Lieutenant Richard Miller Barclay, 25, a U.S. Navy pilot, was killed in action on D-Day, June 6, 1944, when his Spitfire aircraft was shot down over France.
He was the senior of 17 Navy pilots who volunteered to be hastily trained on the British Royal Air Force Spitfire, an aircraft they had never flown before. During the Normandy invasion they flew missions to guide naval gunfire onto the coast of Normandy. Working in relays in groups of two aircraft, they would take off from England, fly 30 minutes across the English Channel, spend about 45 minutes spotting German targets and relaying the location to Navy ships, and then return to base. One aircraft did the spotting and the other guarded against German air attacks. They flew about 200 missions on D-Day. The Spitfires, like other Allied aircraft, were painted for D-Day with “invasion stripes” bold black and white stripes so they wouldn’t be mistaken for enemy aircraft.
Their unit was known as Observation Squadron VOS-7. It was disbanded on June 24, 1944, when the Allied invasion advanced inland out of the reach of naval gunfire, making it one of the most short-lived units in the war.
Lt. Barclay safely flew two missions. After his second, when a junior pilot refused to fly, he went out a third time and was shot down over France. He crashed in a field near Colleville-sur-Mer, which later became the site of the Normandy American Cemetery. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross. The citation read:
"For heroism and extraordinary achievement in aerial flight during the Invasion of the Coast of France, from June 6 to 25th, 1944. Carrying out his vital task of spotting for naval gunfire support, Lieutenant Barclay courageously flew into the thick of battle and, completely disregarding his own personal safety in the face of heavy anti-aircraft fire, provided our ships with accurate, timely information concerning tactical targets, on two occasions flying a type of plane with which he was only slightly familiar. His superb airmanship, splendid initiative, and indomitable spirit under extremely hazardous conditions were in keeping with the highest traditions of the United States Naval Service."
He was born January 25, 1919, in Riverton, New Jersey, the son of Richard D. Barclay and Therese Dorrance Spackman Barclay. His father was a Federal Land Bank agent. He was the third of their four children, two boys and two girls. His father died in November 1938.
Lt. Barclay graduated from Riverton High School in 1936 and Middlebury College in Vermont in 1930, where he majored in geology. When he registered for the draft in October 1940, he gave his size as five-nine and 153 pounds and was employed at the Charles C. Miller Company in Philadelphia. He enlisted as a Navy air cadet in December 1940. He married Patricia K. Lundrigan in Pennsylvania in 1942. He was commissioned a Navy aviator on July 26, 1943. His commission document is signed by Admiral Chester W. Nimitz, who was Allied commander of naval forces during the war.
Lt. Barclay is interred at the Normandy American Cemetery in France, and there is a memorial marker at the Westfield Friends Burial Ground, Cinnaminson, New Jersey.
This story is part of the Stories Behind the Stars project (www.storiesbehindthestars.org .) This is a national effort of volunteers to write the stories of all 400,000+ of the US WWII fallen here on Fold3. Can you help write these stories? Related to this, there will be a smart phone app that will allow people to visit any war memorial or cemetery, scan the fallen person's name and read his/her story.