Barton Kept WWII Planes Flying
A mechanic and propeller specialist for the United States Army Air Corps, Technical Sgt. Richard “Dick” Barton was tasked with keeping the planes and bombers in the air and in working order for the Allied Forces’ movement during World War II. The Hustontown native’s military stint would take him overseas to England, Wales and even Germany, where his quick mind and propensity for aviation served him and our country well.
Born to country school teachers Harper and Lillian (Madden) Barton, Dick would leave Fulton County at the young age of 16 to begin his college education at Penn State University in mechanical engineering. Quickly learning he was better suited for the world of commerce and finance, Dick’s post-high-school education was cut short when he enlisted in the pilot’s program through the Air Corps. That too would be shortlived as Dick got his first taste of military physicals and, of course, needles, which caused him to faint dead away.
Dick said he doesn’t remember fainting or even getting a shot, but he does remember receiving an honorable discharge as a result several weeks later. Five months down the road while working at the Fairchild airplane factory in Hagerstown, Md., Dick received his official draft notice from the Air Corps.
Off to St. Petersburg, Fla., for basic training in August 1942, Dick and fellow troops were put up in hotels throughout the town. By day he marched the streets in the brutal heat. By night he stayed at the Pennsylvania Hotel patiently awaiting word of his departure.
Having chosen to study airplane mechanics, Dick travelled to Keesler Field in Biloxi, Miss., where he graduated from the intense training program in December. On Christmas Eve he would arrive in Illinois to further his studies as a propeller specialist.
The following May Dick boarded the Mariposa, a converted cruise ship that would haul 8,000 troops to Liverpool, England. Over the next eight days, the men took 12-hour shifts rotating between above and below deck. Dick was one of the fortunate to be above deck during daylight hours, affording him the opportunity to play cards and fraternize with fellow airmen.
He said had the Mariposa been part of a convoy or escort, the trip would have taken significantly longer. However, the weather was favorable and the men never saw another soul or even a fish after their first day at sea, Dick stated.
“The people were happy to see us Yanks,” said Dick of his arrival in England. “I guess our presence brought them some comfort. Their big cities had been hit pretty hard.”
Travelling back and forth between England and Scotland, Dick would eventually call Valley, Wales, his home for the next two years. Even though Valley’s airport had primarily been overseen by the English, the American troops took over much of the operation to begin receiving new crews and bombers coming in from Greenland and Iceland.
Dick said a normal day may consist of checking the “squawk sheets” for possible complaints or issues and servicing six to 30 planes a day. One particular day brought in 100 new planes for servicing. “By some miracle we got them all done,” Dick, 91, stated. “It was a real busy time for us.”
Dick’s love of planes only increased when he started logging four hours of flying time a month, which also gave him a bump in pay. Typically, those hours would be spent aboard planes he had just maintenanced to make sure he had all of the kinks worked out.
“I was crew chief on the colonel’s plane for several months and sometime during that time period I was made technical sergeant with 50 percent more pay,” said Dick.
He recalls only one plane crash occurring at the airport. The engine of a C-47 caught fire, causing the plane to land and slide off the runway. Even though the plane was deemed a total disaster, everyone aboard escaped injury.
“Sometimes one or two crews would be taken off their planes and shipped ahead to their new station to replace casualties or accident victims,” he added. “This meant we had to deliver planes to their destination with our crews, then returned to the base for regular duty.”
Dick said his location in Wales kept him far from the fighting action going on in Europe. In fact, the distance was sufficient that they didn’t even see any planes or enemy fighters on the horizon.
“You can get used to anything,” he said of the foggy and dismal weather conditions in Wales. Only once in two years did he get to don a swimsuit and hit the beach, and he was on hand for the only snowstorm to blanket the area in 24 years. The storm lasted one day.
In his downtime, and after getting sufficiently acquainted with the area and the locals, Dick and fellow airmen would travel to the neighboring villages. Each little town had a dance hall and occasionally a live band to entertain the area residents and the troops.
“It was a good duty,” said Dick of his time in Wales. “You kind of go burnt out though.”
With the war winding down, Dick’s commanding officer would pass down the news in mid-1945 he would be part of a newly formed outfit. The move would provide an opportunity for advancement as well as a chance to see Paris and even Rome, where he had audience with Pope Pious XII.
From Paris, a motor convoy would travel eastbound for three days and through areas not yet swept for mines to their final destination in Munich, Germany.
Over the next four months, Dick and his crew worked at an airport on the outskirts of Munich and resided at an inn run by a German couple. The male waiter was a sourpuss who never smiled, said Dick, while the woman liked to flirt with all of the military men. The village appeared to be abandoned at all hours of the day, but during the evenings three or four kids would appear on the inn’s doorstep in hopes of being awarded a piece of candy, said Dick.
In November 1945, Dick returned to northern Fulton County where he would eventually take over the family’s country store known as C.J. Barton’s. Dick noted his grandfather came to Fulton County from neighboring Bedford County and established the store in the late 1800s. It would then relocate across what is known today as Pitt Street to a lodge hall. Dick is touted as having “modernized” the operation and expanded its stock to include groceries, feed, hunting and work clothing, shoes, boots and ammunition.
In addition to taking over the family business, Dick also got involved in matters of the heart. His wife, Grace (Stevens) remembers the first time she saw Dick walking down the street to her family’s post office in Hustontown. She was 20 and smitten. He was 25 and just as taken with her after their first date – roller skating at Cypher Beach.
Married July 31, 1946, the Bartons’ family grew quickly with the addition of children Rodney and Cindy.
Dick also took the urging of his wife and spinster aunt to heart and went back to college. His head for numbers and college degree earned him a position as teller at the former Fulton County National Bank. He worked his way up the ranks, offering loans and mortgages as an officer and then serving as executive vice president. He retired in 1984 after 30 years in the finance business.
Only the year before, he would become inspired by his love of airplanes and time flying in World War II and enroll in flying lessons. He would also become part owner of an airplane based in Hagerstown, Md.
In the years that have followed, Dick and Grace have made good use of their free time. He enjoys puttering around the yard of their 23334 Great Cove Road, Mc- Connellsburg, home as well as swimming and only recently gave up flying. She paints, a hobby that has earned her awards and accolades. Together, they laugh and enjoy the comfort that can only come from 66 years of familiarity.