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Columbia Missourian

A decorated World War II veteran, Claude Barton was thoughtful, disciplined

By Grant Hindsley
December 27, 2012 | 6:24 p.m. CST

COLUMBIA — Cathy Barton remembers watching submarines and warships go by her childhood home at the Headquarters United States Army Pacific in Hawaii.

Moving often between military bases wasn't the easiest life for the youngest daughter of a U.S. Army colonel, but it was an adventure, she said.

"I really think I looked up to my dad as a hero," Cathy Barton said. "I was always looking up to my dad and what he did."

Her father, Col. Claude D. Barton, died Monday, Dec. 24, 2012. He was 96.

Col. Barton was born on Aug. 12, 1916, in Derma, Miss.

The decorated war veteran gave 31 years of service to the the military. He led troops through the Pacific during World War II and served as security division chief of the then-newly formed Central Intelligence Group (now the CIA), director of security in the Office of Secretary of Defense and eventually as a chief of security in a division at the Pentagon.

His military career took him to the Philippines, Japan, Washington, D.C., Hawaii, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Italy and Korea before he finally requested a position as a professor of military science at MU, where he got great satisfaction from teaching young cadets.

During an early assignment in Washington, D.C., Col. Barton met an officer of the Women's Army Corp on a bus ride. He married  Ruth Catlett, a WAC as the first women in the U.S. Army were called, just three months later. Col. Barton and Mrs. Barton were married for 53 years before her death in 2001.

Cathy Barton said after her mother's death Col. Barton looked at her picture as a WAC and said, "The finest women and most wonderful wife anyone could ever have."

Although a career soldier, Col. Barton, was a man of peace. Cathy Barton said her mother was a force to be reckoned with, and he let her have the limelight.

"He was a very steady, good, influence — quietly loving," Cathy Barton said.

Judy Gibbons, Col. Barton's middle-daughter, said he parented by example.

"He wasn't a preacher," she said. "A person of absolute honesty ... we all knew it and were expected to be the same."

Cathy Barton, a prominent folk musician, got her love of music from her father. Col. Barton used to read the newspaper while listening to Nat King Cole and Mahalia Jackson.

"He loved gospel and country music," Cathy Barton said. "(He) would have loved if I learned to play Johnny Cash."

After listening to the radio one day, his daughter Cathy Barton, took an interest in the hammered dulcimer, a stringed instrument. Col. Barton took his military discipline and built one for his daughter from a picture on the back of an album. He would later build more than 15 dulcimers and a banjo in his free time.

Despite his military background, his son-in-law Dave Para said he wasn't "Captain Von Trapp;" he was simply a thoughtful, efficient man.

"He didn't run his family like a tight ship," Para said. "He enjoyed relaxing, but when it was time to do a job, put your mind to it, and do it."

Col. Barton brought his discipline and organization to all aspects of his life. When he had open-heart surgery 10 years ago, he gave power of attorney to Para.

"In case I go," he told Para as he pointed to a bottom drawer in a set of file cabinets. "Start there."

Para said it was as though Col. Barton said, "You're going to have a job to do, so I've helped you prepare for it."

In a house full of women, her father spent much of his time chasing them around, shutting off lights from rooms they had left, Gibbons said. He would spend hours before family trips helping the girls pack, making them empty their suitcases and re-pack in the specific order their things would be used throughout the trip.

Although Col. Barton rarely lost his temper, his daughters knew they were in trouble when he would begin to tongue his upper lip, Gibbons said. They recently found out it was where a fever blister had been during his time in the Pacific.

Well-traveled and accomplished, Col. Barton rarely told war stories.

In the spring of 1970, Judy Gibbons was let out of school early because of unrest in the student population about the Kent State shootings and the Vietnam War. After Col. Barton picked her up from school, she was very "anti-war." He waited awhile and did not say anything until he came into her room one day.

"My father waited a certain amount of time and said, 'Judy, you know nothing about war,'" she said. "'I have lived war, and if you think because I'm in the Army I like war, you’re crazy. War is the most terrible thing in the world, and I have spent my entire life making this country safe enough so we never have to go to war again.'"

"It gave me a totally new perspective," Gibbons said.

Col. Barton finished his career with many Army medals. He was awarded the Presidential Unit Citation, awarded to his battalion for an action on Ie Shima in the Ryuku's Islands in April 1945; the Silver Star; the Legion of Merit, with three oak leaf clusters; the Bronze Star; and the Combat Infantryman's Badge. Col. Barton was the inaugural inductee of the MU Army Reserve Officers' Training Corps Hall of Fame in November.

"He did extraordinary things because he lived in an extraordinary time," Para said.

Col. Barton is survived by a sister, Marie Lofton of Jonesboro, Ark.; his brother, Roy Barton of Germantown, Tenn.; three daughters and their husbands, Claudia Barton and Tom Welsh of College Station, Texas; Judy and Tom Gibbons of Richardson, Texas; and Cathy Barton and Dave Para of Boonville; and five grandchildren.

A visitation will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. Friday at Memorial Funeral Home, 1217 Business Loop 70 W.  A funeral service will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at First Baptist Church, 1112 E. Broadway. Interment will follow in Memorial Park Cemetery.

Memorial contributions may be made to First Baptist Church, 1112 E. Broadway, Columbia, MO65201, or to the Wounded Warrior Project, 1120 G St. NW, Suite 700, Washington, DC 20005.