Last week: Oglesby resident John C. Barnes, a native of Blackwell and son of a Methodist preacher, joined the U.S. Navy during World War II as a radio operator. Stationed aboard the USS Ozark, a landing ship vehicle that carried troops and amphibious “Ducks” (DUKWs), Barnes took turns with other radio operators ferrying Marines to the Iwo Jima shores.
Oglesby resident and former Navy radioman John C. Barnes was just 18 years old in February 1945 when his ship, the USS Ozark, participated in the landings on Iwo Jima as part of the 3rd Amphibious Force. Now 91, he hasn’t forgotten his harrowing experience there — or the one that followed in Okinawa.
Published sources note there were more than a half-dozen Japanese battalions firing on the troops in Iwo Jima that by nightfall accounted for more than 550 dead Marines and over 1,800 wounded. Despite having to ferry Marines to the shores of Iwo Jima, Barnes came through unharmed. But the danger wasn’t over just yet. There still was the Okinawa invasion yet to come.
History shows the Okinawa invasion was among the most brutal and bloody of the Pacific War. The Navy suffered its greatest casualties for a single engagement; more than 12,000 Americans were killed and more than 150,000 Japanese (many civilians) died during the battle.
“It’s frightening. It seemed like it happened so fast, but you’re too busy and don’t have time to feel it,” he said.
On Easter Sunday, April 1, 1945, the invasion began. Once again, as he did in Iwo Jima, Barnes ferried U.S. soldiers to the shore. It wasn’t something he would soon forget.
“They had to throw everything they had against us. That’s when they started the kamikaze,” he said. “The whole plane becomes a bomb. That was frightening. We had one hit close to our ship. That ship just rolled and was tossed up in the air.”
After Okinawa, the Ozark sailed to Guam to prepare for the invasion of Japan, but with the dropping of the atomic bomb in Hiroshima and Nagasaki, Barnes and crew got a ringside seat to history when Japan formally surrendered on the deck of the USS Missouri in Tokyo Bay on Sept. 2, 1945. While he wasn’t on the ship where the ceremony took place, he was close enough to witness it via binoculars.
Ironically, even though war was technically over, the enemy fired a torpedo at the Ozark just as she was entering Tokyo Bay. Fortunately, no one was hurt.
From Japan, the Ozark picked up POWs and brought them home. “They weren’t in very good shape,” Barnes said. “But they were as happy as could be.”
The Ozark and Barnes returned to the Pacific to pick up a load of American troops. A lot of them went to Pearl Harbor. The ship then sailed through the Panama Canal on her way home. Barnes was honorably discharged in May 1946.
Before he was discharged, Barnes was already working for West Texas Utilities. He attended McMurry University for two years, then transferred to Southern Methodist University. He earned a bachelor’s degree in accounting.
While attending college, he met Betty Bates and they were married shortly thereafter just as he started his 39-career with Texaco in Houston. She passed away in 1988 after 39 years of marriage and two children.
Today, Barnes has four grandchildren and two great-grandkids. He keeps busy as a member of the Lions Club and his church in Oglesby. He also still works on his farm.
Happy to have served
It’s now been some 73 years since Barnes served with the Navy during World War II. Although he wouldn’t want to have to do it again, he was glad to have served. “I’m proud that I got to serve. I have no regrets,” he said.
And Barnes was grateful that he had a support system back home that helped him get through some of his tougher moments during the war. It’s a message he wants those waiting at home to remember.
Letters of encouragement
“Letters from home played such an important role; hearing my name called in port or at ports around the world reassured me that I was loved and not forgotten, that the service I was performing was important and that everyone was praying for my safe return,” Barnes said.
“The horrors of war and the day-to-day unknown has the ability to wear one down both emotionally and spiritually, but receiving letters is the best medicine for fear and loneliness — to simply know loved ones care deeply and are awaiting your return.
“If I could say anything to people who have loved ones serving in the military it would be: Don’t let a day go by that you don’t reach out.”