The phone call came to the Dothan Eagle last week. Our Peggy Ussery talked to a woman who thought her father would make a great story.
He flew in World War II, Korea and Vietnam, the woman said. He provided air support on D-Day.
I jumped at the chance.
He would love to talk, the woman said. His eyes light up when he talks about flying. He has incredible stories, and wouldn’t it be great to highlight another of our greatest generation?
So I made an appointment to meet with Frank Barbour at Ozark Health and Rehabilitation. He had just been placed there to recover from a nasty fall.
When I got there Wednesday, the 96-year-old Barbour was having a bad day. His breathing was labored and every word was a struggle.
I was hit with an overwhelming sadness, not necessarily because I may be missing out on a good story, but because we are losing connection with that generation.
We gave it a try for a couple of minutes.
“A lot of people say you are a hero, Mr. Frank,” I said. “What do you think about that?”
“Nah,” he said, and tried to catch his breath again. “Just doing my job.”
Members of his family tried to help him along with a few stories. He flew B17s in World War II. He previously told family the story about what happened when the hydraulics failed on his plane. He told crewmates to urinate in their helmets and pour the urine down the hydraulic pipes so maybe it would hold long enough to land. He told them to take their parachutes off their back and pull the ripcord out the window just before the hard landing to try to slow the plane down as much as possible.
They tried to get him to tell the story about having plane trouble in North Carolina while picking up a transport. He had to land on a public highway, much to the surprise of a motorist who diverted just in time to a nearby corn field.
Barbour was originally from Boston but retired to Fort Rucker in 1968 and taught school nearby after retirement.
There were other stories, lots of them. Mr. Frank, however, couldn’t muster the strength Wednesday.
I asked family to find some photos from his service time to share. I made arrangements to come back again later in the day to grab them. By late afternoon, however, family members were told they may not want to leave Mr. Frank’s side. He passed away Thursday, on Independence Day.
If you have someone in your family who has these stories, make sure they’re told to you before it gets too late. They are the fabric that knit our country.
Lance Griffin’s column appears Saturdays in the Dothan Eagle and at Dothaneagle.com