Gaston & Catawba

Wife compiled a book of husband’s WWII experiences

World War II veteran Earl Barkley died about a year ago.

The 92-year-old Newton resident and N.C. Department of Revenue retiree had been married to Louise Barkley for 67 years.

In Louise Barkley’s possession is a written record of Earl Barkley’s war recollections. “Half a World Away: The Military Years of Earl Lee Barkley, United States Army Air Force, World War II, September 1942-December 1945” is a book that Louise Barkley compiled in 2003. On the title page she wrote, “In his own words from memory and letters.”

Louise Barkley, a retired junior high and high school science teacher, said she’d wanted to understand his military service and get it on record for their three sons, two grandchildren, and two great-grandchildren.

So when the couple went on extended car trips, she asked Earl Barkley questions and recorded his answers. “He had a fabulous memory,” she said.

Louise Barkley, 92, also had the letters he’d sent her. They were engaged before Earl Barkley’s enlistment.

At armament school in Denver, Colo., Barkley studied every sort of gun and the planes on which they were used. Gunnery school at Fort Jackson, S.C., followed, and then Barkley underwent operational training at Morris Field in Charlotte.

“We started flying all the time,” he told Louise, “flying over all the country around here in A-20s and B-25s.” Barkley wasn’t piloting planes, but he was preparing to spend a lot of time in bombers, first as an aerial gunner and later as a photographer documenting explosions.

After a stay at Turner Field in Georgia, where Earl Barkley practiced flying with a crew, he went to California and then sailed to New Guinea, arriving July 5, 1944. Part two of “Half a World Away” is titled “The Action.” Earl Barkley was a sergeant assigned to the 8th Bombardment Squadron, 3rd Bombardment Group.

“He went to the Pacific,” said Louise Barkley, “and then island hopped all the way up to Japan until the war was over.”

In a spoken reminiscence, Earl Barkley told his wife that his crew’s job was to bomb Japanese airfields and supplies on Japanese controlled islands and on Japan’s mainland. “Going in at treetop level, they didn’t know we were around until we were there,” said Earl Barkley.

“Sometimes when they dropped these bombs, it would shake the plane, and you thought you’d land in the cabbage patch,” said Louise Barkley. She said Earl’s group occasionally dropped 250-pound bombs attached to parachutes, so the plane could avoid the aftershock.

Speaking to Louise Barkley about kamikaze pilots, Earl Barkley said seeing them was “really rough on the American boys ... the Americans would be shooting at the Japanese planes as hard as they could, and they would just come right on. Sometimes they would just go into the ship ... the ship was blown away, ammo, ship, crew, and everything.

Spending time in the Philippines, Earl Barkley wrote Louise, “the Japanese have been very cruel to these people. They took all their money, clothing, livestock, chickens, and many of their homes . . . our soldiers have given most of their clothing away to the Filipino people.

Correspondence was painstakingly slow. When she received a boxful of returned letters addressed to Earl, Louise panicked. Was he dead? Missing in action? Crashed in a jungle and surviving on bugs and roots? Or, the very worst: was he a Japanese prisoner? When Louise received a Christmas card from Earl, she relaxed only slightly.

“On Aug. 6, 1945, we were flying a mission over Japan,” Earl told Louise. “We would always make our bomb run from right to left . . . and we always kept our radio off during the flight. At our briefing that day, we were told to keep our radio on . . . and told to make our bomb runs from left to right.”

Earl Barkley and his crew also were told not to go through any unusual cloud formations.

“We didn’t know what was up,” Earl said to Louise. He and his crew found out about the first atomic bomb on their way back from their morning mission.

After months in Japan, walking through nearly destroyed cities and noticing how frightened the Japanese people were of American soldiers, Earl Barkley was discharged Christmas Eve 1945. He and Louise married July 6, 1946.

For decades, Earl Barkley didn’t talk much about his war experiences. When he was ready to share, Louise was ready to listen. “He was really proud when we got (the book) finished,” said Louise Barkley.