Elwood E. Barden

Published 9:48 am Wednesday, June 25, 2014

King George, Va., resident Elwood E. Barden went to be with the Lord on Wednesday, June 18, 2014.

He was 93 years old. Mr. Barden is survived by his wife of 69 years, Ruby Lee Gilles, their five children, Elwood Barden Jr. (Woody), Becky Godwin, Chris Barden, Douglas Barden and Debra Valenti. Mr. and Mrs. Barden have 14 grandchildren and 25 great grandchildren.

Mr. Barden once wrote a newspaper article he titled “My Ordinary Life,” to chronicle his military service in World War II. That article and the testimony of all who know him, prove his life was anything but ordinary.

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He was born in 1921 in a small hand hewn wood frame house built by his grandfather on what is called “Rock Hill” farm, near Lumberton, Miss. He was the only child of Walter Carl von Barden and Myra Eva Wyres. At age 4 he left the farm to live first in Arkansas then Texas. He returned with his mother to live at Rock Hill while in high school.

He graduated in the class of 1938 from Forrest County Agricultural High School, in Brooklyn, Miss. After a short stint in the Civilian Conservation Corps, Mr. Barden joined the U.S. Army Air Corps in 1939 (later to become the U.S. Air Force). Just a month after the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Mr. Barden’s aircraft squadron and group boarded trains to California where they embarked on ships headed to the South Pacific.

His unit was among the first to be sent to stop the rapidly advancing Japanese forces. It was in the jungle airstrips of New Guinea where he earned the title of “Crew Chief of the Aces.” Three pilots, for whom he served as crew chief, were credited with shooting down at least five enemy aircraft, thus becoming “Aces.” It is believed he is the only crew chief to have ever earned this distinction.

One such pilot, then a young lieutenant, Richard Bong, became the leading Ace in the history of the United States by shooting down 40 Japanese aircraft. After returning from the Pacific with malaria, Mr. Barden was stationed at Brookley Field, in Mobile. It was here he met a young girl from Andalusia, Ruby Gilles, who would become his wife and lifelong companion.

Their family quickly grew and after a succession of duty assignment, including several years in Japan, Master Sergeant Barden retired in 1960 and moved to Mobile, where he worked for Liberty National Insurance then later became a charter employee of American Family Life Assurance, Co (AFLAC).

In 1964, the family moved to Atmore where Mr. Barden continued to work for AFLAC. Mr. and Mrs. Barden moved to King George, Va., in 2012 to live with their daughter and son-in-law. From humble beginnings, Mr. Barden became an extraordinary individual. He was a man of honor. He lived a life of consequence. As patriarch of the Barden family, he inspired generations to serve God and love this great country.

His legacy is reflected in the lives he touched and will continue to be felt for many generations to come.
He is sorely missed but at the same time we celebrate his life and rejoice in the certainty of his heavenly home.

Funeral services for Mr. Barden were held at noon Tuesday, June 24, from the First Baptist Church of Atmore. A visitation was held at the church from 10:30 a.m. until service time at noon.

Visitation was also held from 5:30 p.m. until 7 p.m. Monday, June 23, from the Johnson-Quimby Funeral Home.
Master Sergeant Elwood E. Barden (USAF, Retired) will be buried at Arlington National Cemetery.

Johnson-Quimby Funeral Home, Inc., was in charge of arrangements.