Note: In many cases where World War II Medal of Honor recipients are “stacked”, TFH is choosing to post some of their stories early. This is to prevent both writing crush and division of attention to these heroes!
Van Thomas Barfoot was born in Edinburg, Mississippi on June 15, 1919. He enlisted in the United States Army in 1940, and prior to the United States’ entry into World War II, served in the 1st Infantry Division.
He was promoted to Sergeant in December 1941, and assigned to an Army unit planning for amphibious assault tactics co-located with the United States Marine Corps in Quantico, Virginia. When that unit was disbanded, Barfoot was reassigned to the 157th Infantry Regiment of the 45th Infantry Division.
On May 23, 1944, Barfoot had reached the Rank of Technical Sergeant and was a platoon sergeant in the 157th Infantry’s 3rd Battalion. That day, the breakout from the Anzio beachhead began as the Allies advanced towards Rome.
On the first day of the offensive, Van Barfoot, whether it was with just his submachine gun, a bazooka, or by picking up and carrying his wounded comrades, placed himself amongst the finest American warriors of all time. He received a battlefield commission and promotion to Second Lieutenant not long after, and in the fall of 1944 was decorated with our Nation’s highest honor.
BARFOOT, VAN T.
Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army, 157th Infantry, 45th Infantry Division
Place and date: Near Carano, Italy, 23 May 1944
Entered service at: Carthage, Miss.
Citation: 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 point blank fire are a perpetual inspiration to his fellow soldiers.
Barfoot went on to land with the 45th Infantry Division in southern France, his fourth amphibious assault of the war, and remained in the Army after war’s end. He went on to serve in both Korea and Vietnam, and retired from the Army in 1974 with the rank of Colonel.
Van Barfoot found himself back in the news in December 2009 when the homeowners’ association for Sussex Square, Henrico, Virginia asked him to remove his flagpole which he used to fly the Stars & Stripes. The homeowners’ association eventually bowed to massive public pressure, including from the White House, and let him keep his flag.
In late February 2012, Colonel Barfoot suffered a fall that left him with a grave head injury. He never recovered, and passed away on March 2, 2012. He was laid to rest in the H. C. Smither Memorial Cemetery, Hudgins, Virginia.