James Frederick Barfknecht, 95, of Helena, MT, retired Army Colonel and decorated WWII Veteran, passed away peacefully at St. Peter’s Hospital, March 24, 2016 surrounded by his family. Jim was born in Melstone, MT on August 21, 1920 to Otto F. Barfknecht and Millie (Hinds) Barfknecht. The family moved to Bozeman in 1928 where his father worked for the railroad. After graduation from Gallatin County High School in 1938, he worked for two years to afford college during the Great Depression. He attended Montana State College, Bozeman (MSC/MSU), for two years when he was selected to enter the Navy’s V-5 program.
Barfknecht entered the U.S. Navy as an Aviation Cadet June 4, 1942. He qualified as a Naval Aviator June 30, 1943, Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, TX, where he was awarded his Gold Wings and commissioned an Ensign in the U.S. Navy. After advanced pilot training in Jacksonville, FL, he completed Aircraft Carrier Qualifications on the USS Wolverine, Lake Michigan. He was then assigned to fleet duty aboard the USS Yorktown Aircraft Carrier, (CV10), also known as the “Fighting Lady” in the Pacific Theater. As a World War II Naval Aviator, Ensign Barfknecht flew the Naval Torpedo Bomber TBF-1 Avenger, with 70 successful sorties, launching/landing off the USS Yorktown. He was involved in intense combat of launched air strikes and raids and participated in several naval battles including the Battle of Leyete Gulf, the landing on Iwo Jima and the first aerial flight of carrier based torpedo bombers over the Tokyo area in early 1945. Jim served with distinction and became a decorated Aviator, receiving the Air Medal with Gold Star Asiatic for an attack on a Japanese freighter in the Philippines. He also received the Distinguished Flying Cross with Gold Star, Pacific and Philippine Liberation Ribbons and a Presidential Unit Citation.
Jim returned to Bozeman on leave from the Pacific Theater on April 1, 1945 and married his high school sweetheart Virginia Howell on April 4, 1945 in Bozeman. After a month of leave, he returned to the Navy while Virginia stayed in Bozeman to graduate from MSC. Once released from Naval Active Duty, Jim returned to MSC to complete his Mechanical Engineering degree in 1949, while remaining in the Naval Reserves. Jim and Virginia started their family, which includes two daughters, Kay and Dee and son Jim. In April, 1947, Jim “traded services”, resigning from the Naval Reserves and joining the Montana Army National Guard. He and Virginia were also part owners of the Howell family “College Hill Grocery Store” in Bozeman.
In July 1953, they moved to Helena where he was appointed Army Aviation Operations & Maintenance Officer for observation aircraft and helicopters of the Montana Army National Guard. He was the first aviator in the Montana Army National Guard and had the honor of flying the first helicopter in the state. In 1965 he became the first Montana Guardsman to receive the Master Army Aviator Award. Barfknecht organized the Montana Army National Guard Aviation Program known today as the 189th Aviation Battalion. He also commanded both Headquarters Company 163rd INF Regiment and the Aviation Company of the 163rd Armored Calvary. Col. Barfknecht, nicknamed by colleagues - “The Father of the Montana Army National Guard Aviation” served his “last drill” and retired in 1977 after 35 years of combined military service.
Jim’s interest and devotion to aviation extended beyond the boundaries of Montana to Washington D.C. where he spent Active Duty time assisting other states in the organization and operation of their aviation programs.
After his retirement, Jim was an active volunteer in the community and a member of several service organizations; American legion, ELKS, American Red Cross, Morning Star Lodge #5 Scottish Rite, Daedalians (retired military pilots), Montana Military Museum, Friendship Force, a fiercely loyal die-hard MSU Bobcat, life-time MSU Alumni member and Sigma Chi Fraternity, as well as a member of the First Baptist Church of Montana where he served on various committees. He was a member of the State Seniors Golf Association, loved to fish and could figure out any given puzzle. He and Virginia traveled extensively in their retirement, including attending his Yorktown VT-3 Torpedo Bomber Squadron reunions annually for 25 years. Dad was a man of integrity, honor and dedication. He loved his country, his family and he taught us many valuable life lessons with discipline, love and generosity. We will miss him tremendously.
Jim is preceded in death by his loving wife, Virginia, (married almost 67 years when Virginia passed in 2013), parents Otto and Millie and brother Edward. He is survived by his daughter Kay (Joe) Robertson, son Jim (Marcia) Barfknecht and daughter Dee (Dennis Himmelberger), all of Helena, as well as grandson Brad (Trecia) and 3-month old great grandson Barrett James all of Great Falls and grandson John (Bryna) of Bozeman, nephews Beau and family of Port Elizabeth, South Africa, Rick Brumfield of Sedro Wooley, WA and nieces Virginia Rodriguez and Barb Zeigler Seibert of Portland and their families.
Funeral services will be held in Helena at Anderson Stevenson Wilke Funeral Home, 3750 N. Montana Ave., on Tuesday, April 5th, 2016 at 11:00 a.m. with a reception to follow immediately in the social hall of the funeral home. Interment with military honors provided by the Montana Army National Guard Honor Guard will take place at 1:30 p.m. at the Montana State Veterans Cemetery at Fort Harrison.
The family would like to thank Dr. Sarah O’Connell, Dr. Lee Harrison, Dr. Jay Larson and all of the incredible nursing staff for their outstanding medical care. We would also like to thank the many friends and loved ones who visited and offered their kind support, prayers and friendship.
Memorials in Jim’s name are suggested to include the Montana Military Museum (P.O. Box 125, Fort Harrison, MT 59636), the American Red Cross (1300 28th St. So., Great Falls, MT 59405) and the First Baptist Church of Montana (201 8th Ave., Helena, MT 59601). (via the Helena Independent Record March 27, 2016 on-line edition)
Virginia Lorraine Howell Barfknecht
1923–2013 (m. 1945)
Edward Otto Barfknecht
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