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Born on 6 May 1917 in Culver, Oregon, Rex Theodore Barber
graduated from Oregon State University in 1940. He enlisted in the Army Air
Corps on 30 September 1940, serving as a private first class until he was
accepted for pilot training in March 1941.
Following graduation with Class 41-H at Mather Field,
California on 31 October 1941, Lieutenant Barber was assigned to the 70th
Fighter Squadron, 35th Fighter Group, and sent to the Fiji Isalnds, arriving
there on 12 January 1942. He scored one victory with the 70th, a twin-engined
Nell on 28 December 1942, before the pilots of the 70th were integrated into
the 339th Fighter Squadron, when they converted into P-38s. He was credited
with his next two victories, a pair of Zekes, downed near Cape Esperance, on
7 April 1943.
Barber became an ace on 18 April on one of the war's most
memorable fighter missions. Following a 400 mile low-level flight led by
Major John Mitchell, he and Captain Tom Lanphier intercepted and attacked
the Betty bomber carrying Japanese Admiral Isoruku Yamamoto, Commander of
the Japanese Combined Fleet. As Lanphier turned to attack a flight of Zekes
defending the bomber, Barber pressed the attack and shot down the Betty. He
continued on to finish off another Betty under attack by squadron-mate
Lieutenant Frank Holmes, and also downed a Zeke. Barber and Lanphier were
subsequently given equal credit for downing Yamamoto's bomber.
Barber later had a second combat tour, serving with the
449th Fighter Squadron in China. Returning to the States, he commanded the
29th Fighter Squadron, 412th Fighter Group, and later the 1st Fighter
Group's 27th Fighter Squadron, flying P-50s and P-80s out of March Field,
California. He retired as a colonel on 1 April 1961.
TALLY RECORD: 5 Confirmed, 2 Probables and 2 Damaged
DECORATIONS: Navy Cross, Silver Star with one Oak Leaf
Cluster, Purple Heart, Air Medal and the Air Force Commendation Medal
Colonel, USAF, Ret.
May 1917 – July 2001
70th Fighter Squadron
18th Fighter Group
The following was compiled from
material selected from a mission summery report dated April 1994, by mission
pilot Roger Ames, The Second Yamamoto Association, the Rex Barker family and
material contained in The 18 Fighter Wing Association archives
Rex T. Barber was born in Culver, Oregon, on May 6, 1917.
After graduating from high school he briefly attended Linfield College in
McMinnville, OR, then transferred to Oregon State College at Corvallis, OR,
where he majored in Agricultural Engineering. He’d always had an interest in
flying - even as a youth - and when the war erupted in Europe 1939, he could
see the war clouds gathering for the U.S., and although he had just a few
weeks remaining to receive his college degree, Barber enlisted in the Army Air
Corps in September 1940. He immediately applied for Pilot Training, and in
March 1941 was sent to the Rankin Aeronautical Academy, Tulare, CA, as an
Aviation Cadet where he first learned to fly in Stearman PT-17 biplanes. He
won his wings and was commissioned a 2nd Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Corps
at Mather Field, CA.
Lieutenant Barber’s first duty assignment was with the 70th
Fighter Squadron, then part of the 35th Fighter Group, at Hamilton Field, CA,
where he initially flew Curtis P-40s. Following the Japanese attack on Pearl
Harbor, December 7, 1941, the 70th Squadron was moved to the Fiji Islands,
arriving on January 27, 1942, to fly Bell P-39s, then to Guadalcanal where they
soon acquired twin-engined Lockheed P-38s.. When the 18th Fighter Group was
re-formed in March 1943, Lt. Barber was assigned to the 339th Fighter Squadron,
and the 70th was transferred into the 18th to join the 12th and 44th Fighter
Squadrons. The 70th remained with the 18th, flying combat missions out of
Henderson Field until October 1942, then commenced their northward
island-hopping actions against the Japanese forces during the remainder of World
The most significant event of Rex Barber’s career – perhaps
of his entire life, took place just a short time after he had joined the 339th
Squadron - in mid-April 1943. A coded Japanese message was intercepted, telling
in precise detail, the planned route and scheduled (0945 hrs) arrival for
Admiral Isoroku Yamamoto’s flight to the island of Ballale, just off the coast
of Bougainville on the morning of
18 April, 1943. Because the U.S. had previously broken the secret Japanese codes
and could translate their intentions, Major John Mitchell, Commanding Officer of
the 339th Fighter Squadron, was selected to plan and lead a flight to intercept
and to shoot down Japan’s foremost military leader. Due to the extreme distance
involved... more than 425 over-water miles each way, it was determined that only
the P-38 would have sufficient range to carry out such a mission, and even then,
they would require the large 310 gallon drop-tanks ... but the only tanks
available on Guadalcanal were the shorter-range 165 gal. models.
Click on Picture to enlarge
A great picture of Rex Barber, receiving the Navy Cross.
Roger Ames, 12th Fighter Squadron, one of the mission
pilots (and a long-time member of the 18th Fighter Wing Assoc.), recalled: “We
put in an emergency order for the larger tanks, which had to be flown in during
that night, and the crews worked throughout the night installing one each of the
310 and the 165 gallon tanks on every available P-38. We had only 18 flyable
P-38s between all of our squadrons, and all were scheduled for the mission, but
only 16 made it into the air.”
In order to intercept Yamamoto’s Betty bomber by 9:45 a.m.,
Major Mitchell determined that it would be necessary for the P-38’s to be
airborne, formed up and depart Guadalcanal by 7:15 a.m., just two hours and five
minutes before intercept time, then fly at wave top altitude, well away from any
islands, to avoid potential discovery by enemy radar. They took off on schedule
on April 18 – Palm Sunday, a week before Easter Sunday, 1943, and flew a
meticulous series of five varied headings, depending entirely upon the accuracy
of Mitchell’s clock, compass and airspeed for his Dead Reckoning (time and
distance) planning. Four pilots had been designated to be the “Killer Flight”,
to carry out the actual attack against Yamamoto’s bomber; they were
Capt. Tom Lanphier, Lt. Rex Barber, Lt. Joe Moore, and Lt. Jim McLanahan. (Lt. Besby
Holmes and Lt. Ray Hine replaced Moore and McLanahan when their drop tanks
failed to feed). All of the other twelve P-38s were to be “Cover Flights” to
protect the Killers from the scores of enemy Zeroes which were expected to
accompany their top Admiral.
Roger Ames reported further: “It was an uneventful flight,
but a hot one, flying at wave-top level, ten to fifty feet above the sea. Some
of the crews silently counted sharks, another counted driftwood. I don’t
remember doing anything but sweating – John Mitchell said he may have started to
doze off a couple of times, but the Man Upstairs would tap his shoulder to keep
him awake. As we finally turned in toward the coast of Bougainville and started
to gain altitude, 1st Lt. Doug Canning – ‘Old Eagle Eyes’ – broke radio silence
with a quiet ‘Bogeys! Eleven o’clock high’ announcing contact with the enemy. It
was 9:35 am. The Admiral was precisely on schedule, and so were we. It was
almost as if the affair had been prearranged with the mutual consent of friend
and foe. Two Betty bombers were at 4,000 feet with six Zeroes at about 1500 feet
above and just behind the bombers in a ‘V’ formation of 3 planes on each side of
“We all dropped our belly tanks and put our throttles to
the fire wall climbing for altitude. The Killer Section closed in and climbed
for the attack while the Cover Section stationed themselves at about 18,000 feet
to take care of the fighters expected to rise from Kahili.” (The Japanese had
about 75 fighters on Bougainville, but none were airborne to protect the
incoming flight. It was surmised that they were all lined up along the runways
waiting to be inspected by the Admiral.)
make such a claim. Finally Barber had enough. He asked
Lanphier: "How in the hell do you know you got Yamamoto?" Lanphier shot back,
"You're a damned liar. You're a damned liar."
Barber was shocked at this reaction, and said: "I haven't
made a statement. I just asked a question, but here he was calling me a liar
for asking a question."
Lanphier kept insisting that he had shot down Yamamoto, and
because there was no official report to counter his claim, everyone seemed to
believe him ... only Major Mitchell and Lt. Barber questioned his claim, but
neither wanted to argue with him.
Col. John Mitchel &
Lt. Rex Barber
An undated report to the Commanding General, USAFISPA was
prepared and signed by two Army Intelligence Officers, Capt. William Morrison
and Lt. Joseph E. McGuigan ... a copy of which Roger Ames had in his files.
Neither Mitchell nor Barber were consulted at any time during the preparation of
the report. This report and the follow up messages were thus accepted by the
Army and Navy Commanders as the official version of the epic mission. And
Lanphier constantly referred back to those initial reports whenever he was
A short time later, during an informal discussion on a golf
course, between Capt. Lanphier, Lt. Barber and General Strother, Barber said,
"I've been wondering how they ever got a Mission Report together to send to
Barber said Lanphier replied "Don't worry about it, Rex. I
went over to the Ops tent that evening and wrote the report. I also helped write
our citations for the Medal of Honor."
Barber was stunned. He'd never received a copy of that
vital mission report until the late 1950's when many of the classified wartime
documents were declassified. He said that if he had known about the report, he
said that he would have strenuously objected to its content, especially after
Lanphier told him he had helped to write the report.
Who shot down Admiral Yamamoto has been in dispute for
several decades. In 1997 the American Fighter Aces Association gave Barber 100
percent credit for the shoot down of 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
The Air Force, after much high level discussion, ultimately
made an arbitrary decision to split the victory over Yamamoto's Betty bomber
between Lanphier and Barber and, despite the numerous independent studies,
seminars and ongoing expert research to the contrary ... which has concluded
that only Rex Barber, alone, could have downed the Betty carrying Admiral
Yamamoto on 18 April, 1943, the hierarchy still refuse to correct their
obviously erroneous records, nor to award the nation's highest honor to both
John Mitchell and Rex Barber for their epic wartime performance.
A detailed, comprehensive summary of the Yamamoto Mission,
including comparison of conflicting arguments and copies of reports and
findings, can be found on the Second Yamamoto Mission Assoc.
In all, Rex Barber flew 110 combat missions from
Guadalcanal, then transferred in early 1944 to the 449th Fighter Squadron,
23rd Fighter Group in China, where he flew another 28 combat missions in
P-38s, shot down several more enemy aircraft - which were not logged, and was
himself injured when he was shot down, but evaded capture. He returned to the
'States in January 1945 and was assigned to the 412th Fighter Squadron, 29th
Fighter Group, at Oxnard, CA, where he flew and test flew the Lockheed P-80
Shooting Star, the United States' first operational jet fighter. When World
War-II ended, Rex Barber had survived 138 combat missions, was credited with
five confirmed kills and three 'probable's, including probably the most
notable aerial victory of the war - the downing of Admiral Isoroku
Yamamoto, Commander in Chief of the Imperial Japanese Navy
and mastermind behind their attack on Pearl Harbor. Barber had been awarded the
Navy Cross, two Silver Stars, a Purple Heart, numerous Air Medals and a wide
array of theater ribbons and campaign medals.
In 1946 then-Major Barber was awarded a Regular Air Force
Commission, and on October 3, 1947 he married Margaret, his partner-for-life, in
Panama City, Florida. He remained active in the Air Force, with a tour in
Tactical Air Command at Langley AFB, VA, from 1946 to 1950; Air Defense Command
at Colorado Springs, CO from 1950 to 1952, a stint as Air Attaché to Colombia
and Ecuador, while based in Bogotá, Columbia until 1956, when he transferred to
Myrtle Beach, SC, where he ultimately retired from active Air Force duty as a
Colonel in 1961.
Colonel Barber, his wife Margaret and their family returned
to Culver, Oregon, where he became a successful Insurance man, was Justice of
the Peace, and Mayor of Culver, but he was noted for never having missed a
Little League ballgame... and as a person who would repeatedly "...take in stray
Rex Barber was hospitalized for pneumonia in May, 2001, but
seemed recovered after returning home. He died quietly at home on July 26, 2001.
His son, Rex Barber Jr. pausing on the phone to hold back tears, said that his
dad had enjoyed a good 84 years, then his 'afterburner just flamed out on him' .
Rex T. Barber
Rex 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.
Lieutenant Barber’s 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.
The most significant event of Rex Barber’s
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 Yamamoto’s 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 Japan’s foremost military leader and architect of the
infamous December 7, 1941 Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.
Major John Mitchell, Commanding Officer of
Barber’s 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 Yamamoto’s bomber: they were
Capt. Tom Lanphier, Lt. Rex Barber, Lt. Besby Holmes, and Lt. Ray Hine. The
flight took off on schedule on April 18.
The 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.
In 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.
By 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
He 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.
Colonel 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 kids.
Rex 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."
On 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.
Based 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.
Rex T. Barber, Pilot Who Downed
Yamamoto, Dies at 84
Rex T. Barber, a World War II fighter pilot who was a central figure in the
storied 1943 mission that resulted in the death of Adm. Isoroku Yamamoto, the
architect of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor, died on Thursday at his home
in Terrebonne, Ore. He was 84.
The shooting down of the bomber carrying Yamamoto, the commander of the
Japanese fleet, was a triumph of military intelligence and flying skills. It
also generated a longstanding controversy. At issue was which pilot downed
American intelligence, having broken Japanese naval code, read a message
stating that Yamamoto would leave Rabaul, New Britain, on the morning of April
18, 1943, for an inspection of troops stationed off Bougainville in the
Sixteen Army Air Forces fighter planes were dispatched from Guadalcanal
on a flight of more than 400 miles to Bougainville with hopes of downing
Yamamoto's bomber as it prepared to land. Killing the admiral would not merely
avenge the surprise Pearl Harbor attack of Dec. 7, 1941, but would also
deprive Japan of its foremost naval strategist and a national hero.
The P-38 Lightning fighters flew for some two and a half hours, skimming
the waves to avoid coastal spotters and enemy radar. The pilots arrived over
Bougainville soon after 9:30 a.m. and, just as expected, spotted Japanese
planes aloft. But they were surprised to see not one, but two Mitsubishi
bombers, or Bettys. The bombers were accompanied by six Zero fighter planes.
Capt. Thomas G. Lanphier Jr. led three other pilots -- Mr. Barber, then
a lieutenant; Lt. Besby F. Holmes and Lt. Raymond K. Hine -- in pursuit of the
bombers, while the other 12 American fighters concentrated on the Zeros.
The lead bomber, carrying Yamamoto, was shot down and crashed into a
jungle, killing everyone aboard. The other bomber, carrying Yamamoto's chief
of staff, Vice Adm. Matome Ugaki, was sent into the sea, but Ugaki scrambled
out and made it to shore.
Mr. Barber's plane was riddled with more than 100 bullet holes, but the
lieutenant made it back to Guadalcanal. The only American pilot lost was
Lieutenant Hine, whose plane disappeared during the battle.
Recounting his role long afterward, Mr. Barber remembered how ''we saw
the Zeros coming down.''
''Tom took a 90-degree turn and went up after them,'' he said, referring
to Captain Lanphier. ''I banked slightly and lost sight of the Bettys. When I
came out of it, I was right behind the lead Betty.''
Mr. Barber continued, ''I started shooting across the tail into the
right engine. Pieces of the cowling flew up and hit me. The Betty slowed up so
much I almost hit it. After I had passed it, I looked behind me and saw some
black smoke. I thought it might be the Betty I shot.''
The Japanese announced Yamamoto's death in May 1943 and gave him a state
funeral. The American authorities did not tell of the raid until the war
ended, to avoid tipping off the Japanese that their code had been broken.
In September 1945, the War Department gave Mr. Lanphier, by then a
lieutenant colonel, sole credit for shooting down Yamamoto, based on his
account that he hit the lead bomber with a burst of fire that sheared off a
wing. He wrote of his exploit in first-person newspaper articles and became a
But in 1973, the Air Force decided that Mr. Barber had not been properly
credited in the downing of Yamamoto. It took away sole credit from Mr.
Lanphier and gave each man half credit, determining that both pilots had shot
up the admiral's plane. Neither fighter had a camera on the gunsight,
precluding certainty as to who did what.
That belated ruling received little publicity, and when Mr. Lanphier
died in 1987 he was remembered as the pilot who shot down Yamamoto. Mr.
Barber, who also gained half credit, together with Lieutenant Holmes, for
downing Ugaki's plane, eventually sought to gain sole credit for the shooting
down of Yamamoto. But the Air Force stood by its belated shared recognition,
and in 1996 a federal appeals court rejected Mr. Barber's request for
Rex Barber, a native of Culver, Ore., joined the Army Air Forces after
attending Oregon State University. He flew fighter missions on Guadalcanal and
in China, where he was shot down in 1944, then eluded Japanese troops. He had
five ''kills'' in World War II, making him an ace, then flew in the Korean War.
He received the Navy Cross for the Yamamoto mission and was also awarded two
Silver Stars. He retired from the Air Force in 1961 as a colonel.
He is survived by his wife, Margaret, two sons, two sisters and three
As for the long-running controversy, Julius Jacobson, another of the
pilots on the Yamamoto mission, remarked in 1997, ''There were 15 of us who
survived, and as far as who did the effective shooting, who cares?''
Donald B. Rice, then the secretary of the Air Force, said in 1993:
''Historians, fighter pilots and all of us who have studied the record of this
extraordinary mission will forever speculate as to the exact events of that day
in 1943. There is glory for the whole team.''
Listed below are all the members of this famous flight:
Click on Picture to enlarge
Yamamoto Mission Survivors – April
Roger Ames, Lawrence Graebner, Capt. Tom Lanphier, Delton Goerke, Julius
Jacobsen, Eldon Stratton, Albert Long, Everett Anglin. Bill Smith, Doug
Canning, Besby Holmes, Rex Barber, Maj. John Mitchell, Maj. Lou
Kittel, Gordon Whittaker, [*Ray Hine, MIA, not shown.]
Maj. John Mitchell
Capt. Thomas Lanphier
Lt. Rex Barber
Lt. Besby Holmes
Lt. Ray Hine
Lt. William Smith
Lt. Doug Canning
Capt. Louis Kittel
Lt. Gordon Whittiker
Lt. Roger Ames
Lt. Lawrence Graebner
Lt. Delton Goerke
Lt. Julius Jacobson
Lt. Eldon Stratton
Lt. Albert Long
Lt. Everett Anglin