Robert Eric Barnes
December 14, 1925 to March 25, 2019
Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I've climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
Of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence.
Excerpt from “High Flight” by John Gillespie Magee, Jr.
Robert Eric Barnes was born to Albert David Barnes and Christine Margaret Barnes (Bradley) on December 11, 1925 in Skewen, a village just outside of Neath Wales in a small, crooked, stone house that was built by the Romans 1200 years before his birth. No, that isn’t a typo. He really was born on December 11, 1925. But a few of Robert’s father’s friends decided to take him to the pub to celebrate the birth before he visited the registrar’s office in Neath and the birth date was erroneously recorded as the 14th, not the 11th.
Robert immigrated to the United States with his parents when he was only two on a luxury ocean liner. He loved crossing the Atlantic Ocean by ship and did so a number of times with his mother. His parents established their first home near Fort Custer, and the airport just outside of Battle Creek Michigan.
More than anything else, Robert loved being a pilot. In fact, he knew from the age of five that the only thing he ever wanted to do was fly airplanes. He used to visit the Battle Creek, MI, airport as a small child to watch the military fighters from Selfridge Field fly training maneuvers. In time, the pilots began to recognize him and began waving to him as they took off and landed. They also offered him lunch and a tour of the airport and bi-plane fighters. Robert excitedly watched their activities for over three years.
Robert joined the Air Army Corps in 1944 and graduated as a flight officer in 1946. In 1948, he was the youngest officer at his station. In 1960 he received numerous letters of appreciation and special commendation for his participation in Operation Mobile Yoke in Southeast Asia. This was a precedent-setting mission since it was the first attempt at boom refueling for fighter planes on the wing. During his military career, he was trained to fly bombers, fighters and airborne KC 135 refuelers. He taught many young pilots how to fly fighters at Tyndall Air Force Base and the former Pampa Air Army Corps base near Pampas, Texas. He retired from the U.S. Air Force as an Air Craft Commander for a Strategic Air Command bomber squadron in 1965. He received many medals over the years for his service to his country.
Robert also played an instrumental role during the Korean Air Lift. He plotted and scheduled flight plans for aircraft departing for Korea and returning to Anchorage and Seattle. The flight plans had to be changed on a daily basis to prevent planes from being shot down.
Robert used to tell his friends and family how grand it was to watch the sun rise at 35,000 feet. To gaze into golden clouds ever so peaceful. Military pilots are a breed among themselves. He was proud to be able to say he was one of them. He lived an action-packed life filled with adventure, immeasurable challenges and exotic travel. He didn’t need a bucket list. He lived a life well-lived.
After his retirement, Robert built a home on a beachfront lot at Semiahmoo, eventually becoming a Water District Commissioner who worked diligently to provide the residents of Birch Point with a safe, reliable drinking water supply. He continued to teach flight at Paine Field, winning an award from the FAA for having the top training program in the nation.
Robert also loved cheering on the Green Bay Packers, the Seattle Seahawks and the Seattle Mariners. He was a long-time member of American Legion Hall in Blaine and the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He was a founding member of the Keystone Flyers and enjoyed participating in events with the Antique Auto Restorer’s Club and other organizations. He also enjoyed searching for gold in the Cascades and once owned a share in the Lone Jack Mine.
Robert had three children with his former wife Lillian Barnes: Thomas A. Barnes, (daughter-in-law Stacey Carroll), Eric A. Barnes, (daughter-in-law Michelle Barnes), and Elisabeth D. Britt, (former son-in-law, Matt Britt). Robert was very proud of his grandsons, Mike Britt, Web Barnes and Riley Barnes. He is also survived by his beloved niece, Beth Barnes and her husband Bob Lepper of Dowling, Michigan. Robert was the oldest of three children, his younger brother, David H. Barnes preceded him in death in 2018. He is survived by his sister Hilda Flynn of Arizona, numerous nieces and nephews and his dear cousin Angela Thomas (Alan Thomas) of Wales. And by his beloved companion, Bette Vandenberg of Kentwood, Michigan. She was the first girl he ever gave a Valentine to in Kindergarten.
The family would like to thank the staff at St. Joseph’s hospital and Whatcom Hospice for their patience, kindness and understanding during dad’s illness. In tribute to dad’s service in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, Whatcom Hospice played Taps as he departed the facility draped in an American flag.
Per his request, Robert will be laid to rest at the Fort Custer National Cemetery in Augusta Michigan with full military honors this summer. Please contact the family for details if you would like to attend the service.
“Day is done, gone the sun, from the lake, from the hill, from the sky. All is well. Safely rest. God is nigh (near).” - “Taps.”