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Rufus E. Barnes Jr., Lt Colonel, USAF, (Ret), passed away on 20 February 2014 in San Antonio, Texas at age 90 of natural causes. Born in Weir City, Cherokee County, Kansas on 6 January 1924, he was a charter member of the "Greatest Generation". Having survived the hardships of the Great Depression and a financially austere childhood with his father in a VA hospital, he went on to a highly successful career as an Air Force Officer and pilot-a dream he had pursued since he saw Charles Lindbergh fly over and land near his small town in the late 1920s. In 1942 upon graduation from High School in Columbus, Kansas he joined the Army Air Corps Aviation Cadet Program and was the top graduate of Aviation Cadet Class 43C. He broke the school record for gunnery and was personally commended for this achievement by Senator (then Captain) Barry Goldwater, the School's Executive Officer. He was the only cadet to have his wings awarded directly by the School Commandant upon graduation. Assigned to the South Pacific as a P-39 & P-38 fighter pilot he received three Air Medals for valor, and shot down two Japanese aircraft in a single mission. On a volunteer mission on Guadalcanal, he crash-landed at sea with a Catholic Priest who could not swim, and whose life he saved, by swimming him to shore. Setting out by foot, and with the assistance of island natives in their dugout canoes, they began a dangerous trek, eventually returning to their unit. Barely 19 years of age, he is thought to be the youngest Army Air Corps fighter pilot in the Pacific during his combat tour. He fought throughout the Solomon Islands and New Guinea, and flew missions extending to Borneo. He participated in the attacks that neutralized the Japanese stronghold of Rabaul. Upon his return from the war he married his high school sweetheart and the love of his life, Jean Head, beginning a 69 year union. Some 20 years later he volunteered to fly combat missions in the Vietnam Conflict earning his fourth Air Medal. He flew these missions although his primary duty was as an Air Force Liaison to the U.S. Army. In the course of his 30 year USAF career he flew over 50 different aircraft in a variety of flying assignments all over the world before retiring in 1972 with over 10,000 Military flight hours. Upon his retirement he settled in Schertz, TX; devoted himself to his family, while continuing to purse his true love in life-aviation. He went on to log an additional 4500 hours of civilian flight time. He received his civilian instructor ratings and trained numerous young pilots, some who entered USAF Pilot Training to include his nephew, Major General Randy Fullhart. He also did extensive Charter, Geological Survey, and Executive flying out of San Antonio International Airport, primarily for the late Industrialist Morris Jaffe. He was an active member of both the Order of Daedalians and Secret Order of the Quiet Birdmen flying fraternities. Community minded, he served as a Member and Chairman of the Board of the Cibolo Creek Municipal Authority for 22 years. Further, he served on the Personnel Board for the city of Schertz in the 1970s. He was also the President of the San Antonio Genealogical and Historical Society from 1987-1989. He was a mentor to many, and a larger than life figure and patriarch of his family. He could always be counted on in a crisis, or when any family member or friend needed help. Known to his 15 grandchildren and great grandchildren as "Pop Pop" he was a strong and loving force in their upbringing and character development. He is further survived by his loving and devoted wife Jean; loving sister Frances Spidel and husband Denny of Mesa, AZ ; daughter, Linda Heckman and husband Wayne of Schertz, TX; son, Lt Col Roger Barnes, USAF (Ret) and wife Debby of San Antonio, TX; and son Ed Barnes and wife Elaine of Bandera, TX.. Visitation will be held from 4:00PM-8:00PM on Sunday, March 2, 2014 at Schertz Funeral Home. Funeral Services will be held at 11:00AM on Monday, March 3, 2014 at the Schertz Funeral Home Chapel, followed by Graveside Services at 2:30PM at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery with full military honors.
You are invited to sign the electronic guestbook at www.schertzfuneralhome.com
Arrangements are with:
Schertz Funeral Home - Schertz
2217 F.M. 3009 Schertz, TX 78154
Published in Express-News on Mar. 1, 2014