Joe Barrett grew up in Wilkes Barre, Pennsylvania, in a coal mining community. His father mined anthracite, and Joe became a machinist after high school. One of his early jobs was helping with rural electrification in Pennsylvania. When Pearl Harbor was attacked, he was living in Connecticut and operating machinery that made typewriters. In December, 1942, he was drafted, and the skill set that he brought to the Army resulted in him being slotted into an ordnance specialty. Initially, he was taught to repair radiators and truck frames, but later he was assigned to the 86th Aerodrome Squadron in Savannah, where he began transitioning to aviation ordnance. He learned to repair aircraft weapons and eventually to fuse bombs. He was unsure of where he would be assigned when his Liberty Ship departed from Hampton Roads, Virginia, destined for North Africa. During this period, the Allies had invaded Italy, and the Japanese were advancing towards India. He sailed from Oran on the HMS Chantilly, bound for India and the 10th Air Force. Arriving in India, he took a train to Bangladesh, where he eventually joined the 490th Bombardment Squadron, the “Burma Bridge Busters.” Later, the 490th moved to China and was assigned to the 14th Air Force. After the war, Joe returned home, married in 1947, and earned a degree in Mechanical Engineering from Lehigh.
In this interview, he talks about his childhood, his service in the Army Air Corps, and his life after World War II. He describes serving on remote airfields in the jungles of the China, Burma, India Theater of Operations. Finally, he reflects on what his service means to him, noting that it is something that had to be done, and he’d do it again if needed.