr. After more than 20 years of
distinguished military service, Barber retired from active Air Force
duty as a Colonel in 1961. He maintained an active interest in veteran
organizations over the next 40 years.
Barber and his family returned to his hometown of Culver, Oregon,
where he enjoyed a successful insurance career and served as justice
of the peace and mayor. He was noted for never having missed a Little
League ball game and as a person who would repeatedly take in stray
Barber died at home in Terrebonne, Oregon on July 26, 2001. His
son noted that his father had enjoyed a good 84 years, then his
"afterburner just flamed out on him."
April 18, 2003, the 60th anniversary of the Yamamoto shootdown,
Oregon Governor Kulongoski proclaimed that day as "Rex T. Barber
Day." The previous week saw the Oregon legislature rename the
new bridge over the Crooked River on U.S. Highway 97 the "Rex
T. Barber Veterans Memorial Bridge." The bridge joins Jefferson
and Deschutes counties where Rex Barber lived before and after his
distinguished military career.
on recent evidence, the governor and legislature also concluded
that Rex Barber deserved 100 percent credit for the Yamamoto shootdown.
The new bridge, plaque, and kiosk honoring Rex T. Barber and veterans
were dedicated on August 9, 2003 at the Peter Skene Ogden State
Park immediately adjacent to the old and new bridges. The same day
he was enrolled in the Legion of Honor.