Thomas Barrett was born in 1939 in Lomax, Illinois. He was commissioned in the U.S. Air Force through the Air Force ROTC program on February 22, 1963, and completed Undergraduate Pilot Training on October 27, 1964. He completed F-4 Phantom II combat crew training and served with the 43rd Tactical Fighter Squadron at MacDill AFB, Florida. While on TDY to Southeast Asia, Barrett was forced to eject over North Vietnam on October 5, 1965, and he was taken as a Prisoner of War. After spending 2,687 days in captivity, he was released during Operation Homecoming on February 12, 1973. After repatriation, Col Barrett went back on flying status and served with the 560th Flying Training Squadron at Randolph AFB, Texas, from February 1973 until February 1974, and then the 50th Flying Training Squadron at Columbus AFB, Mississippi, from February 1974 to July 1976. He served as the Director of Nonresident Operations at the Air Command and Staff College at Maxwell AFB, Alabama, from July 1976 to March 1981, and his final assignment was at the Chanute Technical Training Center on Chanute AFB, Illinois, from March 1981 until his retirement from the Air Force on April 30, 1983.
His 1st (of 2) Silver Star Citation reads:
First Lieutenant Thomas J. Barrett distinguished himself by gallantry as Pilot of an F-4C Fighter-Bomber in connection with military operations against an opposing armed force over Southeast Asia on 5 October 1965. On that date, Lieutenant Barrett's aircraft was struck by hostile anitiaircraft fire while approaching its assigned target. Disregarding the ensuing fire and smoke, Lieutenant Barrett displayed an extraordinary degree of courage as he determinedly continued his attack rather than abort the mission, and dropped his bombs squarely on target. Then after a futile attempt to further control his damaged aircraft, Lieutenant Barrett was forced to eject while deep within hostile territory. By his gallantry and devotion to duty, Lieutenant Barrett has reflected great credit upon himself and the United States Air Force.