By Brian Boye, Staff Writer
On Nov. 9 at The Golisano Gateway, 96-year-old Donald Barton discussed his experience in World War II as a pilot in the Air Force and a prisoner of war in a presentation titled “Reflections after 73 years.”
First Lieutenant Barton was a Bombardier-Navigator in the 8th Air Force. He received the air medal with three clusters, the purple heart with two clusters and the prisoner of war medal. In 1988 Barton, along with his four crew members, were the first members of the Air Force to receive the prisoner of war medal.
When his bomb squad was on a mission to bomb components plants near Augsburg, Germany, his plane was attacked on July 19, 1944.
“As we got down into the Tyrol of Austria, the flames and the fumes were so bad we had to bail out,” said Barton. “Five of us were able to bail out and parachute and were captured in Austria. Four of our crew members were killed in the crash of a plane on the side of an Alp.”
He was imprisoned in Stalag I air prison in Germany from September 1944 until the end of the war in Europe in May 1945. When he was released, he weighed just 116 pounds.
“My daily ration was a slice of black bread for breakfast and a bowl of boiled rutabagas for dinner,” he recounted. “That is what you call a slow starvation diet, and you can’t imagine how hungry you can get with that kind of diet constantly for a period of months.”
Once back in the U.S., Barton returned to college and eventually obtained his PhD in genetics and worked for the Atomic Energy Commission, studying the effects of radiation on genes. He also worked as a professor at Cornell. Today Barton is a resident of Canandaigua.
Ever since Barton returned home, his life has been impacted by the war in numerous ways.
Coincidentally, Barton would reconnect with people he met during his service. When Barton visited Austria decades after the war ended, he received parts of his airplane that went down from Austrian citizens who collected these parts after they watched his plane crash. Additionally, he visited the graves of the four fallen members of his crew. In 2009 Barton also discovered that he was living in the same retirement community as one of the pilots who flew with his crew.
Barton decided to tell his story after going through his “war box,” which contains his service records, his medals, and the artifacts he recovered from his time in the war.
Barton presented his story two days before Veterans Day.
“I have tried for a number years to send a message to individuals around this area around the time of Veterans Day because I feel very strongly that a lot of people don’t realize the sacrifice of time and the sacrifice of themselves that these veterans give,” said Barton.