Rex t. Barber

Pearl Harbor survivor Harvey M. Waldron Jr. looks closely at a painting depicting American pilot Rex T. Barber’s shooting down of Japan’s Pearl Harbor architect Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s airplane in a display case at the Deschutes Historical Center.

100 years ago

March 17, 1921 — New Community Center Is Plan at White Rock

A site has been selected and a board of directors elected to take charge of the building of a large community hall to serve the communities of Deschutes, Pleasant Valley and White Rock.

The new hall will be erected six miles south of Redmond on The Dalles-California highway where a two-acre site has been donated the new association by G.W. Beaver of Redmond.

This location was decided up on at an election held at the home of A.R. Teater in the White Rock community at which several sites available were voted upon. Twenty-four ballots were cast favoring the site on the highway. The site, aside from being on the highway is accessible to all the surrounding neighborhoods as it is the junction of four other roads. Subscription lists have been passed in Redmond and in some of the communities which are joining in the movement for the community center, and considerable money is already available. 

A meeting of a newly elected board of directors has been called to meet in Tumalo Friday night at which time, it is expected, an appropriate name for the community hall will be selected and more definite plans made for the erection of the building developed. 

75 years ago

March 21, 1946 — Truth Comes to Light on Rex Barber's Part in Famous Shooting of Yamamoto

[Editor's note: The following story, which is shortened here and reprinted in its entirety on redmondspokesman.com, includes a racial slur.]

Editor's note: Reprinted below is a news story concerning Major Rex Barber of Culver, which is of particular interest because it brings to light facts that were at one time withheld from publication in The Redmond Spokesman.

When Major Barber was at Culver last year visiting his parents, Mr. and Mrs. W.C. Barber, he gave the entire story of the famous Yamamoto raid to this paper, in response to the query as to how he happened to receive the coveted navy cross. Major Barber made the proviso that it be held up until censorship regulations permitted its clearance.

Meanwhile, as mentioned in the current article, a syndicated story appeared serially in papers throughout the country, telling of the raid, but giving full credit for shooting down Admiral Yamamoto's bomber to another man.

Rather than start a controversy, Barber requested that the whole thing be dropped. Besides his part in the Yamamoto raid, Major Barber, now stationed at March field in California, has a long record of jobs well done. He wears the navy cross, silver star and cluster, air medal, purple heart and South Pacific-Asiatic campaign ribbon with seven stars—also the pre-Pearl Harbor clasp. Barber, who joined the army air forces September 30, 1940, was shot down in China April 29, 1944, escaping from enemy territory June 8 and arriving in the States June 26 of that year. He had been serving then with the fourth air force under General Clare L. Chennault.

But all that is another story. Now comes this article, which was written January 9 for The Dallas, Texas, Morning News by Ray Osborne, giving a statement from Col. John W. Mitchell, who was Barber's commanding officer at the time of the raid. This tells the details as Barber related them for the Spokesman: 

San Antonio, Texas, Jan. 8 — Positive credit for shooting down Admiral Isoruko Yamamoto, chief of the combined Japanese fleets, in the Pacific on April 18, 1943, cannot be given Thomas G. Lanphier, then an army air forces officer, it was charged here Tuesday.

"No one on God's green earth knows whether Lamphier or Capt. Rex T. Barber shot down the bomber in which the Jap war lord, who claimed he would dictate peace terms in the White House, was riding that day," Col. John Mitchell told members of the Business and Professional Men's American Legion post at a luncheon here.

Col. Mitchell, commander of the squadron of which the two officers were members, led the well-planned attack which resulted in the death of Yamamoto.

The shooting down of Yamamoto was one of the best-kept secrets of the war and was not announced by the war department until after the termination of hostilities. Had the details of the well-planned feat been revealed, the Japanese would have known the Allies had cracked their secret code.

When the details were made public by the war department, Lanphier, who was later promoted to lieutenant colonel and now is back in civilian life, was given credit for killing the Jap war lord. 

A first-person story syndicated to newspapers throughout the country also credited Lanphier with Yamamoto's slaying.

Mitchell, who was flying his plane high over the scene of the attack that day as cover for the fighter planes which were to go into attack Yamamoto's bomber, charged that Barber was ignored in all reports of the accomplishment and that is is just as likely that he was the successful attacker of Yamamoto's bomber.

Lanphier and Barber each shot down a bomber that day when they went down to attack, Mitchell declared. Boht Jap ships crashed on Bougainville island and all occupants were burned beyond recognition, the colonel said.

"There is absolutely no way of knowing which plane Yamamoto was riding and I rather resent the credit given Capt. Lanphier and the ignoring of Capt. Barber," Mitchell asserted.

The feat of intercepting Yamamoto's bomber at a specified point at the time estimated by the air forces and the resultant death of the Jap war lord, comprised one of the most spectacular stories to come out of the war.

"We succeeded at a million-to-one odds," Col. Mitchell said. "The war department ordered us to attempted the rendezvous with Yamamoto's bomber after it was learned the Jap admiral was to be on an inspection tour.

Thanks to the breaking of the codes, the war department had all the information necessary. We knew in what kind of plane Yamamoto would ride, that there would be six Zero escort planes with him and that he was to arrive at the Kahili airport at a specified time. The only thing wrong was that there were two bombers instead of one.

"We left our base at Henderson field on Guadalcanal that morning after having figured the exact speed we would have to travel in order to reach Yamamoto's bomber just before it go to Kahili airfield on Bougainville.

"We took a circuitous route to so that the Japanese airplane spotters on the string of islands could not detect us and we flew 50 feet above the water for 420 miles.

"Then we climbed. It was within a couple of minutes of the time Yamamoto's bomber was due to appear.

"Within 60 seconds a flier in one of our 16 P-38's announced that enemy planes were at 11 o'clock.

"And there they were — six Zeros and two bombers.

"We had carefully formulated all the plans the night before at our base. Four planes immediately started for the targets, while we 12 remained high as 'top cover'.

"Those four planes were piloted by Lanphier, Barber, Lt. D.F. Holmes and Lt. Ray Hines.

"We sat there with our hearts in our mouths. This was it!

"At about 5000 feet Lanphier and barber each sent bursts of bullets through a Zero and two of those flimsy planes plummeted into the water.

"We sat tense in our high grandstand seats. Lanphier and Barber each dived for a bomber. There bullets dipped into the two large Japanese bombers, which, like Zeros, burn rather easily. Each caught fire and the flames spread. Both the bombers nosedived. Each crashed on land at the edge of Empress Augusta bay, and each was a mass of flames. We knew that Admiral Yamamoto had not lived to carry out his boast of dictating peace terms in the White House.

"Marines who later surveyed the wreckage of the two bombers said that the planes were completely demolished and burned.

"We returned to our base hilariously happy. We knew that we had won tremendous states at a million-to-one odds.

"But no one was allowed to mention the accomplishment of the men in my squadron — the 339th. I was extremely proud of my men.

"When details of the death of Yamamoto were finally announced, I felt that an injustice had been done to Capt. Barber. I would simply like to put the record straight."

Col. Mitchell, a native of Enid, Miss., is one of the youngest full colonels in the air forces. He served overseas three times, being in England shortly before the war, and then was a member of the first fighter squadron to go to the Pacific. he later returned to the States, but requested reassignment to the Pacific and was flying missions of Japan when the war ended.

 -----

All the details of the famous raid were recalled by Barber vividly when he described it here. He recounted how Col. Mitchell asked Halsey to allow them to try for the admiral as he came down to Ballale island, near Kahili airport on Bougainville; how the 16 P-38's took off from Guadalcanal and few over the sea. he praised Mitchell's perfect interception over the 520-mile course. The six Zeros were there, and he could see the others kicking up the dust as they took off.

"I shot the lead bomber and Tom caught the other," Rex said. 'Three Zeros came after me and two after Tom. I saw the Jap Betty bombers crash, one into the trees and the other beside it. The other 14 P-38's engaged the 30 Zeros."

At Kahili Rex spotted another bomber and shot it down, being so close that  when it exploded a piece flew up and went through the wing of his fighter plane, partially disabling the left engine. He had trouble getting home—380 miles over water--but he made it. Rex downed three enemy ships that memorable day.

In telling of the raid, Barber gave much credit for the execution and planning to Col. Mitchell, whom he characterized as "terrific."

50 years ago

March 17, 1971 — RHS to offer 'How to study'

An indepth study of study skills will be presented as a new ninth grade English program next fall at Redmond High School, according to principal Phillip Sword.

Teachers have always recognized the desirability of giving adequate emphasis to the development of study skills and critical thinking on the part of their pupils. The evidence is clear that good students, as well as poor, do not consistently practice good study habits. Furthermore, instructors hear students mention study difficulties more frequently than other types of vexing problems. Therefore, all students should be taught study skills directly; that study skills should no more be left to chance acquisition than the motor skills of a game such as tennis.

Skills to be taught in this new program are: 1) communicative skills which include listening, speaking, discussing, notetaking, preparing for and taking examinations, thinking, listening and learning to use textbooks; 2) research skills which include dictionary and library usage; 3) writing skills which include punctuation, capitalization, grammar, writing structure; 4) vocabulary skills; 5) reading skills which include pleasure reading and power reading; and 6) literature.

"Modern English in Action," a new textbook, will be used by each freshman for the class. Looking forward to the school year of 1971-72, one  an visualize a challenging year for students, the teacher and the two teach aides, Sword said. 

25 years ago

March 20, 1996 — Terrebonne pilot still shares credit

World War II fighter pilot Rex Barber of Terrebonne has lost another round in his 50-year battle to claim sole credit for shooting down Japanese Admiral Isoruko Yamamoto in 1943.

Last week the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco upheld a federal magistrate's ruling against Barber, who is 78. The latest decision means that he continues to share the credit for downing Yamamoto's plane with the late Tom Lanphier. Barber and Lanphier were fellow P-38 pilots who both claimed to have fired upon the admiral's plane over Bougainville Island in the Solomons in April 1943.

The attack was heralded as a major victory for allied forces, especially for the United States because Yamamoto, commander in chief of the Japanese Imperial Navy, planned the 1941 surprise raid on Pearl Harbor.

Although Barber himself has not actively campaigned for correcting official military records in his favor, the retired colonel's cause has been furthered by the Second Yamamoto Mission Association, an organization of some 3,000 ex-pilots and others who believe Barber alone struck down Yamamoto.

The record of which pilot was responsible for shooting down the plane officially credited both men in 1978 following an Air Force review of Japanese documents detailing how many and which aircraft were lost that day.

A series of reviews followed throughout the 1980s and early '90s, but the record went unchanged.

Following Lanphier's death in 1987, Barber was persuaded by supporters to pursue the case in court. U.S. Magistrate John Jelderks ruled against Barber's claim in 1993. On Thursday, the Appeals Court upheld that ruling 3-0.

Barber has not indicated whether, after 53 years of controversy, he will continue to challenge the official record of Yamamoto's fate.

 

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