CENTER FOR U.S. WAR
VETERANS' ORAL HISTORIES
World War II
Vincent J. Barry was born in Long Branch, New Jersey, in October 1920. In September of 1941, while still a student at the University of Virginia, he joined the Naval R.O.T.C program. While he was a member of the Naval R.O.T.C, Barry began flying classes; and, in 1942, he left school to join the US Army Air Corps. Barry was initially assigned to Kelly Air Field in San Antonio, Texas, where he attended flight school for nine months. He remembered that flight school was, in some ways, like being back at a civilian school, with lots of classroom work. After completing a basic course, Barry moved on to advanced flight training. He officially received his wings on his birthday in 1943. Barry was then assigned to an air base in Waycross, Georgia, for fighter pilot training, and learned to fly P-39 Airacobras and P-40 Mustangs. While there, he witnessed his friend’s death in an unfortunate flying accident.
After completing training in Georgia, Barry received orders to the China, Burma, and India (CBI) theater of war. Along with other pilots he traveled from Georgia on a C-47 transport aircraft to Florida, and then on to South America, Africa, and, finally, the CBI, landing in Karachi, India (today a city in Pakistan). Barry remained in Karachi for several months of additional training in dive bombing and aerial targeting. He noted that his instruction was comparable to today’s “top gun” military aircraft schools.
Barry described living conditions in a barracks in India, noting that the weather was extremely hot. He and his fellow pilots flew older P-40 Warhawks, and he recalled that some had shark mouths painted on them and some even had bullet holes in their bodies. Barry considered the P-40 a “sturdy and reliable” workhorse of a plane. After familiarizing themselves with the aircraft they would be flying, the pilots were assigned to forward bases, from one of which, in Burma, Barry would embark on his first combat mission in the CBI. He vividly remembered the feeling he had on that flight mission, saying that he “felt a great deal of pride and was happy to be there, but you get scared very quickly”. The interviewer asked Barry how long his missions were, and he responded that they varied from ten to fifteen minutes, up to as long as a couple of hours in the air.
While in Burma, Barry’s air base was very close to an enemy air field. He recalled that: “The Japs were at one end of the field and our forces were at the other; our planes would take off, drop their loads and come around in a landing pattern. It was that close.” Other missions Barry engaged in included flying escort for transport planes carrying supplies from India and Burma to China “Over the Hump” of the Himalayan Mountains. The supplies included food for the Chinese people, as well as weapons and munitions for Nationalist Chinese soldiers fighting on the ground.
During his time in the CBI, Barry logged 715 flight hours in 178 operational flights. After his final mission, he was eligible to rotate back to the United States. Barry was initially transferred to a base in India, where he could not leave until his replacement arrived. The delay gave him one month of free time; and, he and three other pilots awaiting replacement decided to take a road trip to China. Their Commanding Officer provided a jeep and they set off, driving from India into Burma and then along the Burma Road to China. It took them a few weeks, and they stopped at different Army bases along the way for the night. Barry recalled that the trip was a “fun time,” although he saw a lot of small Chinese villages burned by the Japanese. They had to stop eventually because the Japanese lines were ahead. Once ready to return, Barry and his friends radioed for a C-47 transport to come pick them and the jeep up for return to India, after which they were transported back to the United States.
Barry’s return home was a warm one; he recalled that he was stopped on the street by people he did not know who thanked him. He said that he couldn’t even go to the bathroom in a bar or restaurant without someone stopping him and offering to buy him a drink. Barry married his fiancée in May of 1945. He thought at the time that he would be recalled overseas; but, the war ended a few months after his wedding. Barry was honorably discharged on October 22, 1945 and moved with his wife to Manasquan, New Jersey.
Barry had three sons who served in the Vietnam War, and the oldest was wounded in Cambodia. He spoke about how each war was different, and how each person in a given war will experience it differently. Barry summed up by saying: “War is an experience that makes you grow up. When you see your close friends get killed and die, you become an adult very quickly.”
Vincent John Barry passed away at the age of 91 in Spring Lake Heights, NJ on January 26, 2012.