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“The Originals”

By Mark Albertson: This series is dedicated to the Sky Soldier pilots; the devoted few from the formative years who laid the foundation for today’s Army Aviation.

Lieutenant Colonel James Robert Barkley U.S. Army, Retired

LTC James R. Barkley is a product of the first state to ratify the Constitution, Delaware. He hailed from Wilmington, born on November 23, 1925; and, later graduated from Pierre S. DuPont High School. He enlisted in the Army as a private in 1943.

In April 1944, following basic training at the Field Artillery Replacement Center (FARTC), Fort Bragg, NC, he was assigned to the HQ and HQ Battery, 922nd Field Artillery Battalion, 97th Infantry Division, Fort Leonard Wood, MO. Since mid-December 1944, men were needed desperately in the European Theater of Operations to repulse the German attack, Watch on the Rhine.1 Barkley and the 97th Division were thrown into the mix, participating in the battles of the Ruhr Pocket, Rhine Valley and Central Germany.

With the surrender of Nazi Germany, the 97th’s war was not over; for it was ordered to get ready for the invasion of Japan.2 The atomic bombs, though, ended the war; leaving the 97th as part of the occupation force in the Home Islands. Now S/SGT Barkley, and a crew chief in the 922nd FA Battalion Aviation Section, he participated in disarming Japanese troops. In April 1946, the 97th Division was deactivated.3

On to Flight School
Returning stateside as a staff sergeant and maintenance crew chief, Barkley reenlisted in the Active Army Reserve. And on December 8, 1948, Sergeant Barkley swapped his stripes for a 2nd lieutenant’s bar in the Field Artillery.

The following December, LT Barkley began Army pilot training, graduating as a liaison pilot in June 1950. He was assigned to the 46th Ordnance Light Aircraft Maintenance Company out of Fort Sill, OK as an aircraft maintenance officer. The following year, the 46th found itself in South Korea, based near Wonju, some five miles southwest of the main line of resistance (MLR). The 46th provided maintenance support to Army and Marine units along the MLR.

One day late in the summer, while flying a Cessna L-19, Mother Nature caused LT Barkley to seek shelter by landing on the carrier Bon Homme Richard (CV-31).4 The flattop had been conducting missions in support of ground troops ashore. After staying the night, LT Barkley jumped into the cockpit of his L-19, which was parked near the stern of the flattop. The deck officer dropped his paddle and Barkley gunned his engine. He was airborne in just a few feet and turned to starboard, before the bridge.
Throughout the island, officers and ratings – thinking the Army plane was in extremis – threw themselves down on the deck. LT Barkley merely waggled his wings in thanks and headed for the beach, leaving his hosts to pick themselves up from the deck.

The end of 1951 saw LT Barkley in Japan as maintenance chief of the 2066th Army Field Maintenance Facility. Two years’ duty in Japan gave way to a post in Washington, DC. LT Barkley was attached to the Department of the Army, Office of the Chief of Transportation (OCT), Army Aviation Engineering and Development Branch, as a Project Officer. In June 1954, Lieutenant Barkley became Captain Barkley and by the following June, CPT Barkley had been checked out in helicopters.

Advancing Technology
While with OCT, he was involved in the development of the McDonnell XV-1 and Bell Helicopter XV-3 convertiplanes and the Hiller XH-32 Ram Jet powered helicopter. CPT Barkley conducted demonstration/evaluation flights in the YH-32, to validate stability, control and operational effectiveness. He was also assigned as the Army Aviation representative to the American, British, Canadian (ABC) Cockpit Standardization Committee and contributed mightily to the tri-nation standardization of light aircraft instruments and instrument panels.

In June 1957, CPT Barkley was detailed to the Navy Bureau of Aeronautics as the Army Aviation Liaison Officer. He participated in the development of the Grumman twin turbo-prop reconnaissance aircraft AO-1 (later known as the OV-1 Mohawk), proposed for the Marine Corps and Army. In July 1959, he was assigned to the Army Transportation School at Fort Eustis, VA for attendance at the Transportation Corps Officers Advance Course.

After graduating, he returned to Korea in January 1960, assigned to Eighth Army HQ’s Army Aviation Division as a logistics staff officer. Six months later, he was the commanding officer of the 55th Transportation Army Aviation Maintenance Company, providing logistics support to combat ready Army Aviation units in South Korea. By January 1961, CPT Barkley was at Fort Rucker, AL as a project officer/test pilot for the U.S. Army Aviation Test Board. He conducted operational service flights on such aircraft as the UH-1 Huey and OV-1 Mohawk; and, he was promoted to major.

In 1962, MAJ Barkley was attached to the U.S. Army General Staff in Washington, assigned to the OV-1 Mohawk Project Manager’s Office. He was “Officer in Charge” and demonstration pilot of the Development Flight Evaluation Team for the Grumman OV-1 Mohawk aircraft to West Germany, France and Japan.
March 1964, MAJ Barkley was flight leader for the initial delivery of four Mohawks, from McGuire AFB in New Jersey to Gander, Newfoundland; to the Azores; Madrid, Spain and to Heidelberg, Germany. This mission paved the way for future flights to Europe and Vietnam.5

In September, MAJ Barkley became director of maintenance/deputy commander at the Army Aviation Maintenance Center (Depot) in Sandhofen, Germany; and in June 1966, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel.

Training and Another War
In June 1967, LTC Barkley was assigned to the U.S. Army Aviation Training Command, Hunter Army Airfield, Savannah, GA, and assumed command of the 2nd Army Aviation Battalion. The unit was composed of three support companies, with105 UH-1 Hueys assigned to student pilot training. 

In January 1969, LTC Barkley was in Vietnam as Director of Material/Maintenance, U.S. Army Aviation Maintenance Center, 34th General Support Group. He was responsible for staff supervision over aviation logistics support units in the combat theater. He implemented programs and procedures for recovering abandoned aircraft parts from combat zones. In the first nine months, his efforts resulted in over $50 million worth of parts and components collected, repaired and returned to the system.

In January 1970, LTC Barkley returned to Germany as a Theater Army Support Command Staff Aviation Officer and on September 30, 1973, he retired. He had flown over 6,000 hours in fixed and rotary wing aircraft, including 291 combat flight hours.

Notes

  1. Watch on the Rhine was the German codename for the attack through the Ardennes Forest on December 16, 1944 that led to the Battle of the Bulge. Original codename was “Christrose.” Hitler is reputed to have changed the name to “Watch on the Rhine.” See page 13, chapter one, “The Ghost Front,” Battle: The Story of the Bulge, by John Toland.
  2. The Allies planned two invasions of the Home Islands: Operation: OLYMPIC, November 1, 1945, Kyushu; and, Operation:
  3. CORONET, March 1, 1946, Honshu.
  4. The 97th Infantry Division saw 41 days of combat in Europe.
  5. CV-31, later CVA-31, was an Essex-class aircraft carrier.
  6. See the “Art’s Attic” column located at the end of this issue.


Mark Albertson is an award winning historian and contributing editor to ARMY AVIATION magazine. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..">This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..