CAPE GIRARDEAU — Maj. Emerson York Barker was 24 years old in 1944 and had just finished a tour of duty with the U.S. Air Force over Guadalcanal when he was given a choice: Go home or train fighter pilots to lead battleships into Tokyo Bay.
Barker decided to stay. His plane disappeared forever into a cloud as he commanded the 419th Night Fighter Squadron, made up of P-61 Black Widows that would eventually be assigned to the invasion of Japan. He left a new wife, an infant son he had never seen and an older brother who has worked for the last two years to have him memorialized at Arlington National Cemetery.
On June 13, at the age of 95, Dwight Barker will realize his dream, joining family members at a ceremony with full military honors in remembrance of his brother, 68 years almost to the day that he vanished above the Pacific.
Dwight Barker enlisted in the U.S. Navy along with a third brother, Kenneth. He came to Cape Girardeau from Indiana to find work after he completed his service 55 years ago and eventually became the district manager of the Speed Queen Washer Co.
Over the last 20 years or so, Barker has been assembling information as it became available about his brother's service record. Before his death, Emerson Barker was decorated with the Air Medal with three Oak Leaf Clusters for meritorious achievement for flying the first night raid on Rabaul, a strategic Japanese air base in the South Pacific. Around 1990, Dwight Barker discovered that his brother was memorialized in the Tablets of the Missing at Manila American Cemetery in the Philippines.
About five years ago, with the help of granddaughter Alesha Barker, he finally learned the details of his brother's death from online military records.
Dwight Barker was then selected two years ago as an honored veteran to go on a tour of the nation's capital. When he saw Arlington National Cemetery, he became convinced that his brother should be among the servicemen and women remembered there, in a permanent memorial on American soil.
"It's a beautiful park," he said.
He enlisted the help of congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson, who advocated for him when he approached the national cemetery. In April, a marker was installed at Arlington, and Dwight Barker is looking forward to seeing it next month.
He said he is proud of his brother Emerson's achievements as a World War II fighter pilot and respectful of the difficulties he must have faced in his duties.
"It's not a pleasant job, but it's war," he said.
Dwight Barker will be accompanied to the ceremony by his wife, Evelyn, and joined by family members from Cape Girardeau, Indiana, Florida and Texas. He's also invited alumni of his brother's alma mater, Indiana Central College, now called the University of Indianapolis; Rep. Emerson; and his brother's widow and son, a U.S. Navy veteran who lives in San Diego.
"I'm honored to get to do this for my brother," Barker said.