Story by Enid Wilson on 04/05/2017PENSACOLA, Fla. A retired Navy officer recalled memories of attacking enemy ships and saving lives during World War II in a presentation for Naval Education and Training Command (NETC) personnel March 29 onboard Naval Air Station Pensacola.
Addressing a crowd of over 150 NETC employees in person and through video teleconferencing, Rear Adm. Mike White welcomed retired Navy Lt. Cmdr. Cash Barber as a guest speaker for Naval Heritage.
"I'm proud to stand here today and represent just one guy from the greatest generation," said Barber.
Barber's 30-year naval career began when he enlisted in the Navy in May of 1941 as a young 17-year-old from Colorado. On Dec. 18, 1941, Barber and 29 of his shipmates, all recent graduates of Aviation Machinist Mate school, arrived in Pearl Harbor on a cargo ship and witnessed the aftermath of the Japanese attack.
"Folks, it's a sight I'll never forget, we had a battleship laying on its side as we entered the harbor and we went by battleship row and you just can't believe the sight that it was," said Barber. "Since we didn't have any aircraft to be assigned to or take care of, they assigned us to security forces, issued us a rifle, and put us in a foxhole."
Barber described some of the unusual conditions he remembers during the chaotic aftermath of the attack including barbed wire on Waikiki beach.
Replacement aircraft were available by mid-January of 1942 and Barber was assigned to a flight crew and started training with Patrol Squadron (VP) 11 at Naval Air Station Kaneohe Bay.
As an aircraft crewmember on the Consolidated Patrol Bomber (PBY) Catalina, Barber served in Pacific battles from Midway to the Philippines. He described the versatility of the PBY as a workhorse seaplane capable of dropping bombs and rescuing downed pilots.
The PBYs operated among the many islands in the Pacific and off of a seaplane tender, USS Curtiss (AV 4), to support the Marines and the Army. Barber's squadron returned to San Diego at the end of 1942. After a short period of leave and training, the squadron received orders back to the Pacific in April 1943.
From the end of 1943 through mid-1944, the PBY Catalinas in Barber's squadron were painted flat black and flew night assaults against the Japanese fleet using star sightings for night navigation. Referred to as Black Cat Operations, the stealth seaplanes took off at sunset and landed at sunrise.
"I didn't get back home again for 20 months that time the great thing about that second trip was the Black Cats.. what a great change in weather," Barber said.
Each PBY had a nine-man crew consisting of three pilots, a radarman, a radioman, a flight engineer, a 2nd mechanic, and two ordnance men.
"Flying at night, with the latest radar, we had a picnic because we could pick up ships 50 to 60 miles away and then hone in on them. We could see their wake in the water, with all the beautiful colors, and they couldn't see us. We had to identify our contact and to identify them, we would drop a parachute flare," said Barber. "The parachute flare would get shot out before it burned out and they knew exactly what was going to happen next. we would turn the tables on them."
VP-11 received numerous message dispatches from Commander Aircraft Seventh Fleet in August and September 1944 commending them for their continued success in finding and hitting the enemy throughout night operations.
The Black Cats successfully sunk 100,000 tons of enemy shipping and damaged an equal amount of enemy shipping during their WWII operations. Additionally, the Black Cats performed reconnaissance, air-sea rescue, dive bombing, mine laying and torpedo attack missions.
In December 1943, Barber's squadron evacuated 219 Australian commandos, 25 at a time, from their post near Wewak, New Guinea. To accomplish this, the crew had to strip unnecessary equipment and armament and land the 104-foot wingspan PBY on the 200-foot wide Sepik River. Despite a skeleton crew, the PBY used the river current to sweep each aircraft from the muddy riverbank back into the river for take-off.
Barber quickly moved up in rank and after only four years was advanced to Chief Aviation Machinist's Mate in Sept. 1945.
Members of the audience laughed and clapped as Barber concluded his presentation with an entertaining story regarding an open-sea landing requiring a mayday distress call and an unanticipated delivery of 200 cases of beer.
After the presentation, command members lined up to shake Barber's hand and thank him for sharing his stories. "It's not every day that you get to hear a first-hand account of life on Oahu in the days immediately after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor," said Ernie Philips, an operations research analyst in the Resources, Requirements and Assessment department at NETC. As a junior officer, Philips was assigned to VP-11 in 1991 when the squadron was flying P-3 Orion patrol aircraft and located in Brunswick, Maine.
"It was fascinating to hear his stories of the critical role that PBY squadrons played. From the spotting of the Japanese fleet prior to the Battle of Midway to night-time bombing runs when the PBY's were painted all black, his stories brought the history of World War II in the Pacific to life," said Philips.
Commissioned as a limited duty officer (LDO) in 1961, Barber completed 30 years of naval service before retiring in 1971. He moved to the Pensacola area several years ago and at age 92 currently spends one day a week as a volunteer at the National Naval Aviation Museum. If you visit there, you can often find him by the PBY-5A Catalina display. Make sure to ask him about his beer story.
For more information on the National Naval Aviation Museum, visit http://www.navalaviationmuseum.org/
For more information on Naval Education and Training Command visit www.netc.navy.mil/, or https://www.facebook.com/netcpao.