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Van T. Barfoot is a retired 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.
Van Barfoot, of Choctaw Indian Decent (his grandmother, although he was never a card carrying member of the Choctaw Nation), born in Edinburg, Mississippi and joined the Army from Carthage, Mississippi, and by May 23, 1944 was serving as a technical sergeant in the 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division. On that day, near Carano, Italy, he single-handedly destroyed two German machine gun nests, took seventeen prisoners, and disabled an enemy tank. Barfoot was subsequently commissioned as a second lieutenant and, on September 28, 1944, awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions while in the field. Barfoot reached the rank of colonel before retiring from the Army.
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 tommygun 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.
Rank / Organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army
Division: 3rd Battalion, 157th Infantry, 45th Infantry Division
G.O. Number: 79
Date of Issue: 28 Sept 1944
Place / Date: Near Carano, Italy, 23 May 1944
Col. Van Barfoot, Medal of Honor recipient, dies at 92
By: Ellen Robertson | Richmond Times-Dispatch
Published: March 03, 2012
Updated: March 03, 2012
Van Thomas Barfoot, a retired Army colonel and World War II Medal of Honor recipient who gained national attention in his fight to keep the U.S. flag flying in his front yard, died Friday in a Henrico County hospital. A private service will be held for the 92-year-old Henrico resident, who formerly owned a farm in Amelia.
In 2009, Col. Barfoot made headlines after he erected a 21-foot flagpole at his Sussex Square residence without the permission of his homeowners association. The association, which allowed flags to be flown on angled poles attached to houses, ordered it removed and threatened legal action when he refused. The ensuing furor drew the support of two senators, a former Virginia governor, other leaders and veterans before the association backed down.
"Col. Barfoot was a remarkable man who demonstrated tremendous bravery in military service to his country during three wars," said Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Va.
"The actions that earned Col. Barfoot the Medal of Honor, the Silver Star and the Bronze Star still have the power to inspire. We all saw a bit of that same determination and grit when Col. Barfoot fought his neighbors over that flagpole. Our nation and our state has lost a remarkable man, and my thoughts tonight are with his family and friends."
The Edinburg, Miss., native enlisted in the Army in 1940. By late 1941, he was a sergeant serving in Quantico. When his unit was deactivated in 1943, he shipped to Europe as part of the 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division. Col. Barfoot earned the Bronze Star for valor for his part in the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943. He earned the Silver Star for his role in the invasion of mainland Italy in December 1943. He was a 24-year-old technical sergeant when his unit, which landed at Anzio in late January 1944, reached Carano in May. He led patrols that familiarized him with the mined area in front of the German positions. During an action that left his squad isolated and communications cut off, he advanced alone on May 23 through the minefield, crawling to a German machine gun nest, which he destroyed with a hand grenade. He took out another machine gun nest with his machine gun and received the surrender of a third German machine gun crew.
Later that day, he borrowed a bazooka and "took up an exposed position directly in front of three advancing Mark VI tanks," his Medal of Honor citation says. "From a distance of 75 yards his first shot destroyed the track of the leading tank, effectively disabling it, while the other two changed direction toward the flank.
"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 two of his seriously wounded men 1,700 yards to a position of safety." During his efforts, he had killed eight and captured 17 German soldiers.
"Sgt. Barfoot's extraordinary heroism, demonstration of magnificent valor, and aggressive determination in the face of pointblank fire," the citation said, "are a perpetual inspiration to his fellow soldiers."
He later served in the Korean War and in Vietnam, where he served as deputy chief of Army aviation and earned 11 Air Medals in less than two years. He also received the Purple Heart with two clusters. He retired as a colonel and senior Army adviser to the Virginia Army National Guard in 1974.
The Sitter-Barfoot Veterans Health Care Center at McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center was named in his honor, and he was active there. "He was a very selfless man, a fiercely independent man," said his daughter, Margaret Nicholls of Henrico. Although the military was a large part of his life, "that wasn't him," she said. "He was all about family and faith and honor. He believed in serving in the community. He was always out in the community."
In a 1999 Times-Dispatch interview, he said, "I like to tell about life without war stories. I've always had something more important in my life than war and the military." He explained that his close-knit, churchgoing Christian family was his anchor. "That's the basis of my life, as a commander and a civilian."
He recalled reading his Bible before and praying through the action that earned him the Medal of Honor. "I always say, 'They held my hand.' That is, God, my mother and my wife. And anything I accomplished, it was based on Christian love."
Col. Barfoot, who changed his middle name from Thurman to Thomas, married Norma Louise Davis Barfoot in 1945. She died in 1992. Surviving in addition to his daughter are three sons, Van T. Barfoot Jr. of Bremerton, Wash., James Barfoot of Lake Tapps, Wash., and Odell Barfoot of Huntsville, Texas; a sister, Freddie Hall of Jackson, Miss.; 12 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.