Remembering the last-surviving D-Day chaplain

 Col. George Russell Barber, 1914-2004 

He was the only man on his landing craft to come ashore at Omaha Beach with no “visible” weapons to protect himself.  But that didn’t stop this chaplain from being the first man out of his boat.

Col. Russell Barber

“I had the sword of the Spirit,” said Lt. Col. George Russell Barber, USAF (Ret.), who started his career with the horse cavalry along the Mexican border before World War II.  “We were all afraid,” said Col. Barber, as the men came ashore June 6, 1944, amidst a hail of bullets and fiery explosions.  “If a man says he’s not afraid, he’s lying—but we had our faith.” 

My last visit with Colonel Barber was six months before his passing. He wanted to attend the dedication of the World War II Memorial in Washington D.C. on May 29, 2004, but failing health kept him away.  Although the strength in his legs was failing, his mind was sharp and his grip still strong. 

He served his country in four wars, and one of his most powerful memories was the D-Day invasion on Omaha Beach.  “On the Sunday before D-Day I held services on 11 different ships inWeymouthHarborfor thousands and thousands of soldiers,” he said.   “I gave away a lot of pocket Gideon’s Bibles–there are no atheists in foxholes.” 

On the fateful morning of the invasion, he went over the side of his ship on a rope ladder into a flat-bottomed landing craft that held 30 soldiers.  

“When we hit the shore they let down the ramp I stood in front and led my men off,” Chaplain Barber recalled.  “They were shooting at us all around.” 

To the right, Barber witnessed a horrible sight.  “Just before we landed I saw a landing ship hit a mine,” he said.  “It blew up and killed all 30 men.  They were floating in the water and on the beach.” 

Without hesitation, Barber rushed to the sides of the wounded.  “I talked to as many as I could and prayed with them. I said, ‘Trust in God.’”  As men died in his arms he recited John 14: “Do not let your hearts be troubled.  Trust in God; trust also in me.  In my Father’s house are many mansions…” 

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