By 1st Lt. Mark L. Sageser
Josephine Maxwell Barkley, captured in this July 3, 1944, photo, joined the Civil Air Patrol and learned to fly a Piper J-3 Cub during World War II. “I thought it was more fun than anything else,” she said, adding, “You really had to rev it up to get it over those trees.”
In the middle of a Kansas farm field, miles away from allied involvement in World War II, 16- year-old Josephine Maxwell Barkley learned to fly. It was an era when men were off at war and women were looking for ways to help. The Civil Air Patrol gave this Kansas teenager that chance.
Barkley was one of four children born to Otto and Clara Maxwell of Ottawa, Kan. When America entered the war in 1941, her three brothers stepped forward to serve. Though she and her family were left behind in the heartland, her heart was with her brothers scattered around the world.
News of the war was slow in reaching the small farming community, but the exploits of her brothers’ fighting, especially her youngest brother, George, and his 55 B-24 bombing missions over Italy, captured her imagination. “I was really proud of him. Flying also added a charm to it,” she said.
By 1943, Barkley had befriended a couple of aviators who were stationed at Olathe Naval Air Station in Olathe, Kan., just 30 miles northeast of Ottawa. They helped manage Connor’s Field, which was then a grass strip located near Barkley’s home. Barkley landed a job there checking in planes and keeping the books. One day her friends invited her for a flight.
Every chance she got, Barkley took more rides and eventually learned how to fly a Piper J-3 Cub. In early 1944 she jumped at the chance to join 20 to 25 other teenagers and adults in forming a CAP squadron in Ottawa. It was one of a handful of squadrons scattered around the Sunflower State. Their missions were to do drills and ferry an occasional airplane. “It meant quite a lot at the time with all my brothers (off at war),” said Barkley of her involvement in the squadron.
A meeting between two former CAP female cadets, the Air Force Thunderbirds’ first female pilot, Maj. Nicole Malachowski, left, and Josephine Maxwell Barkley, was held to recognize and honor Barkley’s contributions during World War II. At right is Barkley’s husband, William Robert Barkley.
Barkley flew many hours for her squadron, but never officially earned her pilot’s license. After the war ended, the local squadron closed down and she married a sailor, William Robert Barkley, who had served as a seaman first class on a Navy submarine.
The Barkleys reside in Pomona, Kan., just 10 miles from her childhood home in Ottawa. There, they raised eight children and now enjoy 25 grandchildren, 29 great grandchildren and seven great-great-grandchildren.
While flying a Piper Cub and serving in CAP are distant memories for the 79-year-old, she still has her CAP hat and cherishes several photos from that time. And, she and William still manage to attend air shows and keep her passion for flying alive.
When she attended an open house recently at McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita, Kan., she got to see another former CAP female cadet guide her F-16 Fighting Falcon through aerial maneuvers. To her surprise, and only known by her family who was attending with her, Maj. Nicole Malachowski of the Air Force Thunderbirds recognized Barkley’s contributions during World War II and left her with a memento of her visit — an autographed photo of the flight team. “I think it is great what they do,” said Barkley of the Thunderbirds, adding, “She (Malachowski) is a wonderful lady.”