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Woodrow Barnes helps preserve World War II aviation history

World War II German Luftwaffe reenactor.
World War II German Luftwaffe reenactor.
Jeffrey B. Roth

Woodrow Barnes, of York Springs, Pa. describes himself as an Army brat.

In 1946, Barnes family was transferred to Fort Sam Houston, Texas, where he met his “first hero, Johnathan Mayhew “Skinny” Wainwright IV, who served in World War I, in the Saint Mihiel and Meuse-Argonne Offensives, in France, as the Assistant Chief-of-Staff of the U.S. Army 82nd Infantry Division. From 1918-1920, Wainwright was promoted to the rank of Major, while serving with the 3rd Army occupation forces in Koblenz, Germany.

Following the outbreak of World War II, Wainwright was promoted as a temporary Major General to serve in the Philippines, in December 1940, reporting to General Douglas MacArthur. During the December 1941 Japanese invasion of the Philippines, where Allied forces had retreated onto the Bataan Peninsula and Corregidor by January 1942, where they were the sole defenders of the entrance to Manila Bay.

After MacArthur went to Australia in March 1942, to serve as the Allied Supreme Commander of the South West Pacific Area, Wainwright was promoted to the rank of temporary Lieutenant General, defending Bataan and Corregidor. On June 9, 1942, Lt. Gen. Wainwright was forced surrendered to to minimize casualties. Taken prisoner, he was held at various camps in China, until the camp was liberated by the Chinese Red Army in August 1945.

“The majority of guys who came back from Bataan, either went to Jacksonville or they went to Fort Sam,” Barnes, who served in the U.S. Navy, said. “Around the quadrangle, at the parade grounds at Fort Sam, there were all these houses where these guys live. At the time, I wasn't old enough to be a newspaper boy, so I helped the newspaper boy, when, one day, Wainwright caught me and said he wanted me to go to the liquor store and buy six cases of scotch. He gave me a silver dollar for the errand and it became a routine.”

In 1950, his father was transferred to an American army base in West Germany, where Barnes was enrolled in school on the base. During his time in Germany, Barnes, thanks to a friendly German librarian, had the opportunity to meet and form relationships with many World War II German Luftwaffe fighter pilot aces.

Barnes, pointing at a black and white photo hanging on the wall of his rural home, said he was in ninth grade when he first met German Gen. Karl-Heinrich Bodenschatz, who served in World War I as a non-commissioned adjutant officer to the Red Baron, Manfred von Richthofen. In World War II, Bodenschatz served as liaison officer between Reichsmarschall Hermann Goering and Adolf Hitler. Bodenschatz, who was never charged with war crimes, was seriously injured by a bomb blast at the Wolf's Lair headquarters, Rastenburg, East Prussia, during the 1944“20 July plot,” to assassinate Hitler, better known as Operation Valkyrie, Barnes said. In 1946, Bodenschatz was called as a witness at the Nuremberg Trials of major Nazi war criminals/ He died in 1979 at the age of 88.

It was through Bodenschatz that Barnes was introduced to other German air aces. Barnes did not know Adolf “Dolfo” Joseph Ferdinand Galland, was, when he first met the former German Luftwaffe general at Bodenshchatz' home. Galland flew 700 combat missions in Europe, and was credited with 104 aerial victories against the allies.

“Being in the Army, my father hated Germans,” Barnes said. “You weren't supposed to patronize this kind of stuff. Before the Berlin Wall came down, you didn't talk about that … and when I came back to the U.S., no one believed I had met these men.”

Barnes, who is an aviation preservationist and a retired military illustrator and graphic artist, has portrayed German officers at the World War II Weekend sponsored by the Mid-Atlantic Air Museum, Reading, which runs this year, June 6-8. Barnes, who also participated in Civil War reenactments, said he met and got to know many World War II aviators and other veterans at the World War II event.

In 2006, Barnes became friends with German air ace, Walter Schuck; and retired U.S. Air Force, Col. Joe Peterburs, who flew combat missions with the 55th Fighter Squadron of the 20th Fighter Group, flying a P-51 Mustang escorting Allied bombing missions over Germany. Peterburs flew a P-51D in 76 combat missions during the Korean War.

During the Vietnam War, Peterburs served during the surprise Jan. 31, 1968, New Year's Eve Tet Offensive launched by about 70,000 North Vietnamese and Viet Cong forces, against more than 100 cities and towns in South Vietnam. While sleeping that night, a Viet-Cong 122mm rocket hit Peterburs barracks, blowing up his room.

During Peterburs 49th mission, April 10, 1945, he shot down an Messerschmitt Me 262 turbo jet, (the first jet fighters used during World War II), piloted by Schuck. Later that day, Peterburs was shot down by enemy ground fire while strafing an airfield. Captured by the Germans, he escaped and fought with a Russian tank unit to the Battle of Wittenberg on the Elbe River, Barnes said.

“In 1985, at an Old Bold Pilots event in California, Schuck was introduced to Peterburs,” Barnes said. “Walter (Schuck) came over to Joe (Peterburs) and said 'you're the man who saved my life.'”

Barnes explained that the day after Schuck was shot down, 600 Allied bombers and fighters flew into Germany and in all likelihood Schuck would have been shot down and died. Peterburs and Schuck became close friends and co-authored a book about their war experiences. Barnes was responsible for bringing both men to the air show at Reading.

In March 1958, Barnes enlisted in the U.S. Navy, following graduation from high school. Barnes had wanted to become a pilot, but was never told by the recruiter, prior to his enlistment that pilots were required to have a four-year college education. Barnes made it into air as an Air Control Warning, ACW, crew member with the Airborne Early Warning Squadron Two, at the Naval Air Station Patuxent River.

During the early years of the Cold War, WV-2 type aircraft, such as the Lockheed EC-121 Warning Star, were used for intelligence gathering. The aircraft were part of the U.S. early warning system.

“During the 1962 Cuban Missile Crisis, we provided intel gathering from the North Atlantic with other subsurface/surface/air tracking of trawlers carrying Russian Missiles into Cuba,” Barnes said. From January 25 through February 5, 1961, were involved in the Santa Maria Incident. We pursued her through the Caribbean to her surrender in Recife, Brazil.”

The average air mission lasted 20 hours, Barnes said. Flying the Dew Line Barriers, near the Arctic Circle, in northern Canada, it was not uncommon to encounter Russian military aircraft.

“About every four hours we ran into a Russian Bear, Tupolev Tu-95 Bear bombers),” Barnes said. “As you are on the DEW Line, before you were heading south toward home base, the Bear seemed to be stationary because you were both on the same course, same speed and you're at the same altitude and you're taking pictures of each other. We carried no weapons.”

When his unit was not flying the DEW Line, secondary duties included NASA's down range missile tracking and reentry/recovery of Mercury, Gemini and Apollo crew capsules. Those missions flew out of Bermuda, the Azores and the Canary Islands, Barnes said.

In 1964, Barnes qualified for pilot training at West Point, in New York. Unfortunately, just before Barnes would have been assigned to being transferred to fixed-wing flight school, he was told all of the openings had been filled. He was offered a chance to fly helicopters, but decided to leave the military.

“I got a civilian job at West Point, as an architect, because I did that on the side in high school … it came natural to me,” Barnes said.

From 1964 to 1973, Barnes worked as a general staff illustrator for the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, N.Y. In 1973, Barnes was hired as a staff illustrator at the U.S. Army War College, in Carlisle; where he was promoted to art director in 1982, a position he held until his retirement in 1988.

As an aviation preservationist, Barnes researches and illustrates military aviation equipment and machines. In the past, he has written articles and created illustrations for German military history aviation magazines.

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