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Russell Lee Barbor

Young American Patriots, Vol. II

West Virginia Veterans Memorial


Russell Lee Barbor

"This nation will remain the land of the free only so long as it is the home of the brave."

Elmer Davis

Elmer Davis' quotation portrays the true value of the sacrifices our veterans make. Every veteran has contributed to the freedom of this nation. This dedication and commitment to one's country is best exemplified in the veteran Russell Lee Barbor. He was a private in the 163rd Infantry, 41st Division, of the U.S. Army. This division was more commonly known as "The Jungleers" (for their expertise in jungle fighting), as well as "The Sunsetters."

41st Division Patch, thus the term "Sunsetters"

There are actually variations on the spelling of Russell's last name, such as Barbour or Barber; however, Barbor is the most commonly used spelling. He was born on July 15, 1919, in Mercer County, West Virginia, to Leonard R. Barbor and Ethel Barbor. His family lived on New Ingleside Road in Beaver Pond, a neighborhood near Princeton. According to U.S. Army World War II Enlistment Records, 1938-1946, Russell completed his education through grammar school and up to the seventh grade.

His parents were actually born in Virginia and moved to West Virginia. Russell was raised in the Princeton area, which was a late arrival to the industries of coal and railroads in West Virginia. Coal was a dominating force in West Virginia throughout the 20th century, and its influence is still felt today. Railroads, too, were an important economic force in the state. Russell's father was a railroad worker, and U.S. Federal Census records show that both his parents were literate. Russell was the fourth of a total of ten children in the Barbor family. U.S. Federal Census documents from 1920, 1930, and 1940 show his siblings to be Myrtle Mae, William Henry, Robert B., Woodrow E., Aubrey Edward, Fred, Lorraine, Kenneth Lowell, and Buford.

Russell enlisted in the army at Huntington in February 1942. Right before Russell was assigned to his division, it was reorganizing at Fort Lewis near Seattle. During March and April of that year, the division moved to San Francisco. On April 10, 1942, the Division arrived in Melbourne, Australia. Russell saw all of his combat action in the Pacific Theater. Russell's unit, 163rd Infantry Regiment, 41st Infantry Division, consisted of National Guards from Montana, Wyoming, and many other states. It trained in Australia during the summer. The unit was assigned to the New Guinea campaign and then witnessed action in January 1943 with the battle of Buna-Goa. The Americans attacked Japanese installments with tanks, assuming that the Japanese had no anti-tank weaponry. Unfortunately, the Japanese were well equipped. The combined American and Australian forces continued to battle the Japanese forces off the island. At the conclusion of January 1943, the Japanese were no longer control of Buna-Goa.

In March 1943, a task force consisting of units from the 41st Division took part in an amphibious assault to seize Morobe. Then, as part of the United States' island-hopping strategy, the unit proceeded to Salamaua in the June of that year. The conditions of the fighting were brutal since many American troops were not accustomed to the tropical weather of high temperatures and high humidity. After that battle, the 41st Division recuperated in Australia and underwent amphibious training at Toorbul Point, Australia.

The 41st then returned to the Pacific and geared to fight again in April 1944. The 41st Division proceeded to storm the Japanese airfields on the island of New Guinea. Naval ships and airplanes had bombarded the area before the assault took place. One of these bombs hit a stockpile of Japanese ammunition that caused a huge explosion injuring many Americans. The unit then proceeded to Wake Island and conquered it. After Wake, Russell's unit attacked Biak, which was near New Guinea. On June 18, 1944, command of the division transferred from General Horace H. Fuller to Brigadier General Jens A. Doe. This venture lasted from May to August 1944 and saw the death of Russell Barbor. Russell died on July 17, 1944, due to an injury he received in battle.

Russell's unit continued the fight until August 20, when Operation Biak concluded. The next order of action was to prep for movement to a new location. On January 2, 1945, the 41st Division moved to Luzon Island in the Philippines.

The 186th Infantry of the 41st Division was working with local guerrillas in order to drive the Japanese out of the Puerto Princesca area. The Japanese were quickly withdrawing, and by March 9, that area was clear of Japanese forces. The 186th began building naval bases and expanding their scope. Then the other two infantry regiments of the 41st Division joined them on March 10 with the landing at Zamboanga. This site was vital to constricting Japanese supply lines.

After aerial bombardment of Japanese installations, the 41st Division encountered light opposition as it pushed to San Mateo. General MacArthur reported on March 12, "We have landed near Zamboanga on the southwestern-most tip of Mindanao.... The bulk of the enemy garrison, caught off guard, has fled to the hills in disorder. We now control the entire length of the western shores of the Philippine Islands from the northwestern tip of Luzon to the southwestern tip of Mindanao, a distance of approximately 800 miles. The blockade of the South China Sea and the consequent cutting off of the Japanese conquests to the south is intensifying" (GHQ, SWPA, Communiqu No. 1070, 12 Mar 45). After the successful conquering of the Philippines, the 3rd Battalion of the 163rd Infantry participated in the V-5 Operation. In September 1945, the unit occupied Japan before they were inactivated in Japan. (Military history compiled from the following sources: U.S. Army Center of Military History, "41st Infantry Division"; Army Historical Foundation, "41st Infantry Division, ARNG"; Reports of General MacArthur: The Campaign of MacArthur in the Pacific, 1994, Vol. I, Ch. XI, "Operations of the Eighth Army in the Southern Philippines"; Dwight D. Eisenhower Presidential Library, "41st Infantry Division, 1943-1945." All accessed from the Web, 26 May 2015.)

Manila American Cemetery

Manila American Cemetery. Courtesy American Battle Monuments Commission

Russell's grave is located in Plot F, Row 11, Grave 9, in the Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines. He received a Purple Heart for receiving wounds that led to his death in battle. Russell had neither a wife nor children.

However, Russell's memory was carried on by his siblings and their descendants, one of whom is Fred Barbor. He enlisted in the U.S. Navy during World War II and served as a cook. Fred also became a Jehovah's Witness after the war and moved to Delaware. He was very religious and was an active participant in the White Clay Congregation in Newark. Fred Barbor worked 33 years as a chemist at Gates Engineering Company in Wilmington. He was an active cook and enjoyed fishing. Fred Barbor died on October 30, 2011.

It appears that most, if not all, of Russell's siblings are deceased. One of Russell's sisters, Myrtle Mae Smith, lived until the age of eighty-six. She passed away on November 28, 1997. Coming from such a large family, Russell was most likely survived by a number of nieces and nephews, some of whom may still live in the Princeton area. (Information regarding Fred Barbor and Myrtle Smith from Find A Grave memorials.)

Many young men gave their lives to preserve the freedom we know today. Russell Barbor is an exemplar of the courage and sacrifice our veterans make. He fought through the jungles of the Pacific with a goal second to none: freedom. This biography serves to commemorate those sacrifices and recount the heroic stories of West Virginia's unsung heroes.

Article prepared by Arka Gupta, George Washington High School, Advanced Placement U.S. History
May 2015


Russell Lee Barbor

West Virginia Archives and History welcomes any additional information that can be provided about these veterans, including photographs, family names, letters and other relevant personal history.

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