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Major General Olinto Mark Barsanti — a highly decorated officer of the U.S. Army’s elite 101st Airborne Division, or the Screaming Eagles — is a hero to thousands.
During the Vietnam War, Barsanti was the Commanding General charged with Operation Eagle Thrust, the largest and longest military airlift ever attempted into a combat zone.
In his 31-year military career, Barsanti also served in World War II and the Korean War. He earned more than 60 awards, medals and commendations, including the Distinguished Service Medal, the Distinguished Service Cross, the Distinguished Flying Cross and seven Purple Hearts.
Major General Olinto Mark Barsanti:
The son of Italian immigrants, General Barsanti truly symbolized the "Greatest Generation."
A veteran of World War II, the Korean War and the war in Vietnam, General Barsanti is best known for his combat duty in Vietnam as the Commanding General of the 101st Airborne Division.
In addition to numerous peacetime assignments during his career in the United States Army, General Barsanti also commanded and fought with the 3rd Battalion, 38th Infantry, during WWII, from the hedgerows of Normandy to the forests of the Ardennes, and was wounded five times; was one of the first Americans to land in Korea after the North Korean invasion in June 1950; participated in the invasion of Inchon, Korea, and later served with the U.S. Corps units during the heavy engagements at Chosen Reservoir, Hamhung, South Korea; flew combat missions in Army helicopters in Vietnam as Division Commander and was wounded twice.
General Barsanti's Awards & Decorations:
Throughout his service, General Barsanti was awarded the following: Distinguished Service Cross; Distinguished Service Medal; Silver Star with Four Oak Leaf Clusters; Legion of Merit with One Oak Leaf Cluster; Distinguished Flying Cross; Bronze Star Medal with "V" Device and Seven Oak Leaf Clusters; Purple Heart Medal with Six Oak Leaf Clusters; Air Medal with "V" Device and Seven Oak Leaf Clusters; VN National Order (5th Class).
The Barsanti Collection:
The University of North Texas is privileged to house the Barsanti Collection in its archives. The collection provides a detailed account of his military career and will be preserved to promote the study of military history.
While at Fort Sam Houston with the 38th Infantry, 2nd Infantry Division, Second Lieutenant Barsanti soon earned commendations that led to promotions to First Lieutenant in 1941 and Captain in 1942. The latter year was very important in another respect, as it was the year he met and married Aletha Howell. At Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, Major Barsanti served as Director of the Ranger Battle Training, Second Infantry Division.
Almost immediately after their marriage, the Barsantis were packing their belongings to move to Camp McCoy, Wisconsin, where the entire 2nd Division had been transferred. At Camp McCoy, Barsanti soon became Director of the Ranger Battle Training Course, where he supervised selected soldiers to “perform difficult, specialized missions in combat.” Among the components of this intensive program were night patrols, hand to hand combat, bayonet and grenade combat, explosives and demolitions training, map reading, and radio and camouflage use. In March 1943 Captain Barsanti was promoted to Major.
The intensive training soon came to direct use as the anticipated call for overseas duty arrived in October 1943. Major Barsanti was stationed in northern Ireland with the Second Infantry Division, serving as 1st Battalion Commander, 38th Infantry. He arrived on the coast of occupied France, at St. Laurent sur Mer, on June 7, 1944 (D-Day +1) in command of the 3rd Battalion, 38th Infantry.
Over the next eight months of battle Major Barsanti, at 26 years of age one of the youngest battalion commanders in the Army, would be awarded five Purple Hearts. During the drive through France to Germany, Barsanti would receive the Bronze Star medal and three oak leaf clusters for his leadership in combat. He received the Silver Star for his success in stopping a German counterattack against his battalion in June 1944, adding an oak leaf cluster when he later assisted in the taking of a strong German position. During the Ardennes Campaign in December 1944, Barsanti’s 3rd Battalion was entrenched at the southern edge of the town of Krinkelt to block a German attack. In a four-day battle with the Sixth Panzer Army, the 38th Infantry suffered 625 casualties.
Although he received five wounds between June 1944 and January 1945, Barsanti remained in Europe until April 1945, when he returned to the United States for medical treatment. He left the European continent a war hero and a lieutenant colonel, a rank he achieved in August 1944. Only two of the original battalion commanders of the 2nd Infantry that landed in France in June 1944 survived the war. Barsanti was one of them.
With the end of the war in Europe, the Barsantis were faced with a decision concerning Mark’s future in the U.S. Army. Their decision was an easy one because they were both pleased with their life together in the service. After short assignments at Camp Gruber, Oklahoma, and Camp Swift, Texas, Barsanti entered the Command and General Staff College at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, in February 1946. An excellent student, Barsanti graduated from the Ground Course in May and was assigned to Camp Carson, Colorado. No sooner had they arrived in Colorado when an order came to return to Fort Leavenworth where Mark was to join the faculty. From July 1946 to July 1949 the Barsantis enjoyed the stability of the teaching post and also celebrated the birth of their daughter, Bette, at the Army post hospital.
Olinto M. Barsanti attended the Command and General Staff School at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, from February until his graduation in May, 1946. He returned to the Command and General Staff School as a faculty member from July 1946 to July 1949.
Lieutenant Colonel Barsanti served as Executive Officer of the 38th Infantry Regiment at Camp Carson, Colorado, when this photograph was taken in the summer of 1946. U.S. Army photograph The relative tranquility of the Fort Leavenworth assignment was interrupted by an important assignment for Mark in Japan in August 1949, to serve in General Headquarters, Far East Command under General Douglas MacArthur. Aletha and Bette joined him in Tokyo a few months later. The Barsantis found life in the Far East both different and exciting. Adjustment to this new and fascinating country was just beginning when actions across the Sea of Japan brought another change in the military life of Lieutenant Colonel Barsanti.
On June 27, 1950, just two days after North Korean soldiers invaded South Korea, Mark Barsanti and eleven other officers arrived in the besieged country to establish a command post for General MacArthur at Suwon. Barsanti’s diligent work, over a period from June 27 to July 12, to set up, unassisted except for indigenous personnel, “all necessary systems and facilities for administration, receipt of replacements, care of prisoners of war, mess, billeting, and transportation, as well as strength and casualty reporting systems,” earned him the Legion of Merit. Months later, Barsanti again was one of the first American officers to arrive at a significant location in South Korea, this time by air at Inchon, days in advance of the amphibious landings on September 15, 1950.
Lieutenant Colonel Barsanti’s most notable and courageous action during the war, however, took place on October 19 and 20. Driving alone behind North Korean lines and subjected to repeated attacks by soldiers using automatic weapons, Barsanti successfully completed a 190-mile mission to deliver secret orders to two South Korean infantry divisions. Major General Edward Almond presented the Distinguished Service Cross, the second highest military service award, to Mark Barsanti at X Headquarters in Hungnam on December 14, 1950
In early 1951, Barsanti joined the 2nd Infantry Division as Executive Officer and later Commanding Officer of the 9th Infantry Regiment. At 33 years of age, he was the Army’s youngest regimental commander in Korea. He participated in heavy fighting that was rewarded with a Bronze Star (Sixth Oak Leaf Cluster) and a Silver Star (Second Oak Leaf Cluster). Barsanti’s Silver Star was awarded for his personal leadership in a successful assault against strongly fortified North Korean emplacements near Inje. After suffering injuries in battle, Barsanti reluctantly returned to Japan in August 1951 and by year’s end had returned to the United States with his family.
Returning from the Far East in 1952, Lieutenant Colonel Barsanti and family moved, for a brief time, to Franklin, Indiana, where they lived while he served as Assistant Chief of Staff, VI Corps, at Camp Atterbury. In the summer of 1953 Barsanti attended the Armed Forces Staff College in Norfolk, Virginia. Upon graduation in February 1954, Mark, Aletha, and Bette once again packed their bags for overseas duty, this time to West Germany and service at Headquarters, U.S. Army Europe.
Colonel Barsanti received a diploma from the National War College in Washington, D.C. in June 1958 after completing the prescribed course for 1957-58. In 1955 Barsanti was promoted to Colonel and took the post of Chief of Staff, Berlin Command. For his work in this position, Brigadier General George Duncan praised Barsanti’s “dynamic leadership, initiative and professional ability…which assisted in solving many of the unique and complex problems which have developed in a city occupied by four powers…” While posted in West Germany, Mark Barsanti completed the Basic Airborne Course with the 11th Airborne Division. It was a course he would find invaluable in the years to come.
Colonel Barsanti was reassigned in 1957 to the United States, where he served in a number of capacities in Washington. He was a student at the National War College in 1958. One of his fellow students, Colonel Melvin Zais, would follow him in command in the last war Barsanti would fight. His lengthy posting in Washington included service as Chief, Requirements Division, Office of the Deputy, Chief of Staff for Personnel from June 1958 to June 1961. This post was followed by duty with the Joint Staff, Joint Chiefs of Staff, as Chief of the Manpower Division from 1961 until June 1963.
Barsanti returned to combat duty in July 1963 when he was assigned to South Korea as Assistant Division Commander for Combat Operations, 7th Infantry Division.
His duties in South Korea included assisting “the division commander in supervision of training, plans and operational readiness of infantry, mechanized battalions, and tanks, reconnaissance, and aviation units.” He reviewed all tactical plans and procedures prepared in the division. He also supervised administrative, disciplinary, and post activities at Camp Kaiser. This included community relations activities with the residents of Pochon Gun, where Camp Kaiser was located.
Barsanti’s schedule was a busy one. His aide-de-camp and helicopter pilot, First Lieutenant John Oliver, remarked that between daily inspections of training in the field, trips to division headquarters at Camp Casey, and ceremonial functions, there was little time for sleep. Oliver stated that the general “places a premium on proficiency. When he tells someone to do something, he expects it to be done well and on time. But he sets the same standards for himself as he does for others. The man has an almost inconceivable amount of energy.”
One of the personal and professional highlights for Mark Barsanti while stationed in South Korea was the notification of his promotion to Brigadier General, effective September 1, 1963. At 46 years of age, Barsanti was one of the youngest generals in the Army.
In July 1964, after one year of service in with the 7th Infantry Division in South Korea, General Barsanti received word of his reassignment to West Germany as Comptroller for Headquarters, U.S. Army Europe. In May 1966 he became Chief of Staff, Headquarters V Corps. His next assignment, in November 1966, returned him to Washington as Comptroller and Director of Programs, Headquarters, United States Army Materiel Command. In May 1967 Mark Barsanti was promoted to Major General.
Although he performed his duties, whether combat or administrative, in a manner that drew high praise from his superiors for effectiveness and efficiency, Mark Barsanti preferred to command troops, especially in battle. The opportunity to do just that would soon arrive.
When Major General Barsanti assumed command of the 101st Airborne Division at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, on July 1, 1967, he stated “I am happy to be here and consider it an honor to take command of this unit and installation.” His comment that he “liked the idea of being here even before he arrived” merely expressed in public what he had privately yearned for, the command of a division. Not only was he commanding troops, he was preparing them for war. His reputation as a disciplinarian was a key factor in his assignment by the Army to the 101st.
By late fall 1967, Barsanti’s training achievements had brought praise from the Army’s Materiel Readiness Liaison Team, from several Lieutenant Generals, and from General Harold Johnson, the Army’s Chief of Staff. Not only did Barsanti prepare the 101st for combat in Vietnam, he also attended to a myriad of duties involving military cooperation with the nearby communities of Hopkinsville, Kentucky, and Clarksville, Tennessee. City officials and citizens wrote their appreciation to General Barsanti and sponsored a “Screaming Eagles Day” to demonstrate their admiration of the 101st Airborne before the division’s departure overseas.
The operation to move the 101st Airborne Division from Fort Campbell to South Vietnam, codenamed Operation Eagle Thrust, was the largest airlift transfer of men and equipment from the United States to Southeast Asia to date. Approximately 10,500 troops and 14,000 pounds of basic combat equipment were flown over 9,700 miles during a period from November 17 until late December 1967. General Barsanti and units of the 101st were greeted at Bien Hoa airport on December 13 by General William Westmoreland, commander of all U.S. troops in Vietnam and a former commander of the 101st Airborne, and General Cao Van Vien, Chief of the ARVN Joint General Staff. General Barsanti reported to General Westmoreland that “the 101st Airborne Division is present for combat in Vietnam.” It would not be long before these troops experienced combat.
General Barsanti stated in a communiqué to his troops that “the mission of the 101st Airborne Division is to find the enemy and destroy him. Inherent in this mission is an incumbent responsibility to respect the proud people we are here to assist.” Both elements of this mission began soon after the Division’s arrival at Bien Hoa.
Within two weeks of arriving in Vietnam, after completion of in-country training to prepare for the new climactic and geographic environment, the 101st experienced battle in an area northeast of Saigon. Soon after settling in at their base camp, a Civil Affairs Program was established and, along with the 101st Medcap, assistance was provided for villagers in the vicinity of the camp.
Under Barsanti’s direction, the “Screaming Eagles” played a major role in the defense of Saigon, Bien Hoa, Song Be, Hue, and Quang Tri during the Tet Offensive in late January and early February 1968. During the first seven months of the year Operations Jeb Stuart, Carentan, Delaware, and Nevada Eagle established the methods with which General Barsanti would fight the war. He believed that to fight a war in the coastal plains the following methods of combat were required: multiple actions to keep the enemy off balance, continuous attacking to keep pressure on the enemy, night fighting for continuous pressure, no reliance on reserves and a home base, providing maximum fire support, rapidly massing on lucrative targets, coordinating closely with ARVN units, and using special equipment and techniques such as airlifts and constant night illumination in cordon operations.
Whether visiting the frontlines, where he sometimes became engaged in combat, or visiting the hospitals to encourage the wounded troops, General Barsanti was perpetually on the move. He knew the risks the men in his command were undertaking and he was very willing to share those risks, as attested to by the two Purple Hearts he received. At home, Aletha also knew of the risks of the troops of the 101st. She accompanied the post commander and chaplain when visiting the wives of the men who had been killed in Vietnam.
In July 1968 General Barsanti turned command of the 101st in Vietnam over to General Melvin Zais, a fellow student at the National War College in 1958. The unit’s seven-month record established that 8,000 enemy had been killed, an excess of 350 detainees taken, and more than 2,600 weapons captured. In his farewell to the 101st Division, Barsanti stated “… I have pushed hard and demanded much, always knowing what the results would be-success and victory. During the last six months you have established records that other units have not surpassed in much longer periods of time. This is a tribute to your dedication, ‘will to win,’ and discipline as an airborne division.”
After completing his year-long assignment with the 101st Division, General Barsanti returned to the United States and awaited his next orders. General Creighton Abrams, who had been one of Barsanti’s students at the Command and General Staff College, assigned him to Fort Sheridan, Illinois, as Chief of Staff of the Fifth Army. This posting was pleasing on a personal basis because it not only provided some stability for Mark and Aletha, but also placed them in close proximity to daughter Bette who was attending nearby Northwestern University. Professionally, however, Barsanti would just as soon have remained with the 101st in Vietnam.
On August 15, 1968, Major General Barsanti was welcomed to Fort Sheridan with
an honor guard ceremony attended by Lieutenant General John H. Michaelis and the commanders and staff of the Headquarters U.S. Fifth Army. For the next three years General Barsanti, among other duties, would attend or address a large number of ceremonies, conferences, and dinners. These included the Commanders Conference (October/November 1968), the Fifth Army Museum opening (January 1969), graduation ceremonies at Great Lakes Naval Training Center (February 1969), Army Chaplain Corps anniversary (July 1969), Retired Activities Day (September 1969), United Service Organization of Chicago reception (September 1969), Reserve Commanders’ Conference (November 1969), Consulars’ General Reception (May 1970), Army Community Service Workshop Conference (May 1970), Civilian Aides’ Conference (October 1970) and many others. While visiting family in Nevada in April 1971, he addressed 150 ROTC cadets at the University of Nevada Reno. When asked about the My Lai case by the media, General Barsanti remarked that the William Calley trial was a “fair one.” He also commented that “there is no justification in war for killing innocent men, women and children knowingly.”
After commanding the 101st Division, General Barsanti assumed the duties of Chief of Staff, Fifth United States Army, at Fort Sheridan, Illinois, on August 15, 1968. On August 31, 1971, Major General Barsanti retired from the Army. During his Retirement Review ceremony on Fort Sheridan’s parade grounds, he was awarded with the Legion of Merit with Second Oak Leaf Cluster.
Although he hoped for a continuing career in the Army, it was not to be. An illness that may have had its beginnings before his appointment to the 101st in 1967, would prevent what three wars and countless battles could not. Seriously ill, Major General Olinto Mark Barsanti retired from the United States Army on September 1, 1971. In a retirement ceremony at Fort Sheridan, on August 31, General Barsanti received the Legion of Merit Medal, Oak Leaf Cluster, and congratulations for an outstanding military career from Lieutenant General George V. Underwood, Jr., Commanding General, Fifth U.S. Army. Many family members and friends were present to honor Mark Barsanti’s 33 years of military service to the country.
Although steadily deteriorating physically from cancer, Barsanti accepted an offer from the American Automobile Manufacturers Association in Detroit to serve as executive assistant to the president. For nine months he worked for the association, completing important management documents such as operating procedures and organization charts, as well as other assignments. When he became too ill to work, he retired and relocated to Chicago with Aletha. On May 2, 1973, General Barsanti lost his battle with cancer at Great Lakes Naval Hospital. He was buried at Arlington National Cemetery, following a memorial service at Fort Sheridan.