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First Name: Rex

Last Name: Barber

Birthplace: Culver, OR, USA

Gender: Male

Branch: Air Force (1947 - present)

Home of Record: Culver, OR
Middle Name: T.

Date of Birth: 06 May 1917

Date of Death: 26 July 2001

Rank: Colonel

Years Served: 1941-1961
Rex T. Barber

•  World War II (1941 - 1945)


Rex T. Barber
Colonel, U.S. Air Force

Rex T. Barber was born on 6 May 1917 in Culver, OR. As a youth, he was fascinated by the stories told by his uncle, Edgar King, who was a World War I pilot. Rex attended Linfield College and then Oregon State, majoring in Agricultural Engineering. Before he received his degree, he decided to enlist in the Army Air Corps in September 1940.

Barber was commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Air Forces and awarded his pilot wings on 31 October 1941. His first duty assignment was with the 70th Fighter Squadron at Hamilton Field, CA. After the 7 December 1941 attack on Pearl Harbor, the Squadron was moved to Guadalcanal, Solomon Islands, in December 1942. Flying a Bell P-39, he scored his first victory by downing a Japanese bomber on 28 December. Upon transfer to the 339th Squadron, he began the twin-engine Lockheed P-38 Lightnings and claimed two Zero fighters on 7 April.

In April 1943, Lieutenant Barber figured prominently in the Yamamoto interception, also known as Operation Vengeance. Intelligence sources had learned that Isoroku Yamamoto, Admiral of the entire Japanese fleet and the mastermind behind the surprise attack on Pearl Harbor, would be flying in a "Betty" bomber on an inspection tour of Japanese bases in the northern Solomon Islands. A coded message was intercepted, telling in detail the planned route and scheduled arrival on the island of Bougainville.

Major John W. Mitchell then planned the mission and chose four pilots, including Capt. Tom Lanphier and Barber, to accompany him. The group had to execute the top-secret mission without any hint that the Japanese code had been broken. On 18 April 1943, Barber shot down the bomber carrying Yamamoto and killed him. Originally Lanphier and Barber each were given half-credit for the kill but, in 2003, Barber was officially credited 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. Barber also shared the kill of a second Betty destroyed on the same mission.

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 29 April. He was rescued by Chinese civilians, who treated his injuries and escorted him to safety five weeks later.

Barber flew 110 combat missions from Guadalcanal and flew another 28 in China. He was credited with five confirmed kills and three probables, plus the sinking of one destroyer. For the destroyer, he was awarded the Navy Cross by Admiral Bull Halsey.

At the end of the war, Barber attained the rank of Major and commanded one of America's first jet squadrons. After the war, he was a test pilot for the Lockheed P-80 Shooting Star, and the country's first operational jet fighter.

After more than 20 years of service, he retired from active Air Force duty as a Colonel in 1961.

Medals and Awards

Navy Cross
Silver Star Medal (2 Awards)
Purple Heart
Air Medal

In Retirement

After retiring, Barber returned to Culver 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. He was actively involved in service organizations until his death at Terrebonne, OR. His son, Rex Jr., is quoted as saying that his "afterburner just flamed out on him."


On 18 April 2003, the 60th anniversary of the Yamamoto shootdown, Oregon 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 and the span joins Jefferson and Deschutes Counties where he lived before, and after, his military career. The new bridge, plaque and kiosk honoring Barber were dedicated on 9 August 2003 at Peter Skene Ogden State Scenic Viewpoint.

Death and Burial

Colonel Rex T. Barber died on 26 July 2001 in Terrebonne, OR. He is buried at Redmond Memorial Cemetery in Redmond, OR.

Honoree ID: 2098   Created by: MHOH




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