Colonel Rex T. Barber is one of the principal P-38 pilots who participated in the famous (and then highly classified) “Yamamoto” mission, which helped turn the tide of World War II against the Japanese. Born in Oregon in 1917, Barber joined the Army Air Corps in late 1940. After graduation from flight training, he checked out in the P-40 and was halfway to Hawaii aboard a ship when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. His unit was eventually moved to Guadalcanal in December 1942 where he transferred to the 339th Fighter Squadron flying P-38 Lightnings.
On 18 April 1943, he participated as one of the four designated “kill flight” pilots in a 16-plane mission to intercept and shoot down an aircraft carrying Admiral Yamamoto, Chief of the Japanese Navy, and most of his key staff. For his heroic action on this mission, Barber was awarded the Navy Cross. After the “Yamamoto” mission, Barber returned to the United States, but soon volunteered to fly against the Japanese with the Fourteenth Air Force in China under General Claire Chennault. He briefly commanded the 449th Fighter Squadron and flew 28 combat missions in P-38s until he was shot down over enemy territory near the Yangtze River in April 1944. Despite serious injuries, he evaded capture for 2 months with the aid of Chinese guerrillas and returned to friendly territory in June. After convalescing in the United States, Barber began testing the new P-80 Shooting Star jet fighter.
In July 1945, he assumed command of the 31st Jet Fighter Squadron–the first operational Air Force unit to receive jet aircraft. In this capacity, he also flew one of the first jet aircraft to participate in the famous Bendix Trophy Race. Colonel Barber retired from the Air Force in 1961 and returned to Oregon. He was a highly successful businessman and owned and managed several companies until his final retirement in 1984.