A century later, a hero honored

Nearly after a century after he gave his life for his country, Newell Barber will be remembered on Veterans Day.

Barber died when his plane was shot down over France three months before the end of World War I, in August 1918. Two years later, Medford's first public airfield, on the south end of town, was named in his honor.

As the aviation industry advanced, the 1,500-foot-long, 25-foot-wide Newell Barber Field, adjacent to the old county fairgrounds became obsolete and a new municipal airport was dedicated in 1929. Newell Barber Field passed into history and eventually the site took on a new role as Jackson County's baseball park.

Airport Director Bern Case noticed a monument commemorating Miles Field while at the South Medford Walmart a while back, and the wheels began to turn.

"It got me thinking that the original airport was located in roughly the same place," Case said. "It would be sad to lose the memory of the airfield, its history and the World War I pilot whose name it bore."

A ceremony to recognize the location of Newell Barber Field will take place at 9 a.m. Friday at Rogue Credit Union Plaza, 1370 Center Drive.

Historian Bill Miller, who wrote a piece about Newell Barber for the Mail Tribune in 2010, will talk about the young aviator. He will be joined by Rogue Credit Union CEO Gene Pelham and Jackson County Commissioner Rick Dyer, and a stone marker engraved by Brice Campman will be unveiled.

The Great War began in August 1914 and dragged on until Nov. 11, 1918. The United States avoided direct action for 2½ years before grudgingly entering hostilities. Woodrow Wilson campaigned on his ability to keep the United States out of the European war in 1916. But spurred by the sinking of the Lusitania, Wilson asked Congress April 2, 1917, for a declaration of war against the Central Powers.

One of the many Americans to volunteer to take on Kaiser Wilhelm II's German military forces was Barber, a 17-year-old Medford High School student. Two weeks before war was declared, Barber had enlisted in the Army Aviation Corps and departed for training in San Diego.

If you've seen the 2006 film "Fly Boys," you have a window into what it would've been like for the teenager who was assigned to the 108th Aero Squadron. On Aug. 11, 1918, he and his French observer were shot down near the Belgium border.

A month later, Barber's parents, Dr. Martin and Theresa Barber, received a letter from their son's flight commander:

"It was impossible for us to follow him down," it stated. "We were having combat with a superior number of planes. ... I have waited before writing, hoping that some word would reach us, but up to this time I have heard nothing."

Newell Barber posthumously received the French Croix de Guerre, but his body was never recovered.

"As for the airfield they said would 'permanently and perpetually honor his name,' in little more than a decade, it was gone," Miller wrote.

On Friday, a pair of vintage Boeing Stearman aircraft will fly over the scene.

"Our goal," Case said, "is to help keep it from being lost to history." 

— Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/GregMTBusiness, on Facebook at www.facebook.com/greg.stiles.31.

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