George Russell Barber, one of the last surviving chaplains from the U.S. landing at Omaha Beach on D-day during World War II, has died. He was 90.
Barber died Dec. 17 at Presbyterian Intercommunity Hospital in Whittier, California of causes associated with old age, according to his son, Don Barber.
On June 6, 1944, as Allied forces landed in Normandy, Barber was one of four chaplains at Omaha Beach with the Army's 1st Infantry Division. American troops encountered the fiercest resistance of any Allied force on D-day from German gun emplacements on the cliffs overlooking the beach. According to his son, Barber spent a bloody and chaotic day ministering to the wounded and dying, then dug a foxhole near the cliffs and bedded down for the night.
At dawn, the carnage on the beach and in the water was readily apparent. More than 1,500 GIs had been killed. Barber spent much of the next few days readying the dead for burial and helping select the site for the U.S. cemetery overlooking the beach, his son said. Barber continued with his combat ministry through much of the fiercest fighting in Europe, including the Battle of the Bulge and the capture of the strategic bridge at Remagen, Germany.
Barber was born in Buckhead, Georgia on Aug. 26, 1914. He grew up in Atlanta and, after graduating from high school, went to what was then Cincinnati Bible College. He graduated in 1936 and married Helen Koester of Cincinnati the same day. Shortly thereafter, the couple moved to California, where he found a job as minister at Park Avenue Christian Church in Montebello.
Responding to a call for military chaplains in early 1941, Barber joined the horse cavalry and was stationed on the U.S.-Mexico border on Dec. 7, when Japan's attack on Pearl Harbor thrust the country into the war. He transferred and spent much of the war in England, eventually joining the U.S. forces preparing for the invasion of Europe. On D-day, he led prayers over the loudspeaker on his ship before getting into a landing craft with 30 others.
He returned to Park Avenue Christian Church after World War II but was recalled to active duty, this time with the Air Force, during the Korean War. After 2.5 years of service, he resumed his post with his congregation in Montebello, where he served until 1956. From there he became pastor at Pico Rivera Christian Church, a post he held for 17 years.
He stayed in the Air Force Reserve until 1969, serving through much of the Vietnam War at March Air Force Base in California. He retired from the ministry in the early 1970's.
In explaining his role as a chaplain, Barber once told a writer for an Air Force publication that he "was there as a man of God, to lead men closer to God and to help with morale and families and loved ones, and to face up to the fact that they are called upon to kill people. War is one of those necessary evils in a world where nations are led by evil men like Hitler and Mussolini."
In addition to his son Don, of Whittier, he is survived by another son, George Russell Barber Jr. of Macon, Georgia, four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. Funeral services will be held at 3 p.m. Monday at Rose Hills Memorial Park in Whittier. The family suggests that memorial donations be made to the National D-Day Museum, 945 Magazine St., New Orleans, Louisiana 70130.