Van T. Barfoot was a remarkable man.
In December 2009, at the age of 90, he was living in the Sussex Square community of Henrico, VA, near Richmond the capitol. Every morning he raised the American flag on a flag pole in front of his home and lowered it in the evening, meticulously folding it in the three-corner manner. The Owner’s Association objected to the flag pole and ordered him to remove it by a certain deadline, and face legal costs and other fines if he did not. The Association claimed that the flag pole was aesthetically undesirable. So he decided to fight the order, and with his daughter’s help and the assistance of local and national media, he won the fight. In the interim, in a modest show of defiance, he flew the flag on Veteran’s Day until the order was removed. “There’s never been a day in my life or a place I’ve lived in my life that you couldn’t fly the American flag.”
Mr. Barfoot won other fights in his life. I am not sure the Owner’s Association knew this when they took him on. In 1940, at the age of 21, he enlisted in the Army. Assigned to the 157th Infantry Regiment, he was shipped off to Italy at the height of the war. He made the Anzio, Sicily and Salerno landings and saw some of the fiercest fighting of the Italian campaign. On May 23, 1944 Mr. Barfoot found himself in the town of Carano, northeast of Verona. By this time he was a Sergeant and squad leader. His company came up against fortified German positions. Alone, he advanced through a minefield, took out two machine gun nests with a hand grenade and his rifle, killing eight men and capturing seventeen others. On the same day, he disabled a German tank with a bazooka and destroyed an artillery piece. For his actions that day Mr. Barfoot was awarded the Medal of Honor. He went on to become a Colonel and served in the Korean and Viet Nam wars, receiving a Purple Heart in addition to numerous other awards.
Van T. Barfoot was a hero. From all accounts he led a quiet life after the war. In his photographs taken in later life he appears as a kindly old gentleman. But make no mistake he was a hero who led a heroic life. He showed us how we can be heroic in our daily lives, by just being responsible and doing our duty no matter whether it is for our selves, our families, and our friends. And even in the simple task of flying our flag. Van T. Barefoot died on March 2, 2012 at the age of 92.