Date: March 4, 2012
Byline: Richard Goldstein
Van Barfoot, Medal of Honor Recipient, Dies at 92
Decades after receiving the nation’s highest award for valor, Colonel Barfoot overcame a neighborhood rule against flying a flag from a pole outside his Virginia home.
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 on 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 a subdivision in Henrico County, said his daughter, Margaret Nicholls.
Serving in the 45th Infantry Division, Sergeant Barfoot took part in the breakout from Italy’s Anzio beachhead.
On the morning of May 23, 1944, when his company was involved in a firefight with German troops outside the town of Carano, Sergeant 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 7 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 the summer of 2009, Colonel 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 Colonel Barfoot, and a Facebook page titled “Let Col. Barfoot Fly the American Flag” was created.
When asked about the dispute during a briefing of reporters in December 2009, the White House press secretary, Robert Gibbs, said that he had not spoken with President Obama about it, but that “the president believes, and I think all of us believe, that the very least we can do is show our gratitude and thanks to somebody that served our country so admirably.”
Mr. Gibbs said it was “silly” to prevent Colonel Barfoot from flying his flag on a pole.
The neighborhood association surrendered. Colonel Barfoot continued to fly the flag until his final days.
In addition to his daughter, Colonel Barfoot is survived by three sons, Van Jr., Jim and Odell; a sister, Freddie Hall; 12 grandchildren; and six great-grandchildren. His wife, Norma, died in 1992.
“All my life, from childhood to now, I have been able to fly the flag,” The Washington Post quoted Colonel Barfoot as telling supporters when he won his campaign to keep his flagpole. “In the time I have left, I plan to continue to fly the American flag without interference.”
Copyright © 1996-2014 by the Independence Hall Association