Sunday, May 27, 2012

Remembering WWII Medal of Honor recipient VanT. Barfoot, who died at the age of 92 on 2 March 2012. He loved his country and his flag.


Remember the guy who wouldn't take the flag down? You might remember a news story a few years ago about a crotchety old man who defied his homeowners association and refused to take down the flagpole on his property and the large flag that flew on it. Now you can find out who, exactly, that old man was.

Van Thomas Barfoot (born Van Thurman Barfoot; June 15, 1919 – March 2, 2012) was a United States Army officer and a recipient of the United States military's highest decoration — the Medal of Honor — for his actions in World War II.

Barfoot was born on June 15, 1919, in Edinburg, Mississippi. After enlisting in the Army from Carthage, Mississippi, in 1940 and completing his training, Barfoot served with the 1st Infantry Division in Louisiana and Puerto Rico. In December 1941, he was promoted to sergeant and re-assigned to the Headquarters Amphibious Force Atlantic Fleet in Quantico, Virginia, where he served until the unit was deactivated in 1943. He next joined the 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division, and was shipped to Europe.
During the Italian Campaign, Barfoot participated in a series of amphibious landings: the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943, the invasion of mainland Italy at Salerno in September, and finally the landings at Anzio in late January 1944. His unit pushed inland from Anzio, and by May 1944 had reached the town of Carano. They set up defensive positions and Barfoot conducted patrols to scout the German lines. When his company was ordered to attack on the morning of May 23, Barfoot, now a technical sergeant, asked for permission to lead a squad. Because of the patrols he had made, he knew the terrain and the minefield which lay in front of the German position. He advanced alone through the minefield, following ditches and depressions, until he came within a few yards of a machine gun on the German flank. After taking out the gun with a hand grenade, he entered the German trench and advanced on a second machine gun, killing two soldiers and capturing three others. When he reached a third gun, the entire crew surrendered to him. Others also surrendered and Barfoot captured a total of seventeen German soldiers and killed eight.

When the Germans launched an armored counterattack later in the day, Barfoot disabled one tank with a bazooka, then advanced into enemy-held territory and destroyed an abandoned German artillery piece. He returned to his own lines and helped two wounded soldiers from his squad escape to the rear.

Barfoot was subsequently commissioned as a second lieutenant. His division moved into France and by September was serving in the Rhone valley. Barfoot learned he would be awarded the Medal of Honor and chose to have the presentation ceremony in the field, so that his soldiers could attend. He was formally presented with the medal on September 28, 1944, in Épinal, France, by Lieutenant General Alexander Patch.

Barfoot was one of the country's last living Medal of Honor recipients from World War II. He also served in the Korean War and the Vietnam War and earned a Purple Heart. He reached the rank of colonel before retiring from the Army. In retirement he lived in Henrico County, Virginia, near his daughter. On October 9, 2009, the portion of Mississippi Highway 16 which runs from Carthage through his hometown of Edinburg to the border between Leake and Neshoba counties was named the "Van T. Barfoot Medal of Honor Highway".


Medal of Honor citation
Second Lieutenant Barfoot's official Medal of Honor citation reads:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty on 23 May 1944, near Carano, Italy. With his platoon heavily engaged during an assault against forces well entrenched on commanding ground, 2d Lt. Barfoot (then Tech. Sgt.) moved off alone upon the enemy left flank. He crawled to the proximity of 1 machinegun nest and made a direct hit on it with a hand grenade, killing 2 and wounding 3 Germans. He continued along the German defense line to another machinegun emplacement, and with his Thompson Submachine gun killed 2 and captured 3 soldiers. Members of another enemy machinegun crew then abandoned their position and gave themselves up to Sgt. Barfoot. Leaving the prisoners for his support squad to pick up, he proceeded to mop up positions in the immediate area, capturing more prisoners and bringing his total count to 17. Later that day, after he had reorganized his men and consolidated the newly captured ground, the enemy launched a fierce armored counterattack directly at his platoon positions. Securing a bazooka, Sgt. Barfoot took up an exposed position directly in front of 3 advancing Mark VI tanks. From a distance of 75 yards his first shot destroyed the track of the leading tank, effectively disabling it, while the other 2 changed direction toward the flank. As the crew of the disabled tank dismounted, Sgt. Barfoot killed 3 of them with his tommygun. He continued onward into enemy terrain and destroyed a recently abandoned German fieldpiece with a demolition charge placed in the breech. While returning to his platoon position, Sgt. Barfoot, though greatly fatigued by his Herculean efforts, assisted 2 of his seriously wounded men 1,700 yards to a position of safety. Sgt. Barfoot's extraordinary heroism, demonstration of magnificent valor, and aggressive determination in the face of pointblank fire are a perpetual inspiration to his fellow soldiers.
Flag controversy puts Van T. Barfoot into the national spotlight.

In December 2009, the homeowners' association (HOA) of the Sussex Square, where Barfoot lived in Henrico County, Virginia, ordered him to remove the flagpole from which he flew the American flag. What did make news was a neighborhood association's quibble with how the 90-year-old veteran chose to fly the American flag outside his suburban Virginia home. Seems the rules said a flag could be flown on a house-mounted bracket, but, for decorum, items such as Barfoot's 21-foot flagpole were unsuitable. He had been denied a permit for the pole, erected it anyway and was facing court action if he didn't take it down. Since the story made national TV, the neighborhood association had rethought its position and agreed to indulge this old hero who dwells among them.  
"In the time I have left I plan to continue to fly the American flag without interference," Barfoot told The Associated Press. As well he should. And if any of his neighbors still takes a notion to contest him, they might want to read his Medal of Honor citation. It indicates he's not real good at backing down.
This news story first became public when Barfoot's son-in-law reported the story on local talk radio show, Elliot in the Morning. Fox News and several other national news networks picked up the story. The HOA retained Coates & Davenport to help enforce their order. The association's bylaws do not forbid flagpoles, but the HOA ruled Barfoot, then aged 90, would not be allowed to use it "for aesthetic reasons." Barfoot contested the order, and received widespread public support. Barfoot won when the association dropped its request on December 8, 2009, effectively ending the controversy.

Compiled from Wikipedia and other sources.

It is the brave members of our Armed Forces like Van T. Barfoot that we remember on Memorial Day.


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