Obituary: Van Barfoot / Hero fought in U.S. wars and to fly its flag

June 15, 1919 - March 2, 2012
March 8, 2012 12:01 am

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Van Barfoot, a Medal of Honor recipient in World War II whose fight to fly an American flag outside his home 65 years later drew national attention, died Friday in suburban Richmond, Va. He was 92.

The cause was a skull fracture and bleeding in the brain resulting from a fall two days earlier in front of his home in Henrico County, said his daughter, Margaret Nicholls.

Serving in the 45th Infantry Division, Mr. Barfoot, a sergeant, took part in the breakout from Italy's Anzio beachhead.

On May 23, 1944, when his company was involved in a firefight with German troops outside of Carano, Sgt. Barfoot moved ahead of his squad and knocked out two machine-gun emplacements, leading enemy soldiers at a third one to abandon their position and surrender.

Later that day, he disabled a German tank with a grenade. Then he wiped out one of the enemy's big guns with a demolition charge and finally helped two seriously wounded men from his squad walk to safety about a mile away.

When it was all over, he had killed seven German soldiers and captured 17 others.

He was promoted to lieutenant, and he received the Medal of Honor, the nation's highest award for valor, in September 1944 while he was fighting in France. The Medal of Honor citation noted his "herculean efforts" and "aggressive determination in the face of point-blank fire."

Van Thomas Barfoot was born on June 15, 1919, in Edinburg, Miss., one of nine children, and grew up on a farm. He joined the Army in 1940. He remained in the military after World War II, served briefly in the Korean War and was a senior officer in Army aviation in the Vietnam War. He retired in 1974 as a colonel.

In summer 2009, Mr. Barfoot moved from his farm in Amelia County, Va., to live near his daughter in Henrico County. He hung an American flag from a flagpole and saluted it every day.

But his neighborhood association, which allowed flags on angular staffs attached to homes, asked him to take the flagpole down, citing aesthetic considerations. When he refused, it threatened court action.

After the dispute became news, Virginia's two senators, Mark R. Warner and Jim Webb, along with the American Legion, voiced support for Mr. Barfoot, and a Facebook page titled "Let Col. Barfoot Fly the American Flag" was created.

The neighborhood association surrendered. Mr. Barfoot continued to fly the flag until his final days.

First Published 2012-03-07 23:43:14

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