Friday, November 12, 2010

Cheering over, but Mike Barrow still remembered

Note: On Nov. 12, 2011, the Mike Barrow Study Room in Linfield College's Nicholson Library was dedicated. See a PDF with the same text as below by clicking here. See Nov. 18, 2011, Central Oregonian newspaper (Prineville) article about Mike Barrow here.

Long after cheers for him as a Linfield College football quarterback ended …

Long after Mike and his fiancĂ©e, Janet, embraced and kissed for the last time …

Long after he took his last breath in 1969 after suffering fatal wounds in hostile action as a U.S. Army soldier in Vietnam …

...Mike Barrow is remembered.

This is Mike’s story.

Mike’s father, Eugene B. "Gene" Barrow, was a Missionary Baptist church elder. Born in Georgia, he came west as an orphan child and went to high school in Red Bluff, Calif., and Klamath Union High School in Klamath Falls, Ore. He was a good high school athlete.

Mike’s mother, Edna Myrna VanNoy Barrow, a native of Madras, Ore., graduated from Redmond Union High School in Redmond, Ore.

Gene and Myrna married in 1937. Their first child, Mary Gail, was born in 1941 in Klamath Falls. Michael Edward was born July 3, 1945, in Brownwood, Texas, while Gene studied at Baptist-affiliated Howard Payne University, where Gene was a guard on its basketball team.

When Mike was six months old, the Barrows moved from Texas back to Oregon where Gene became pastor of a church in New Pine Creek (Lake County) on the California border just south of Lakeview. In 1951, brother Gerald ("Jerry") joined the family. He was born in Lakeview.

Red hair and freckles distinguished all the Barrows. Gene’s nickname in his youth was "Red." Another family distinction: "Look for the (sticking out) ears," said Mary Gail. "We all got them."

The Barrow family lived in New Pine Creek until 1957, when it moved to Prinveville, Ore., where Gene pastored at the Missionary Baptist Church. Mike graduated from high school in 1963. In fall 1964, the Barrows moved to Portland, Ore., where Gene led the Bible Missionary Baptist Church.

Mike was not shy and reserved. Those who knew him as a student, teammate and Delta Psi Delta fraternity brother at Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore., attest to that. He was a "preacher’s kid," who was supposed to be "perfect," but did not always live up to the label. One of his Linfield football teammates, Bob Ferguson, Linfield Class of 1965 –- a Vietnam veteran and Purple Heart recipient like Mike -- said, in a positive sense, Mike was a "rascal."

When Mike got in trouble as a child, punishment included a spanking, Jerry said, "Mike hated meetings and excessive talking about ‘issues’ with a passion. …. Our Mom … truly believed that you had to understand all the implications of your wrong-doing when you were being punished. Every punishment was accompanied by a seemingly endless explanation with numerous 'comprehension' checks, just to make sure we would be able to thank her years later for building and preserving our character. When Mike was about 5, Mom was about to punish him and he said, ‘Mama, please don't talk. Just spank me!’"

The obituary read at his funeral said, "He was friendly, inquisitive and competitive, and enjoyed doing his work well. His interest in people proved to be a source of enrichment and serviced his faith in God as an anchor."

As a student at Crook County High School in Prineville, Mike was a fierce competitor when he played football, basketball and baseball for the Crook County Cowboys.

Mike’s competitive nature displayed in Prineville in a district championship baseball game played between Crook County and Pendleton. The game was "very rough, very close," said Jerry. Mike got a hit and starting running the bases. The opponent second baseman was "talking trash to everyone" who got on base, said Chuck Undseth, a high school classmate. Mike knocked down the first baseman and cleated the second baseman. Eugene, who was sitting in the stands with Jerry, came onto the field, tackled him, said Jerry, and took Mike out of the game. "All hell broke loose," said Jerry.

After being pulled from the game by his father, Mike entered his team’s dugout and said, "Nobody say nothing. I was wrong!," recalled Undseth.

At church on Sunday Mike apologized to the congregation for being a bad example in the game against Pendleton. And he wrote a letter to the Central Oregonian (Prineville’s weekly newspaper) apologizing for unsportsmanlike conduct and for betraying the principles he had been taught.

As a result of the baseball game against Pendleton, Mike received a hand-written letter from a Prineville mother. "You don't know me… but I feel that perhaps it would help you to know how much you have helped me in teaching my three … boys … the blessings a yielded life can bring," she wrote. Because her young son was also named Mike and because Barrow was a Christian, she pointed Mike Barrow out to her son. As a result, he "has been watching you (play sports for the CCHS Cowboys) ever since basketball season whether you liked it or not, you had a little fellow who was trying hard to be a carbon copy of (you)."

She and her son watched the controversial Crook County vs. Pendleton baseball game. After the Central Oregonian came out, she read (Mike’s) letter to her son. In reaction, her son left the dining room table in tears. "If he had only waited a moment, he would have seen a few of my own tears,but they were tears of joy" because she was touched emotionally by what Mike wrote. Her letter concluded, "Thank you, Mike. I … waited a long time to write. I debated about doing it at all, but some how I felt I should. God bless you."

Wayne Lunde was a teacher and coach at Crook County High. "(Mike) was a terrific athlete and a great kid," said Lunde. He was Lunde’s basketball point guard and team leader for two years. "He was one of the best all-around athletes I ever coached."

After graduating from high school in 1963, Mike wanted to continue playing sports and also get the education and training he needed to become a high school teacher and coach. Linfield was a good choice for several reasons.

For one, Linfield is Baptist-affiliated and Mike was the son of a Baptist pastor.

For another, he could major in education and get teacher training. Mike’s Linfield Bachelor of Science degree was in physical education and he did his student teaching in the Newberg School District, about 15 miles from McMinnville. He earned an Oregon teacher’s certificate.

Another reason Linfield was "right" was the fact Mike was not tall and also slight of build. His lack of stature and size meant –- he claimed to be about 5-foot-9 and about 145 pounds -- he could play athletics at a small college, but not at a large university against larger players. As a high school and college athlete, Mike proved to "play bigger" than his size.

While Mike’s athletic fame at Linfield came as a football player, it initially appeared he was headed to Linfield with a focus on baseball.

A story in the June 21, 1963, Bend, Ore., Bulletin, included, "Linfield baseball coach Roy Helser

A Linfield connection helped bring Mike to Helser’s attention. Jim Mulvahill, Mike’s high school baseball coach, was a Linfield grad.

Mike intended to play both football and baseball at Linfield. And he did, lettering in both sports: three times in football and once in baseball. He never played basketball for Linfield, but played on several successful Delta Psi Delta basketball teams.

When Mike entered Linfield as a freshman in the fall of 1963, another entering freshmen was Terry Durham (Linfield Class of 1967), son of Linfield head football coach Paul Durham). A year later, Alan Hubka (Linfield Class of 1968) entered Linfield as a freshman. Both Durham and Hubka would becomeMike’s friends. Hubka would be one of Mike’s Linfield Delta Psi Delta fraternity brothers. And, in Linfield football they would all become Linfield quarterback competitors.

The first two football seasons (1963 and 1964) for quarterback contenders such as Durham and Mike coincided with the last two seasons of Bill Mickle’s excellent Linfield quarterback career. So, if you were not Bill Mickle, you didn’t play much at quarterback.

(A look in early 2011 still show Mickle and Mike in the Linfield football individual career record book.)

At the drills prior to the 1965 season, Mike and Terry Durham were part of a spirited efforts to win the starting job. Durham suffered an injury in practice and Mike started several games. After recovering, Durham started.

Mike’s success in those early season 1965 football games elicited positive comments from Paul Durham, Linfield head football coach, in his "Dodging with Durham" column in the McMinnville News-Register after one of those games: "He threw every kind of aerials in the book, drop backs, roll outs, screens, bootlegs, shovels and pitch outs. … (Mike) has to be the surprise of the Wildcat team so far this season."

The 1966 Linfield football season was set up to be a repeat of Durham and Mike, both seniors, as quarterbacks on the roster with Durham as the starter and Mike competing for playing time.

A newspaper story printed Sept. 28, 1966, quoted Linfield’s football media guide "... Mike and Durham were the ‘best one-two quarterback combination in the conference.’ Barrow started several games last season and is considered an ‘excellent short passer.’ He had a completion rate of 58 for 84 last season, better than 60 percent." The same story also said, "Barrow was seventh in rushing and second in passing for the Wildcats last season. The quarterback received honorable mention ratings in the Associated Press All-American team, the A.P. All-Coast squad and the All-Conference team."

However, by apparent mutual agreement between Coach Durham and Mike, Mike did not attend Linfield during the 1966-1967 school year. Instead he worked that year for Steinfeld’s Pickles in Portland, a company owned by the father and uncle of Dave Steinfeld, one of Mike’s Delta Psi Delta fraternity brothers. By sitting out the year, Mike could compete in football for Linfield as a fifth year senior. (Mike worked several summers at Steinfeld and also worked there after graduating from Linfield in 1968.)

So after sitting out a year, Mike returned to campus for his final football season (1967) and final academic year (1967-1968). For Mike, this was a momentous time for two reasons.

The first reason was because Mike was Linfield’s starting quarterback for all of the college’s 1967 season games.

Bruce Priem, who entered Linfield in 1966, was a JV quarterback for Linfield during the 1966 and 1967 seasons. "Mike was as an accurate passer. He had to throw straight overhand to compensate for a height disadvantage. He was a tough competitor, a player who was held in high esteem by all on the team for leadership on and off the field. His leadership was unquestioned by all. He was a real scrapper. He was deeply respected by coaches and players alike."

Another of Mike’s Linfield classmates was Dennis Burkhart, Linfield Class of 1969, who photographed Mike playing during his Linfield football career. "Mike was (like) mercury. He flowed over the field with incredible quickness, and in the most impossible situations, pulled something extra out of the hat," said Burkhart. "I can't remember any individual plays, but I remember that because of his quickness it was difficult to get a good shot of him. "

Mike’s first game as Linfield starting quarterback in the 1967 season opener was momentous. On Saturday night Sept 23, 1967, in Honolulu, Linfield upset highly favored University of Hawaii, 15-13, before a crowd of 20,000, the most ever to see a Linfield game. His efforts in the game included throwing a third quarter touchdown pass.

The following week, Linfield beat Portland State University in McMinnville. Prior to the game, PSU’s football coach called Mike "one heck of a passer." Mike was 11-28 in passing for 113 yards and two touchdowns against PSU. Linfield won, 24-0.

Linfield’s last football game of 1967 was Nov. 18 in Monmouth versus Oregon College of Education, now Western Oregon University. Linfield won 42-28. An Oregonian story said, "Quarterback Barrow was tremendous, completing 17-22 passes for 232 yards and four touchdowns and he didn’t have an interception."

Linfield completed the 1967 football season with an 8-1 win-loss record and Mike, the Linfield team captain, was an All-Northwest Conference all-star football team honorable quarterback selection. During the season he completed 100 of 182 passes for 1,393 yards and 12 touchdowns.

In spring 1968, Mike played his final athletics for Linfield in baseball as the college’s starting shortstop.

The second reason the 1967-68 academic year was momentous for Mike was because he met Janet Gerfen, a freshman from the San Francisco Bay Area. Mike and Janet became, as she said, "sweethearts." Later, they became engaged.

Mike graduated from Linfield in 1968. Due to rain, the commencement ceremony was held in Riley Gym. With his degree earned, Mike went back to work at Steinfeld’s Pickles, and his relationship with Janet continued. But the war in Vietnam loomed in the background.

The U.S. was immersed militarily in Vietnam. There was a military draft. Because Mike was no longer a student, he was not eligible for a student draft deferment. It was likely Mike would be drafted. So instead, in October 1968, he enlisted in the U.S. Army. Soon thereafter, Mike began basic training at the Army’s Fort Lewis, Wash., about 130 miles north of Portland.

While he was in basic training in 1968, his parents spent Thanksgiving with him. Janet would have been there, too. But only parents were allowed to visit. "Mom and Dad drove up with a Thanksgiving meal which he gratefully received and promptly wolfed down," said Mary Gail.

As it neared Christmas 1968, Mike and Janet looked forward to seeing each other when Mike was on leave in Portland. But exactly when his leave would start was unclear. Mike kept saying, "Don't tell Janet until we know for sure."’ said Mary Gail. When Mike knew when he’d be in Portland, Janet got the word and she traveled up from Linfield to see him.

Mike and Janet said their final goodbyes on what she described as a grey day in March 1969 in Portland. At some point, perhaps then, Mike gave Janet an engagement ring. It was a ring she kept, and sometimes wore, the rest of her life.

Mike’s Army tour of duty began April 3, 1969, in Vietnam. A private first class in the 199th Light Infantry Brigade, he died during combat less than three months later. His death on June 23, 1969, in Long Khanh was a "hostile ground casualty" as a result of "multiple fragmentation wounds." He was 23 years-old and would have been 24 on July 3.

Linfield 1968 grad Tom Taylor was Mike’s best friend at Linfield. He was Mike’s Delta Psi Delta fraternity house and Larsell Hall roommate and a frequent guest in the Barrow family Portland home. Taylor said Mike was "like a second son to my parents. He had an open invitation to stop (at my parent’s home in Portland), stay over and get fed … any time."

"Mike had scheduled an R and R (rest and relaxation) in Hawaii during his tour in Vietnam to be the best man in my wedding (on) July 5th, 1969, in Hawaii" said Taylor. "Needless to say, he didn't make the wedding. I (still) think about Mike and his family often…" To honor Mike, the middle name of Taylor’s son is Michael.

Mike’s death was carried in page 1 stories in both the McMinnville News-Register and the Central Oregonian.

Mike’s funeral was in Portland on Tuesday afternoon, July 8, 1969, a sunny and warm day. About 200 –- including Mike’s parents, sister and brother, Janet and her mother and Delta Psi Delta fraternity brothers –- attended.

The service started at Pearson Mortuary, just around the corner from where the Barrows lived. It concluded with a full military honors graveside ceremony at Willamette National Cemetery.

Brian Petersen, Class of 1968, played football as a center for quarterback Mike. "Whenever Mike entered the foray … he gave us the lift we needed with his confidence, his winning attitude and leadership ability."

Mike’s death hit Petersen "like a 300-pound linebacker running into me at full tilt. The day I heard about Mike dying is a benchmark for me. He was the first close friend that died in Vietnam. At the time of his death I was in the U.S. Navy Hospital Corps Basic School. During my time in the Navy I knew many more that died or were seriously maimed" in Vietnam. My Linfield ring is inscribed ‘Remember Mike.’ And I do. I will never forget Mike's spirit and his friendship."

Another of Mike’s Linfield football teammates was running back LeRoy Fails, Linfield Class of 1968. "I had the privilege of calling Mike a friend on and off the football field." On frequent business trips to Washington, D.C., Fails conducts a ritual honoring Mike. He visits the inscription of Mike’s name on the Vietnam Memorial wall. "I touch Mike’s name and say words of remembrance. And, whenever I’m on the Linfield campus, I go to the Mike Barrow Study Room in the library and touch the Mike Barrow Study Room plaque. Doing this gives a feeling of completing the circle and saying thanks to Mike and others who had served. I very much appreciate their sacrifice."

"Although Mike was small in size, he was huge in heart and determination! He had that ‘cocky’ attitude that you knew he wouldn't take any guff from anyone," said football teammate John Sadowski, Linfield Class of 1970. "I think it was because of his small size. He was a great leader and helped us through the one-loss 1967 season. When I heard he died in Vietnam, I was saddened and cherished those days we played at Linfield together."

In a letter of July 3, 1969, to Mike’s parents from Roy Helser, Linfield athletic director, who coached Mike in football and baseball said, "I had just received a letter from Mike a couple of weeks ago from Vietnam and I was just getting ready to send him a long letter giving him news about some of his buddies from college when I get the sad news from the office… I’ve thought quite a bit about Mike since his death, how much he did for Linfield, how he matured that last year when responsibility was thrown at him as quarterback of the football team, and then again when he played baseball for me his senior year. Mike was a real leader and a boy that the coaches like to have around. He was small in size, but a giant at heart. I, for one, will always remember Mike and I’m proud to have been one of his coaches."

Paul Durham, Mike's Linfield football coach and then the University of Hawaii athletic director, wrote Mike's parents. In a letter dated Aug. 4, 1969, he said, "Mrs. Durham and I … were shattered by the news (of Mike’s death)…. He had great leadership ability and this was recognized and accepted by members of the Linfield football… He was a tremendous competitor. For his size he was as fine a football player as I have ever worked with. Physically, he was a "little guy," but he had a heart of a giant in athletic competition. …As I write this I have to fight back the tears. May God be with you and bless you."

Following in his brother’s footsteps, Jerry attended Linfield, became a Delta Psi Delta member and graduated in the Class of 1974. Jerry and Janet were never Linfield students at the same time. But they got to know each other when Janet would visit the Barrows in Portland while Mike was in basic training. After Mike’s death, Janet transferred from Linfield to a college in Belmont, California and graduated in 1971.

Jerry wrote "Eulogy for a Brother" in a 1969 issue of the Delta Psi Delta alumni newsletter. The eulogy mentions Janet. "He left his loved one at home. She was afraid. Afraid for him, but afraid for herself too. She didn’t want to lose him, I weep for her now."

In 2007, Jerry said of his brother, "We couldn't stand each other, loved each other beyond words, competed in every way we possibly could, and finally became friends the spring before he left for Vietnam. The loss was devastating for me. It was aggravated by my years at Linfield when I never got over the feeling that I had just seen him round a corner. It was years before I could smell British Sterling cologne (which Mike used) without involuntarily looking around to see where he was. For almost 40 years now I have dreamed about him at least once a week, sometimes so vividly that I wake up thinking there's been a mistake."

In September 2007, Janet posted a heartfelt message on Mike’s Vietnam Wall website. Addressed to "My dearest one," it mentions "wonderful times we had as college sweethearts at Linfield. I will never forget the look of love in our eyes as there were no words that grey March day when we said our last good byes." She said her life "has taken many turns" and mentions her three daughters and grandchildren. "How I still wish they were ours together," she said. "I think of your mother, father and brother Gerald often. I will see you in heaven one day soon. With all my love then and now." Janet died December 15, 2008.

One of Janet’s daughters said, "My mother told me stories of her fiancĂ©, Michael, but never in too much detail. She still had the ring he gave her. (After Mom died) I was cleaning out some of her home (and) found two old pictures of Mom and Michael. My Mom didn't keep anything sentimental, but she did keep these pictures. In her Bible she recorded the date of Michael's death. In Mom’s passing, I was thinking about who might be there to greet her at the gates of heaven. I wanted to learn about this man who loved my Mom so much."



Following Mike’s death in 1969, Gene died in 1979. Myrna and Jerry both died in 2007. Janet died in 2008. Researched and written by Tim Marsh, Linfield Class of 1970.


(From Prineville, Ore. His folks moved to Portland after he graduated from Crook County High School, Prineville.)

Capital Journal daily evening newspaper, Salem, 28 June 1969