John Henry Barrow II of Royal Palm Retirement Centre in Port Charlotte, Fla. served aboard a destroyer and a sub chaser in the Pacific during World War II. He took part in some of the major battles—Saipan, Iwo Jima and Okinawa to name three. Saipan is the one the 90-year-old former local sailor remembers best.
“At Saipan Adm. Nimitz ordered our sub chasers close to shore. We were to fire at Japanese position and when they fired back at us it was our job to report their locations,” Barrow said. “Then we’d knock out the enemy with the 16-inch guns from our battleships off shore.
“We could see the shells from our big guns coming right over us and hit the enemy’s positions. We could watch the whole side of a hill come apart when one of our 16-inch shells hit it.
“Being that close to shore we could see those Japanese civilian ladies throw their children off the nearby cliffs and then jump themselves.The Japanese Army told these women if the American Marines caught them they would eat their children. It was pretty horrible watching them jump through binoculars.”
Two weeks after the battle for Saipan began on June 15, 1944, Emperor Hirohito dispatched a personal decree telling the civilians on the island to commit suicide rather than surrender to the American forces. This was probably one of the primary reasons at least 1,000 civilians took their own lives by jumping off the island’s cliffs.
By July 9, 1944 the American Marines had taken Saipan. By then 24,000 Japanese soldiers had been killed, an additional 5,000 committed suicide and 921 were taken as POWs. The American forces lost 3,426 killed and 10,364 wounded.
After Saipan, Barrow and his sub chaser saw action at Iwo Jima and Okinawa.
“I remember we were off Iwo Jima and I saw a Kamikaze fly into the side of one of our aircraft carriers. It did little damage to the ship. The plane just crumpled up, burst into flames and fell into the sea,” he said.
“We were on some little island off Okinawa when our pharmacists-mate aboard ship went to the aid of some of the local natives the Japanese had mistreated,” Burrow recalled. “I think he sewed a couple of ‘em up and they survived.
It was off Okinawa Barrow had his own close call with a Kamikaze that flew over and strafed their ship.
“I was washing a pair of pants on deck when this Japanese plane flew over and strafed us and many of the ships around us with machine-gun bullets. A buddy saw the plane firing as he flew toward us and pushed me out of the way of the bullets. He saved my life..”
Barrow and his ships were headed back to San Francisco when they heard the word from President Harry Truman that the Japanese had unconditionally surrendered—the war was over.
Everyone in the service was going home and getting out, but not him. He re-upped in the Navy for another six years. By the time he was discharged in the early 1950s he was a first class electrician’s-mate.
That got him a civilian job back home in Birmingham, Ala. working for an outfit called Clark & Jones Wholesalers that sold electrical equipment to retailers in the area.
During the Korean War he was recalled to service and went in the Air Force for the next three years. Barrow spent most of his time at Kesler Air Force Base near Biloxi, Miss. teaching electronics to servicemen.
After the Korean War he returned to Clark & Jones in Birmingham at his electrical job. In the early 1960s he got a job with NASA working with Werner Von Braun, the former German rocket scientist, at Red-stone Arsenal in Alabama the center of our space program in those days.
“I wrote technical manuals for the space program,” he said. “I worked with the astronauts for five or six years, but I can’t remember any of their names.”
The only name that comes to mind he could recall after more than 50 years was Von Braun.
“Von Braun was one of the smartest individuals I ever met,” Barrow said. “I didn’t have too much to do with the space program, but I was fascinated with the space race and the little part I played.”
He retired and moved to Port Charlotte in 2009 with his wife, Bonnie. She died in January of this year. The couple has two children, Cynthia and John.
Name: John Henry Barrow, II
D.O.B: 2 May 1925
Hometown: Birmingham, Ala.
Currently: Port Charlotte, Fla.
Entered Service: 1942
Rank: Electrician’s-mate 1st Class
Unit: Destroyer: USS Aulick, (DD-569)
Battles/Campaigns: Saipan, Iwo Jima, Okinwa
This story was first published in the Charlotte Sun newspaper, Port Charlotte, Fla. on Monday, Dec. 21, 2015 and is republished with permission.
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