Valeria Barnes, who worked at Pentagon in WWII, dies at 90

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When Valeria Barnes worked at the Pentagon during World War II, her family liked to say she took care of the generals while her sister handled the admirals.

“Valeria worked for the Army and Juanita worked for the Navy,” said their brother, Edward Hubbard.

It wasn’t unusual for the sisters to come upon people who would become figures in history books. Mrs. Barnes saw Gen. George C. Marshall, whom Winston Churchill called “the true organizer of victory.”

Marshall was widely viewed as a managerial genius for his work developing the Army — and Allies — from a peacetime force into what’s considered the most formidable fighting machine in history. The Nobel prizewinner also was admired for his Marshall Plan — post-war aid to Europe that sought to build peace through economic stability.

Juanita Barnes spotted Adm. William F. “Bull” Halsey Jr., commander of the South Pacific forces. Japan signed surrender papers on Halsey’s flagship, the USS Missouri.

Mrs. Barnes and her sister were inspired to go to Washington after graduating from Chicago’s DuSable High School. Mrs. Barnes had also finished her associate’s degree at Wilson Junior College, now Kennedy-King. It was a time when posters everywhere exhorted women to help, with the motto, “Free a Man to Fight.”

Mrs. Barnes, 90, died Jan. 28 at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

She grew up in Bronzeville, the daughter of parents who journeyed north in the Great Migration and soon got a foothold in Chicago. Her father, Edward Hubbard Sr., of Blue Mountain, Mississippi, was a Pullman porter. “You had to have a pretty good education to be ‘on the road,’ ” their son said. In Chicago, he landed a job at the post office. Her mother, Rose Etta Byas of Kosciusko, Mississippi, was a schoolteacher in Memphis.

After they wed in Memphis, her father couldn’t wait to leave the South. “They got married and about two hours later, they caught the train to Chicago,” Edward Hubbard said. “He said he wanted to make sure none of his kids would be born in the South. . . . He had his honeymoon on the train.”

The family weathered the Great Depression through the real estate investments of her father, who bought property at 73rd and Calumet. The three eldest Barnes children were born at home. Back then, only a handful of hospitals welcomed African-Americans, her brother said.

The young Valeria enjoyed going to the Metropolitan Theatre on 47th and King Drive.

Mrs. Barnes attended DuSable with Harold Washington, who would become the first African-American mayor of Chicago. One of her Bronzeville neighbors was jazz singer Dinah Washington.

At the Pentagon, where Mrs. Barnes helped direct supplies to the troops, she found that wartime solidarity seemed to dissipate outside the workplace. “When they were in the Pentagon, everybody was 100 percent equal. Inside, it’d be, ‘Hey, Valeria,’ ” her brother said. “But once you crossed that street, she said the whites, they did not know you.”

After returning to Chicago, she worked for the Social Security Administration for 35 years.

“She just told us the value of saving, and how important it was to save and manage money,” said her daughter, Kyra Barnes.

She met her husband, Cleophas Barnes, when he was home on leave from the Army, visiting friends next door to her home. She was on her porch and they started talking, her daughter said.

The family was active at Carter Temple CME Church, where she was christened as a baby.

Her favorite movie was the 1967 chronicle of an interracial romance, “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner,” with Sidney Poitier, Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. “That would always cheer her up. She saw it a million times. Whenever she was in the hospital, we’d bring her that movie,” her daughter said. “She thought it was smart, funny, human.”

In addition to her daughter, who is a dentist, Mrs. Barnes counted two physicians and another dentist among her grandchildren. She also is survived by her sons, Ronald D. Barnes and Derek L. Barnes; a niece whom she raised, Laverne Crowley; six grandchildren, and four great-grandchildren. Services have been held.

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