Magnificent Valor and Aggressive Determination in the Face of Pointblank Fire

I read the obituaries a lot. I’m not sure why. Often I have heard that a person does this as he gets older. Maybe it’s true. But I don’t read every obituary. I read the long ones about interesting people and the things they did with their lives. These are actually news stories of a sort. One that I just read was about a retired military officer named Col. Van T. Barfoot, who died two weeks ago at age 92.

There are a lot of retired military officers in the Washington, DC area and not many receive a half page write up in the obituary section of the Washington Post. So why Colonel Barfoot? Because he won the Medal of Honor in World War Two. His citation commended his “magnificent valor and aggressive determination in the face of pointblank fire.”

This is what he did: in May of 1944 near Carano, in Northern Italy, then Sergeant Barfoot had been ordered to take his platoon and lead an assault on German positions to his front. Concerned that most of his men might be killed, he crept out of the American lines by himself and crawled unseen to within a few feet of a German bunker. He threw a grenade inside the bunker and killed two of the five German soldiers inside and wounded the three others. Then he moved quickly to the adjoining bunker, cut down two German soldiers with his tommy-gun, and took the remaining three soldiers prisoner. A third group of German soldiers who had witnessed this action became so unnerved they surrendered to Lt. Barfoot and he returned to American lines with a total of seventeen German prisoners.

That alone would be worth the Medal of Honor it seems to me but it was small beer compared to what he did next. German commanders were so pissed off they sent three tanks rolling toward Barfoot’s position. He armed himself with a bazooka (which had to be reloaded after every shot), then stood-up seventy-five yards in front of the leading tank and fired. Fortunately that round stopped the tank. Three of the German crew members bailed out and tried to escape. He killed them. The two other German tanks thought better of continuing the attack and sheared off. (For this he won a battlefield commission to Lieutenant.)

This sure as hell seems to me “magnificent valor and aggressive determination in the face of pointblank fire.” Barfoot remained in the service and fought in Korea and Vietnam winning other medals for valor under fire including the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, and three Purple Hearts.

[Source: Washington Post.]

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Charles McCain

Charles McCain is a Washington DC based freelance journalist and novelist. He is the author of "An Honorable German," a World War Two naval epic. You can read more of his work on his website:

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