By Claire Booth
Today I’m going to start an occasional feature called PEOPLE I WISH I'D KNOWN. I read the obituaries every day (yes, I still get the actual physical newspaper on my doorstep every morning). Every life is interesting, but there are some that stand out. Maybe it’s the photo, where you can see a sparkling personality shining through. Maybe it’s the military record, men and women who served in World War II or Vietnam. Maybe it’s an unusual life story.
Whatever aspect draws my attention, I’m privileged to glimpse a little bit of these people’s life stories. And a lot of times, they are lives that I wouldn’t otherwise be fortunate enough to be exposed to.
The first thing about Jack Barnes that caught my eye was his Milton Berle smile. And oh, does that seem to fit. (To see the photo, click here.) Here's the obituary his family submitted to the Sacramento Bee. The writer did a wonderful job illustrating his life, and makes me wish I’d known him.
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Jack Hollister Barnes, Sr. passed away on September 5, 2018. He was 94 years old.
Jack was born in Oklahoma on May 30, 1924, and then grew up in Placerville, CA where he attended high school. At 17, he enlisted in the Navy during WW2, where he served as an Aviation Machinist Mate, working on airplane maintenance on the USS Pine Island in the South Pacific. During this period of his life, in addition to serving his country honorably, he also fixed a major boxing match between Army & Navy, convinced a nurse he was a French Spy, got a belligerent drunk foreign sailor tattooed with a US Army flag on his chest, and any other number of ill-advised adventures which required his superiors to ship him out early. Repeatedly.
He wrote a book, about this period of his life, entitled "By Your Leave, Sir," which is a bit scandalous and not to be read by the faint of heart or the easily offended but it is a fascinating look at the war era and immediately after, through the eyes of a complete and utter, scamp.
After the war, he lived in Alaska, started shoveling coal on the Alaskan Railroad, and then worked his way up to be the youngest Engineer on the Alaskan Railroad. He also flew his small airplane as a bush pilot. Upon returning to the Sacramento area, he worked at Mather Airforce Base as an airplane mechanic. August 1, 1959, he married the love of his life, Mona West, and later they moved to Oregon where he lived for many years working as a Farmer, Soil Conservationist, Real Estate Agent, and later a Real Estate broker with a chain of offices. In the mid-1980's they moved back to Sacramento area where they both finished out their careers working for the government as civilian employees.
Jack was a member of the Fort Sutter Motor Cycle Club and after he became a Christian, and Deacon of the West Sacramento Seventh Day Adventist Church. He is survived by his wife, Mona; and his three stepchildren who he helped raise, Harold Smedley Jr., Larry Smedley, Sr., and Jeanie Wilhelms; his children from his first marriage to Barbara Keaton, Eileen (Neelie) Nelson, and Steve Barnes; his adopted son, Singh Hoang; and his two children with Mona, Laurie Blanchard, and Jack Barnes, Jr.; as well as too large a number of grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews to list, all of whom loved and respected him. He taught us to be ethical, keep our word, to be generous and kind, and to face adversity with bravery and a sense of adventure. This world is a much less interesting place, without him in it. His last words were, "Let's wrap this thing up. I'm ready to go."