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Bridge blessed with Barber's legacy

Legislature honors World War II hero and former Culver mayor by naming bridge after him

by: Pioneer Archives - Rex T. Barber, circa 1943.

News Editor
   April 16, 2003 — The Cosmic Halls of Justice continue to shine on Rex T. Barber.
   The Legislature has directed the state Transportation Commission to name the Highway 97 bridge over the gaping Crooked River Canyon after the storied World War II flying ace and former Culver mayor.
   Last week, the House followed the Senate's footsteps by unanimously passing Joint Senate Resolution 38, ending a two-year drive by several individuals to name the bridge after the man who shot down Admiral Yamamoto 60 years ago.
   This Friday, Gov. Ted Kulongoski will hold a special ceremony to sign an official proclamation naming the structure the "Rex T. Barber Veterans Memorial Bridge."
   "I don't know how to express it, because I'd like to remain as humble as Dad," said Rex Barber Jr. of Terrebonne, the flying ace's son. "But it's hard not to be proud as well as grateful."
   The governor's April 18 ceremony coincides with the 60th anniversary of the shooting down of Admiral Yamamoto -- the mastermind behind the Pearl Harbor attack.
   On the same day in 1943, Barber and 15 pilots flying Lockheed P-38s left an air base in Guadalcanal to intercept the Japanese commander in chief on a secret, 435-mile mission.
   Barber downed the Japanese "Betty" bomber carrying Yamamoto, an epic kill that has been backed up by witness accounts and independent research. But it took several decades for Barber to receive the recognition he deserved after another pilot claimed sole credit for the downing and helped write the official report that left history skewed for half a century.
   Barber never gave much thought to the historical snafu, but a veterans group and other historians aware of the true events of April 18, 1943, spent years working to correct the history books on his behalf.
   Their work was successful. In 1973, the U.S. Air Force split credit between Barber and the other pilot, Tom Lanphier. In 1997, the American Fighter Aces Association gave Barber sole credit and the Confederate Air Force followed suit in 1998.
   Barber grew up in Culver. He was known as a witty insurance man, a farmer and a tireless volunteer. He served as mayor of the town for nine years in the late 1960s and early 1970s.
   Barber eventually moved to Terrebonne where he lived out his later years. He passed away in July 2001.
   "I think everybody knew him," said Senate Republican Leader Bev Clarno, "not only for his recognition in the war but for what he did in the community."
   Clarno, R-Bend, sponsored SJR 38 along with 31 legislators, including Jefferson County's representatives: Sen. Ted Ferrioli, R-John Day, and Rep. John Mabrey, R-The Dalles.
   The joint resolution unanimously passed the Senate on March 26. The House followed on April 10.
   The Legislature took up the effort after individuals spearheading the Rex T. Barber Veterans Memorial Bridge effort ran into muddled bureaucracy.
   The Oregon Transportation Commission's rules state that renaming a highway feature must have statewide support, the honored individual must have been deceased for at least one year, the facility must be more than a half-mile long and the person must have made a lasting contribution to Oregon's history.
   The transportation commission originally rejected the idea of a Rex T. Barber Bridge, and in the process unwittingly inspiring the Legislature to intervene.
   A transportation official's letter to the group behind honoring Barber stated that he only met one of the criteria: that he had passed away. "Most important, however, is that your request does not explain how Mr. Barber made a 'lasting contribution' with a significant and historic impact on Oregon," the letter read.
   "That blows my mind," Clarno said of questioning his historical impact. "Typical government bureaucracy. I just decided it was ridiculous."
   Clarno said there likely will be a large ceremony later this spring or in early summer to dedicate the Rex T. Barber Memorial Bridge.
   The senator said pushing this bill through both the House and Senate was a nice diversion from grappling with the state's budget problems.
   "It's such a thrill in these times," Clarno said.
   "It's just unfortunate we didn't get to do this when Rex was still alive."
   An account has been established at Bank of the Cascades branches under the Rex T. Barber Veterans Memorial Fund. The money collected will go toward the cost of the display at the bridge honoring the Jefferson County native.