By WILLIAM H. HONAN
c.1999 N.Y. Times News Service
James Barnes Jr., a former Golden Triangle resident who in 1962 piloted a U-2 spy plane that helped alert the United States to the threat of a Soviet missile buildup in Cuba, died last Tuesday at El Camino Hospital in Mountain View, Calif. He was 70 and lived in Los Altos, Calif.
The cause was a stroke, his son Robert said. Barnes, a civilian contract pilot for the CIA, was flying over Cuba in October 1962 when his cameras zoomed in on the missile sites and touched off one of the most frightening confrontations of the Cold War. Because of a rivalry between the CIA and the Air Force -- the Air Force believed that the CIA was stealing its best pilots and ground crews -- the surveillance of Cuba was turned over to the Air Force.
Today it remains a question whether Barnes or an Air Force U-2 pilot, Maj. Richard Heyser, was the first to detect the construction of launching pads for offensive missiles that drove the superpowers on a collision course. It may be that one pilot photographed launching pads for missiles of an unknown range and power while the other produced incontrovertible evidence that the preparations were for potentially devastating Soviet SS-4 attack missiles. Whoever took the critical pictures, they wound up on the desk of President Kennedy within a day or two, beginning an intensive series of discussions by senior government officials. The outcome was Kennedy's televised speech to the nation on Oct. 22, 1962, warning that America was on the brink of nuclear war.
At almost the last minute, Prime Minister Nikita Khrushchev accepted a proposal from Kennedy. Khrushchev withdrew the missiles in exchange for an American pledge not to invade Cuba and bring down the government of Fidel Castro.
Barnes, who was born on Aug. 6, 1928, and raised in Beaumont, Texas, took up flying at the age of 16. He paid his way through the University of Texas at Austin by flying crop-dusters for six months of the year and attending classes the other half.
After graduating from college, he joined the Air Force and completed the cadet program in 1952 at Hondo Field, Texas. Soon he was flying F-86 Sabre jets in the Korean War.
In 1956, Barnes was recruited by the CIA to enter one of the first groups of civilian contract pilots to fly the new U-2 spy plane. These spider-like jets, which could reach the astounding altitude of 73,000 feet, were thought to be able to operate safely above the range of the best Soviet ground-to-air missiles.
That belief was shattered in 1960 when a Soviet SA2 missile brought down a U-2, whose pilot, Francis Gary Powers, then faced a show trial in Moscow. The incident led to the cancellation of a summit meeting between Khrushchev and President Eisenhower.
Living at a CIA air base in Ankara, Turkey, at that time, Barnes was Powers' next-door neighbor and, he told his son Robert, flew a diversionary raid the same day Powers was shot down, in an effort to draw Soviet fighter aircraft away from Powers.
On this or another risky mission over the Soviet Union, Barnes photographed a high-performance Soviet MIG-21 firing a missile at his U-2. But the missile missed, because neither the MIG nor its missile could maneuver effectively in the thin air of extreme altitude.
''Barnes had an excellent record,'' said John Shinn, a fellow U-2 pilot who now lives in Lakewood, Colo. ''He flew the U-2 for 33 years. I don't think anyone can beat that.''
Carmine Vito, a retired U-2 pilot who lives in Austin, Texas, recalled that when practicing touch-and-go U-2 landings on an aircraft carrier, an aileron on Barnes' planes tore loose. ''He could only turn in one direction,'' Vito said, ''but instead of ditching, he left the scene and took the plane safely back to Edwards.''
Barnes was based at Edwards Air Force Base, where the CIA maintained a clandestine fleet of U-2 aircraft, when he began flying surveillance missions over Cuba.
''The CIA was interested in some suspicious activity in Cuba at that time,'' Robert Barnes said his father had told him. ''Then, when Dad told our mother that his cameras had determined that the launching pads they were making were for offensive, not defensive, missiles, my mother came out of the house and said there was a threat of nuclear war and we couldn't leave the house. I was only 5 or 6 at the time, but I remember it.''
In addition to his son Robert, of Chico, Calif., Barnes is survived by another son, James III, of Mountain View, a daughter, Barbara Mayfield of Ukiah, Calif., and two sisters, Nancy Payne and Maryjo Moore, both of Longview, Texas.
Note: He will be buried at Mt. Hope Cemetery in Tyler County, Texas July 23, 1999
Former Spy Pilot Lived Life of Secrecy, Rest in Peace in Chester Today
By Todd Sonnier
July 26, 1999
James Barnes Jr. always did what was best for his family, whether taking care of the grandkids or keeping his dangerous job a secret form his children. Following his death on July 6, his family decided to do what they though was right for him - send him home to Southeast Texas.
The Beaumont native and former U - 2 spy plane pilot will be buried today in a family cemetery in Chester. "We got the feeling he wanted to be here - with his mom and dad and brother", said Jim Barnes, James Barnes's oldest son.
Barnes was the first of two Central Intelligence Agency pilots who photographed Soviet missile sites in Cuba in 1962, tipping off the Kennedy administration to the Cuban Missile Crisis.
At the time, even Barnes's children were unaware of the details of his daily life. As far as they knew, he was a test pilot. There were signs he wasn't the average dad, though they might not have been so obvious to children.
Barbara Mayfield, Barnes's youngest child, remembers seeing blue cars drive up to the house each time her father would be sent on a mission - which could last as long as two or three months.
The mysterious men in blue suits could show up at any time, even on family vacations to Strawberry Lake in California. Each time the men came, James Barnes would leave with them.
"So we knew when blue cars came, that was bad news," she said. "That meant dad had to leave. That's all we knew."
Jim remembers a married couple that befriended the family when he was about 15. His parents and the new couple were close - vacationing together, visiting for dinner and spending quite a bit of time together.
After he'd retired from the CIA, James Barnes confided in his son that the couple were not just friends. They had been bodyguards for the family.
" Didn't find that out until I was 34 years old", Jim said.
The secret was one of many generated over his 15 years of service in the agency - secrets his children are still learning. In going through his belongings, they found several medals from the Air Force and CIA that he could never tell them about.
After his time with the CIA, his lifestyle was anything but extraordinary. He loved gold and spending time with his grandchildren. He fed animals in his backyard and ducks at the golf course - so much so that they would chase him each time he'd hit the links.
"He was a typical grandfather", Barbara said. Today's service is scheduled for 11 a.m. at Mount Hope Cemetery in Chester.