Freedom Fighters: The Barber brothers-Part II - KTRE.com | Lufkin and Nacogdoches, Texas

Freedom Fighters: The Barber brothers-Part II

By Joan Hallmark - bio | email

LONGVIEW, TX (KLTV) - Growing up, twins Ralph and Ray Barber did just about everything together, whether it was school, football, or joining the air corps. Although the twins were never allowed to fly together during World War II, they almost lost their lives when their separate planes were downed on the very same day.

"We liked the Air Corps and so we decided to go with the Air Corps, all five boys that joined together went as one group to the air corps," said Ralph Barber.

The Army Air Corps trained both Barber twins as B-24 engineer gunners, and sent them to England where most of the bombing missions over Europe originated. Although Ralph and Ray were stationed at the same base and often mistaken for each other, they were never allowed to fly in the same plane.

"I guess it was an army thing you know. The Sullivan brothers, all of them went down at one time and that's when this came into being as far as we know," said Ralph.

The rule was supposed to protect families from losing all their sons. While the Barbers never flew in the same plane, they did fly out the same day on their first mission, and almost didn't make it back.

"It could well have been my last mission," said Ralph.

It was on Ralph's first bombing mission into Germany, over 20,000 feet in the air, that his B-24 lost power in its number one engine.

"As our engine went out, our airplane went through this turbulent air and did a flip up in the air, about 24,000 feet at that time and the airplane made sort of a dive. We thought, 'boy, that's it right there.' We went into a spin and of course with so much centripetal force up you couldn't get away from the walls to get your parachute on or anything, but all of a sudden it changed and so we came out, then down about four thousand feet."

The pilot was able to land the plane on a heavily damaged Brussels runway.

"It had been bombed a number of times but the pilot was able to bring the plane down safely. We all got out of the airplane and kissed the ground and enjoyed our trip back."

"Now you made it back alive and were breathing a sigh of relief, but when did you find out your brother was missing," I asked Ralph.

"We had a habit of staying at central headquarters and seeing what planes came back in and what planes didn't come back in and so at that time I realized that his plane hadn't come back in and so we went to trying to find out what happened and they told us the last information they had they were heading for Denmark," replied Ralph.

Instead of Denmark, Ray's plane had been shot down between the French and German borders. Ray parachuted to safety, but it was ten long days before he could make it back to base and let his family know he was still alive.

"You know, I never thought a guy could be ready to bail out of an airplane but when the pilot gave the order to bail out, I was the first one to go."

Ray went on to fly 25 successful combat missions during WWII, with Ralph clocking in 19. It wasn't until this week that both Ralph and Ray realized their planes had gone down that same February day in 1944.

"We were getting notes for this interview and at that time we realized that hey this all happened on the same day."

Twins Ray and Ralph Barber have remained close over the years. It's still hard to tell them apart, but needless to say, they are both thankful that their first combat missions in WWII, didn't turn out to be their last.

If you or someone you know served our country in combat, we want to hear from you. Just write us at Freedom Fighters, P.O. Box 957, Tyler, TX, 75710.

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