Written by Rebecca (Becky) Barker
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John was born on November 30, 1945 in Beaumont Texas to Elbert Wesley Barker and Lona Belle Barker. He had three older siblings, Janice Sue (1/2 sister), Tracy, and Douglas. His father was a pipeline welder by trade. He moved the family quite often during John’s early life. The family moved to Midland when John was in the second grade.
He attended South Elementary the 2nd through 6th grades. His parents divorced when John was ten or eleven. His mother worked all the time to support the family. This left John and his brothers on their own most of the time. John told me that his mother purchased summer passes to the swimming pool at Halff Park. He spent most of his days during the summers in his elementary years swimming in that pool. Also, he said that when it came time to go home, he would run barefoot from the pool to their home on South Camp St. He sure must have had some tough feet. His older brother Tracy worked at the Halff pool as a lifeguard. I don’t know if Doug ever worked as a lifeguard, but John was never a lifeguard.
John and I, Rebecca Dillard Barker, were in the same class in the third grade. Our class was in the second story of the old red brick building at South Elementary. If the wind was blowing very hard, the building would sway. We both were in the same class again in the fifth grade. Neither one of us remembered the other being in that class, but we both remembered Miss Weaver bringing her tv to school and letting us watch the World Series. We both remembered Charlie Huggins was in that class with us. John like the rest of us walked or rode a bike everywhere, in fact all over town. On South Camp where John lived, the roads were gravel. John had so many flat tires from the roads that he gave up and just walked or ran everywhere.
John was a very quite, methodical, , unassuming, modest, loyal, kind, and industrious individual. Eddie Klatt says that John Barker was a good friend. They were friends from a very early age. I think he had many friends during his lifetime. He had a good sense of humor and enjoyed teasing others. The quality that I and others saw in him was that he could take teasing well also. He never provoked a fight but could handle one if necessary. One of Doug’s peers found this out the hard way. The guy had a beef with Doug and decided he would take it out on little brother. The results were not good for him, but John told me that after that fight, he never had any problems with his brother’s school mates.
He attended Cowden Junior High School from the seventh through the ninth grades. We both were in David LeMaster’s homeroom all three years. Mr. LeMaster was not only our teacher but a life long friend. He was always planning away from school activities for our homeroom. He took those that were able to go to Balmorea one summer. We had watermelon parties during the summers. He took John to watch Permian High football games, and he even let John drive his red and white 1957 Chevy. While driving the Chevy, John ran into something and messed up the front end of the car. While attending Cowden, he played football as the quarterback, and was the student council representative from our homeroom all three years. He played baseball during this time too, and he told me that he ran from his home on S. Camp to Hogan Park to practice and then back home. No wonder he was always so thin and in good physical shape.
John’s highschool years were spent at Midland High School. I can only relay a few things that he told me because I don’t ever remember seeing him in the mass of students in those hallways. He continued to play football all three years. There were tales that he relayed of many adventures, and pranks pulled by him and friends like Eddie Klatt,Charlie Huggins, Butch Parks, Joe Steele, and I am sure there were others involved. Listening to all the stories sure made me wonder what world I was living in during this time. I am sure there are other classmates that know more about him during the highschool years than I do.
I do remember the night of our graduation in 1964. We had a hard rain storm so the ceremony was moved into the auditorium. When John’s name was called, he was not there. He told me later that the only graduation ceremony of his that he attended was when he graduated from Officer’s Candidate School.
John was a fun loving individual but he also had to work hard to help support himself. He went on a wheat harvest in Kansas when he was fourteen or fifteen, driving combines. He worked in the oilfields during the summers , when he was in highschool. I asked him one time how he even knew about these jobs. I was told that there was a bulletin board at Joe Powell’s Cafe on Florida St. He worked in the oilfields even though it was more dangerous than other jobs he could have done, because it paid more.
After highschool, John attended Odessa Junior College in Odessa and worked at Andy’s Lumber yard. From OC John transferred to UT Arlington. He was having too much fun there so he received a letter from Uncle Sam.
John was to report for his physical in Abilene, Texas. He thought that he would be returning home after his physical and vaccinations so he didn’t take anything with him. To his surprise they were boarding a plane headed to Fort Polk, La after they finished with everything there at Abliene. He was put in charge of five or six other guys and handed all the records in an envelope. Two of the guys went AWOL in Dallas. When they arrived at the base in La, there was a heavy rain storm. John stumbled getting off the plane and dropped the envelope of records in a mud puddle. After these incidents, he spent the first two weeks of his military career doing KP, peeling potatoes. When his basic training was completed, he was selected to attend Officer Candidate School in Fort Benning, Ga.
His next opportunity was to attend helicopter school and then to Vietnam. He was in Vietnam for a little over a year. Captain John Barker and his crew were sent into hot spots to rescue the injured. He told me that he made sure to make friends with the Apache pilots, so when he needed help, he could call for them. Many times he was sent to spots that the people on the ground would be waving him off because it was too dangerous. The Apache pilots would come in and clear the area for them so they could land. John told me that he made sure that he was always the first in and last out. He told me that his men didn’t like him but that he didn’t lose them. His best friend in Vietnam was killed right next to him on one of the missions. Also, he told me that he was shot down over Cambodia once, but they were rescued. The Army was able to rescue the helicopter a few weeks later. According to John’s discharge document his date of entry into the Army was February 1968 and he served four years and eleven months. He was discharged while stationed at Fort Bliss in El Paso, Texas. He had decided to go finish his college education. Other than these few things and the fact that this period of time taught him not to sweat the small things, John would not talk about the war.
While in the Army, John was decorated with the National Defense Service Medal, Army Aviator Badge, Vietnam Service Medal, Air Medal (3), Vietnam Campaign Medal, Army Commendation Medal, two overseas bars, expert badge w/rifle, and the Bronze Star. I found all these in a shoebox while cleaning out a closet. I asked John what they were all about. He said “Nothing really. I was just doing my job”.
After his discharge, John attended North Texas State in Denton, Texas. Butch Parks, Eddie Klatt, and Charlie Huggins were attending North Texas at the time. The three of them had an apartment together and John said it was wild there. Also, he told me about some of the drives through town and pranks that were pulled. The four of them had quite a time together. I know that John would never leave a tip on the table at a restaurant because one of the group would go around collecting the tips left on tables. He always made sure to hand tips to the servers. John graduated from North Texas State University May 16, 1975 with a Bachelor of Business Administration degree.
Next he secured a job in Houston. He lived there for about five years. He married during this time but it only lasted a little over four years. After the divorce, John moved to Alaska for two years. After those two years, he moved back to Odessa Tx where he went to work for Sid Richardson Gas as a programmer. John taught himself how to write programs in two different formats. After about eight years, another one of our down turns in the oil industry happened and John lost his job. He was having trouble finding another job and got disgusted and moved to Las Vegas and for the next two years he lived off his winnings. When he returned to Midland and started looking for a job, he said that the employers were not impressed with the two years in Vegas on his resume. He decided to go to truck driving school. After completing the course, he drove over the road for a couple of years. He tired of being away from home so much and went to work for a local company driving an end dumptruck. It was at this time that John and I, after 30 years, met up again via David LeMaser. Mr. LeMaster took a special interest in John from the time they might until his death and kept up with John all through his life. When we would see each other, he would always update me on where John was and how he was doing. I ran into David and his wife one day in 1993 at SAM’s and was told that John was living in Midland again. He wanted me to call John so I did. We started dating after he and my best friend Margaret Herrick Richardson, and I met for dinner one night and visited about our Cowden days and John telling of us stories about some of the things that he and other of our classmates took part in. We were dumbfounded.
We were married on May 25, 1996 and John took on my family whole heartily. He gained a daughter, son, three granddaughters ( two of which were born after we married), one grandson, and later came a great granddaughter, and a great grandson. Another great grandson was born a couple of months after John’s passing who bears the name of John in his name. John was greatly loved by all of them.
He was the best dad, and grandfather anyone could have had. He thoroughly enjoyed the little ones and to them, he was the fun one. His great granddaughter to this day tells us that she does not want her Papaw in heaven but for him to come home.
After we married, with the encouragement of David LeMaster, John started to teach under an emergency certificate. He taught math to at risk students at Permian High School in Odessa. While teaching, he attended UT of the Permian Basin at night. He got his teaching certificate in December of 2001. He taught at Permian for a couple of years and then some in Midland. He decided that the school system was too changed for his liking and he went back to work in the oil industry until he retired in 2011.
After John retired, he purchased an old farm house and two acres of land in Sacramento NM. He loved being in the mountains and away from all the hustle and bustle in the Permian Basin with the oil boom taking place. He just wanted the quite and peace that he found being in the country. His intent was to write a book, and live off the land. Live off the land was soon discarded. He had planned on getting a chain saw and cut down his own firewood. He couldn’t even keep the fire going in the wood burning stove. He asked a fire ranger one time, how could they have such forest fires and he couldn’t even keep a fire going. We spent a lot of time there and enjoyed having our family come and enjoy the mountain air. After John passed away, our little five year old great granddaughter, Avery, asked if we still had the mountain home. John’s hope was that the place would be enjoyed for many years by our family and their families.
John started having serious health issues in the fall of 2015. In November of 2015, he had to have quadruple by pass surgery. The spring of 2016 he came down with a bad case of the shingles, which never completely cleared up. The fall of 2016, he was diagnosed with uveal melanoma cancer. There was a tumor behind his left eye making him blind in that eye. It is a rare cancer and we were sent to MD Anderson in Houston. He went through treatment on the eye for a year and the cancer spread to his liver and lungs. He started participating in clinical trials with drugs that were not FDA approved which had some really rare and horrific side effects. One of the drugs in one trial destroyed his pancreas , making him an insulin dependent diabetic. I asked him several times why he would keep putting himself through all this. He told me that of course he was hoping they would happen on something that would help him, but he hoped that the doctors would learn something from him that would help someone else in the future. A few weeks after John’s death, his oncologists from MD Anderson called me to let me know that John had a legacy at MD. The drug that made him diabetic, they are now able to use on melanoma patients because of things they learned from John. I was so appreciative that the doctor took the time to call me and inform me of John’s legacy. John fought bravely for three long years but lost the battle to cancer on August 24, 2019.
John loved life and was always up for another adventure. He loved children, animals, and FOOTBALL. I believe John touched many lives in his own quiet way. I feel privileged to have known him and shared part of my life with him. I know that he partook of the horrible tasting fluoride filled Midland water which along with his mother, teachers, and life long friends helped him to develop into the man he became.