James F. Barlow, a retired masonry contractor who drove a weapon carrier at Omaha Beach during the World War II Allied invasion, died Sept. 1 at St. Agnes Medical Center after suffering a fractured hip at his Academy Heights home. He was 87.
Mr. Barlow was co-grand marshal of this year's Catonsville July 4th parade and was the commander of two veterans posts. He also led the parade in 1994 for the 50th anniversary of D-Day.
Born in Baltimore and raised near Union Square, he attended 14 Holy Martyrs School and was a 1942 graduate of St. Martin's High School, where he was the center on the school's basketball team.
He, and his four brothers, enlisted in military service during World War II.
He joined the Army and was placed in a transportation unit. As the Allies planned to invade France in 1944, he was told to drive a motorized vehicle that carried a large gun.
In 2004, he was named Maryland's Catholic War Veteran of the Year and recorded his memories of that experience of landing off the northern coast of France. He said that "50 feet of water looked like 50 miles."
He wrote that "as my truck hit the waters of Omaha Beach on D-Day, water flooded in. My ankles, my knees, the whole front of the truck, my backside was getting wet. Where is the bottom? Please, Lord, let this truck touch bottom! The truck bottomed out and I got traction as enemy gunfire splattered on all sides."
He said his crew of four jumped out and pulled the anti-aircraft gun off the truck's back. "We dug in," he said. "And we made it."
Mr. Barlow drove supply and armed vehicles through France and Belgium and was part of what became known as the Red Ball Express, a motorized convoy. In the harsh winter of 1944-1945, he drove supplies in the Battle of the Bulge.
"At Bastogne, he was part of the unit that helped break the German encirclement," said Herbert Markowski, a friend who lives in Ellicott City. "He fought all the way through Europe until the German surrender."
After the war, he returned to Baltimore. At a victory block party, he met his future wife, Marie Crofoot.
He remained active in veterans affairs and became commander of the Veterans of Foreign Wars Spirit of America post in Catonsville and the Hugh Monaghan Catholic War Veterans post in Pikesville. He was a charter member of the National World War II memorial in New Orleans.
Mr. Barlow returned to the battlefields on three occasions. The Belgian government flew him back in 2004 as part of a commemoration of the Battle of the Bulge. "He became emotional there when the Belgian children came up and thanked him," said Robert Gollery, a friend who lives in Catonsville Manor.
Friends said that Mr. Barlow used the GI Bill to learn bricklaying and general masonry. He had his own business and worked until he was 85. He made a specialty of fireplaces and chimneys and worked throughout Catonsville and Oella, among other neighborhoods.
"He was a superb brick mason," said Wayne McDowell, a Catonsville contractor. "He was also a perfectionist. He could go in and undo the mistakes others had made. He was also quite a father figure and mentor to the younger workers."
Mr. McDowell said that Mr. Barlow climbed scaffolding and worked on chimneys until he was in his mid-80s.
"He loved opera and theater and carried a boom box with him," said Mr. McDowell.
In 2004, Mr. Barlow restored the granite walls of the 1865 Grimm home on Frederick Road in Catonsville, a commercial building now known as the Ship's Cafe.
"He was strong as a bull," said Jim Andrews, who owns and operates the restaurant with his wife, Sharon. "Masonry is an art and he was one of the best."
Mr. Barlow did 1,400 hours of volunteer service at St. Agnes Hospital. He was also a lector and parish council member at St. William of York Roman Catholic Church.
"I called him the mayor of Catonsville because the only Catonsville neighbor he didn't do some favor for is the one he never met," said a friend, Tim McCarthy.
Mr. Barlow was a University of Maryland basketball fan. He played golf frequently and was an enthusiastic fan of the old Baltimore Colts. Family members said he later became a Ravens fan.
A Mass of Christian burial will be held at 1 p.m. Thursday at St. Joseph's Monastery Roman Catholic Church, 3801 Old Frederick Road in Irvington.
Survivors include a daughter, Phyllisann Godfrey of New Gretna, Pa.; a granddaughter; and a great-granddaughter. His wife of 48 years died in 1997.Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun