John Y. Barbee was born September 13, 1920 in Colorado Springs, Colorado. Afterwards, he moved to Montgomery County in Illinois.
On October 30, 1941 enlisted in the U. S. Army Air Force (USAAF) as an aviation cadet serial number 16029807. Trained as a fighter pilot, he attended basic flight training at Randolph Filed in Texas and advanced training at Aloe Army Airfield at Victoria, Texas. He learned to fly the P-39 Airacobra and P-40 Warhawk.
On December 7, 1941 when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and Oahu, Barbee was still in flight training at Corsicana Field near Corsicana, Texas. He graduated as part of Class of 42-E and received his wings and was commissioned as 2nd Lieutenant on May 2, 1942. Assigned to the 14th Pursuit Group, 45th Pursuit Squadron flying the P-40C Warhawk from Molokai Airfield on Molokai (Molokaʻi) in Hawaii. His squadron included future aces Gabby Gabreski (credited with 34.5 victories) and Samuel Brown (credited with 15.5 victories).
After being diagnosed with a stomach condition by the squadron doctor, he was instructed to become a multi-engine pilot and in Hawaii learned to fly the B-18 Bolo and later the B-17D Flying Fortress. Afterwards, sent overseas to Townsville in far north Queensland in Australia.
During late 1942, assigned to the 43rd Bombardment Group, 64th Bombardment Squadron as a replacement for personnel lost in combat or wounded. At the time, the unit was operating from Mareeba Airfield in Queensland and soon afterwards to 7 Mile Drome near Port Moresby in New Guinea.
Life in the squadron was informal, everyone knew each other. One of his tent mates was 1st
Lt. Howard G. Eberly who survived the ditching of B-17F "Hell From Heaven Men" 41-24424 on March 16, 1943 and returned to duty with the squadron. Later, he went Missing In Action (MIA) piloting B-17F "Listen Here Tojo!" 41-24552 on September 15, 1943.
Barbee began flying few combat missions with the squadron flying reconnaissance or shadowing, not bombing missions. He only few a few missions. On January 5, 1943 he remembers that General Kenneth N. Walker went Missing In Action (MIA) aboard B-17F "San Antonio Rose" 41-24458 on a mission against a Japanese convoy departing Rabaul and the unsuccessful search missions to find him.
Convoy Mission January 6-7, 1943
On January 6, 1943 took off from 7 Mile Drome near Port Moresby at 5:00pm as co-pilot aboard B-17F 41-24383 with pilot 2nd Lt Guyton M. Christopher on a mission to shadow the same Japanese convoy bound for Lae. The bomber had two bomb bay fuel tanks for extended range plus thirty flares to shadow the convoy and drop flares to assist with a possible night attack against the convoy.
Flying alone, at 10,000', this B-17 located the convoy before dark, spotting the ships and escorting fighters, but they never flew up to challenge them. Near the end of their patrol, they attempted contact the squadron to learn if another bomber would replace them, but had radio problems. This bomber continued to shadow the convoy until January 7, 1943 at 2:30am. Turning back for base, the bomber encountered bad weather over the Owen Stanley Mountains and was forced to make repeated attempts to cross the mountains and climbed to 29,000' and was unable to locate Port Moresby.
Out of fuel 3:35am, the crew ditched into the Gulf of Papua roughly 30 miles off the southern coast of New Guinea.
Fates of the Crew
During the ditching, six of the crew went missing: Christopher, Ramaker, Levin, Bayles, Patrizi and Wrenn. When this B-17 failed to return, the crew were reported as Missing In Action (MIA). The three surviving crew: Barbee, Matisoff and Schwimmer were badly injured but managed to deploy a life raft that Levin had release before he went missing.
When the bomber ditched, Barbee sustained injuries to his hands, arm and a head wound when he hit the instrument panel and was knocked unconscious. As water began filling the cockpit, he awoke and exited the bomber and found the other two survivors who were more severely wounded. Matisoff had a broken pelvis and Schwimmer had a broken back and was placed on their one life raft.
The survivors were far out to sea and could not see land. Spotted by an Australian aircraft that circled and rocked their wings, the three survivors were rescued thirteen hours after the crash, by a crash boat and transported them back to Port Moresby. Afterwards, hospitalized for ten days.
The crash was the end of Barbee's flying career. Afterwards, assigned to the Directorate of Air Transport (DAT)
in Australia in a non-flying position to route C-47 Dakotas used as passenger transports.
For his World War II service, Barbee earned the Silver Star and Purple Heart for the wounds he sustained on January 7, 1943. He married Marion Bixby.
Barbee owns a wallnut farm and lives in retirement in Winters, California.
NARA World War II Army Enlistment Records - John Y. Barbee
WintersExpress - John Barbee July 12, 2018
John Y. Barbee telephone interview by Justin Taylan September 4, 2018
John Y. Barbee video interview by Dan Williams September 7, 2018
Facebook Video Interview with John Barbee by Dan Williams September 12, 2018
Thanks to John Y. Barbee and Dan Williams for additional information
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