Edinburg, Mississippi was the birth place of Van T. Barfoot on June 15, 1919. Barfoot’s grandmother was Choctaw, and although he was eligible, his parents never enrolled him into the Choctaw Nation. In 1940, at 21 years of age, Barfoot enlisted in the Army from Carthage, Mississippi. He served with the 1st Infantry Division in Louisiana and Puerto Rico. He was promoted to sergeant in December 1941, and re-assigned to Headquarters Amphibious Force Atlantic Fleet in Virginia. He served in this unit until 1943 when it was deactivated. He was shipped to Europe with the next unit he joined, which was the 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division.
The Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943, the invasion of mainland Italy at Salerno in September, and the landings at Anzio in January of 1944 were amphibious landings Barfoot participated in during the Italian Campaign. By May of 1944 his unit had pushed inland from Anzio and had reached the town of Carano. Barfoot scouted German lines from defensive positions. On the morning of May 23, Barfoot, now a technical sergeant, asked permission to lead the squad on an ordered attack. From his scouting, he already knew the terrain and the minefield which was in front of the German position. Barfoot went alone through the minefield until he was within a few yards of a German machine gun. He took out this gun with a hand grenade, then entered the German trench and advanced toward a second gun. Here he killed two soldiers and captured three others. The entire crew at the third gun surrendered to him. With these and others who also surrendered, Barfoot captured seventeen German soldiers, and had killed eight.
Later that day the Germans launched an armored counterattack. Again Barfoot proved his ability to defend when he disabled one tank with a bazooka, and destroyed an abandoned German artillery piece which was in enemy-held territory. He then helped two wounded soldiers, from his squad, from the lines back to the rear.
Barfoot’s division had moved into France and by September was serving in the Rhone valley. By this time he had been commissioned a second lieutenant. He also learned that he would be awarded the Medal of Honor. He wanted his soldiers to attend so he chose to have the presentation ceremony in the field. On September 28, 1944, in Epinal, France Barfoot, a true American hero, was formally presented the Medal of Honor by Lieutenant General Alexander Patch.
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”.
One of the last living Medal of Honor recipients from World War II, Barfoot lives in Henrico County, Virginia. He is also a veteran of the Korean War and the Vietnam War. In addition to the Medal of Honor, he was also awarded the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and 3 Purple Hearts. The portion of Mississippi Highway 16 from Carthage through Edinburg to the border between Leake and Neshoba counties was on October 9, 2009, named the “Van T. Barfoot’s Medal Of Honor Highway”.
Then came the flag controversy—
The Sussex Square homeowners association, in Henrico County, Virginia, in early December 2009 ordered Van T. Barfoot, a veteran and Medal of Honor recipient, to remove a flag pole from his yard. Barfoot has been regularly flying the flag since Veteran’s Day this year. This in spite of the Sussex Square board’s decision against it.
Barfoot’s son-in-law reported this story on “Elliot in the Morning”, a local talk radio show, giving it its first public hearing. Fox News soon picked it up, then several other national news networks followed. Coates & Davenport Law Firm from Richmond, representatives for homeowners association, were hired to enforce their order.
Flagpoles were not forbidden by the association’s bylaws, but the HOA said Barfoot, aged 90, could not use it for “aesthetic” (which means beautification, artistic, appealing, etc.) reasons. After contesting the ruling, Barfoot received much support from politicians. Among those supporting him were Mark Warner and Jim Webb, both Senators from Virginia. Also in support of him was White House Press Secretary, Robert Gibbs. The association dropped its request on December 8, 2009. This ended the controversy and Colonel Van T. Barfoot won his right to fly his beloved American Flag.