Norman Lee Barr was born in Myrtlewood, Mississippi, on August 3, 1907, son of Benn Lee and Mary Arcola (Young) Barr. He was graduated from Pace (Mississippi) High School and attended Mississippi College at Clinton for three years, after which he had a year at Catholic University in Washington, DC.
He had flight training at the US Army Air Force Flying School, Kelly Field, Texas, and after graduation on November 12, 1929, was designated Airplane Pilot and Airplane Observer. Commissioned Second Lieutenant in the Army Air Corps Reserve, he subsequently had almost two years’ active service at Mitchel Field, Long Island, and France Field, Canal Zone, flying with the 99th Observation Squadron. After being released from active duty he became a Chief Pilot for Isthmian Airlines, and from August 1931 to August 1933 was engaged principally in special charter flights in Central and South America.
He received a Letter of Commendation in 1931 from Rear Admiral Moffett, then Chief of the Bureau of Aeronautics for a hazardous flight flying repair gear and radio parts to a damaged light house at Punta Mala during a tropical storm. He also received a Letter of Commendation from Chief of Staff, US Army, for a hazardous night flight from Panama to and from an unlighted strip in the mountains of Costa Rica to evacuate a wounded soldier on whom he had previously performed a throat operation with a pocket knife to restore air passage.
From 1933 to 1937 he studied medicine at Georgetown School of Medicine, Washington, DC, from which he received the degree of Doctor of Medicine, and interned at Georgetown University Hospital the next year. Commissioned Lieutenant (jg) in the Medical Corps of the US Navy in July 1938, he advanced, by subsequent promotions, to the rank of Captain, his date of rank July 1, 1954.
He had postgraduate work at the Navy Medical School, Washington, DC, from August 1938 to May 1939, and for nine months thereafter was under instruction at the Army Air Force School of Aviation Medicine and the Navy School of Aviation Medicine. He received the designations of Air Force Flight Surgeon and Naval Flight Surgeon from those schools respectively. Detached from the latter on February 18, 1940, he joined the USS Wasp, a carrier of the Atlantic Fleet, and served as Flight Surgeon until November 1941. He was then ordered to the Naval Air Station, Banana River, Florida, for duty as Surgeon and Flight Surgeon until September 30, 1942. During that period the United States entered World War II on December 8, 1941.
After instruction at the Naval Air Station, Pensacola, Florida, he reported on January 8, 1943, to Commander Fleet Air, Quonset, Atlantic Fleet, and served until September 1944 as Staff Medical Officer. That day he joined the USS Shangri-La, a carrier of the Atlantic Fleet as Senior Medical Officer and on November 12, that year, was transferred to similar duty aboard the USS Antietam, a carrier of the Pacific Fleet. He remained aboard the USS Antietam throughout the war period, and when detached on February 3, 1946 was ordered to the Navy Department, Washington, DC, for duty in the Aviation Medicine Division of the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery, where he served for more than four years as Head of the Special Activities Branch and Head of the Physical Qualifications Branch.
In September 1950 he was assigned to the Naval Medical Research Institute, Bethesda, Maryland, continuing certain duties in the Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. Also, from 1948 he was Director of Project RAM, a special project set up to provide flight services to activities doing research in Aviation Medicine, a joint BuMed – BuAer project. In February 1956 his assignment to the Research Division, BuMed, became primary with additional duty at the Naval Medical Research Institute. In July 1958 he was designated Director of the Astronautical Division, BuMed.
Captain Barr has the American Defense Service Medal; American Campaign Medal; European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal; Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal; World War II Victory Medal; the Navy Occupation Service Medal, Asia Clasp; and the National Defense Service Medal. He has the distinction of being the only known officer in the United States Military Service entitled to wear five separate Military Aviation Wings: Air Force Observer, Air Force Aviator, Naval Aviator, Air Force Flight Surgeon, and Naval Flight Surgeon. He has more than seven thousand hours of flying time as first pilot, and including second pilot, observer, and passenger time, more than ten thousand hours in the air.
He is a member of the American Medical Association; AeroMedical Association, Space Medicine Association, and Quiet Birdmen of America. He also belongs to the Hermanian Literary Society and Theta Kappa Psi, medical fraternity.