I used to call him Chief. Jack Barnes was a retired Navy chief petty officer. I made his acquaintance while I worked as editorial page editor of the Amarillo Globe-News in Texas.
Barnes hailed originally from Perryton, then spent a couple of decades defending the nation.
I was saddened recently to learn of Barnes’ death in December at the age of 68. I heard he suffered from an aggressive form of cancer. I am not going to comment on the end of this patriot’s life, but rather on what he did to enrich the lives of other patriots.
Barnes was the driving force behind a project called “Honor Flights.” He declared it his mission to shepherd World War II veterans to Washington, D.C., to tour the memorial erected in these veterans’ honor. And to show them as many other sights as they could squeeze into a brief visit to the nation’s capital.
He worked tirelessly with Southwest Airlines to arrange to transport these veterans from Amarillo to Washington. Over time, he expanded his mission to include Korean War and then Vietnam War veterans. Given that the Korean War began only five years after the end of World War II, it became imperative, as Barnes saw it, to bring veterans of that war to D.C. to show them the Korean War memorial that honors the sacrifice of those who fought on the Korean Peninsula.
And, of course, the Vietnam War veterans also were invited aboard these Honor Flights. We, too, are getting a bit long in the tooth these days and Barnes wanted to treat the men and women who served in Vietnam to the same honor he delivered to the World War II and Korean War veterans.
Jack occasionally would ask me if I wanted to take part in an Honor Flight, given my own meager experience in the Vietnam War. I never found the time to take him up on his generous offer.
I lost contact — more or less — with Barnes after I resigned from the Globe-News in August 2012; we would see each other on occasion, at the grocery store or at a public event. But I surely knew of the work he continued to do to honor our World War II veterans.
Of the 16 million Americans who served during WWII, only a diminishing fraction of them are still with us. They’re all in their 90s now. Time is not their friend.
Barnes, though, was dedicated to these men and women and sought to honor them the best way he knew how. He honored them greatly with his diligence in escorting them to Washington, to see the memorial that is dedicated to their service in the fight against tyranny.
Jack Barnes was a proud man who spread his pride generously. His work should live on forever.
Rest in peace and well done, Chief.