If you are ashamed to stand by your colors, you had better seek another flag. Author Unknown
This Sunday is Father’s Day. Rather than dump showers of accolades on all you Dads and Dad-lovers out there. I thought I’d take a different approach. After all, you don’t read this blog to follow the crowd, so I won’t write that way, either.
Instead, I’d like to update you on a special Dad, a Dad from the “Greatest Generation,” and in so doing, hopefully shed some light on why we love our “silver headed daddies” like we do.
Like most Dads out there, I like to tell stories. Our earliest recorded history, The Bible, shares with us tales passed down from father to son around campfires and town meetings. Abraham and Isaac, Jacob and Joseph, etc. Even ol’ Willie Shakespeare got into the act (pun intended):
This story shall the good man teach his son; Henry V | Act IV, Scene 3
So today, let’s tell a story about a heroic Dad and re-learn a lesson in the process.
Over the last few weeks, I’ve received several e-mails from friends and co-workers about the plight of WWII veteran Van Barfoot and his efforts to fly a flag in the front yard of his North Virginia home. Last December (2009), the Sussex Square homeowners association (HOA) in Virginia threatened legal action against the 90-year old Barfoot if he did not take down the flagpole from his yard within 24 hours. I guess these pompous “what will this do to our property value” geniuses thought they could bully an elderly Mississippi-born widower living in Sussex only to be near his daughter and her family. But they didn’t know who they were dealing with.
Remember the 1982 Sylvestor Stallone film, First Blood? After John Rambo is arrested by the local sheriff for vagrancy, he escapes and starts a chain of events that helped make Stallone a star. But my point is, remember the shock the deputies felt when they found out that Rambo was a war hero from Vietnam … Special Forces … and oh yes, a recipient of the Congressional Medal of Honor? Life imitates art today.
Van T. Barfoot is a retired Army Colonel who served with great distinction in World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War. While fighting during WWII in Carano, Italy, he single-handedly destroyed a set of German machine gun nests, killed eight enemy soldiers, took 17 prisoners and stared down a tank before destroying it and killing its crew. Afterward, he moved two of his wounded men 1,700 yards to safety. Here is the citation recorded on his Medal of Honor:
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 machine-gun 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 machine-gun emplacement, and with his tommy-gun killed 2 and captured 3 soldiers. Members of another enemy machine-gun 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 tommy-gun. He continued onward into enemy terrain and destroyed a recently abandoned German field piece 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 pointblank fire are a perpetual inspiration to his fellow soldiers.
When ordered to remove his flag and pole, Barfoot refused. He argued that there is no provision in Sussex Square’s rules forbidding flagpoles. The Sussex Square HOA refused to make an exception and hired an attorney to take legal action. As COL (Ret) Barfoot responded, “flying the American Flag is a cause worth fighting for.”
The response around the nation was amazing! This story got national interest and was reported on Fox News back in December as it was unfolding. Veterans Groups and everyday Americans from all walks of life took up a grass-roots effort to stand behind this man who stood FOR us in his youth. Virginia Senators Webb and Warner let their voices be heard, and even the Obama administration issued a statement, calling the HOA stance “silly.”
I wanted to write about this today as many folks don’t know that this whole thing played out less than a week after it began. Last December 8, the Sussex Square HOA agreed to stop their legal action against Colonel Barfoot. Hopefully red-faced and embarrassed with tails tucked, the HOA agreed to “allow” the retired Army Colonel to fly the Flag in his front yard. Very wise move … as if they had any other choice!
There is another good ending to this story … the Mississippi Department Of Transportation officially named a part of Highway 16 in Leake County as the Van T. Barefoot Medal Of Honor Highway. A sign was erected at the intersection of Mississippi Highways 35 and 16 in Carthage to designate the section of Highway 16 from Carthage to the Leake/Neshoba County Line. It’s a fitting tribute to a man who exemplifies courage and dedication, even today, when it seems such attributes have lost their luster.
“Don’t place me on a pedestal. I am just a man who grew up at Rye’s Creek and was very fortunate that God has been very good to me,” said Barfoot, when asked about the highway dedication.
Just this week, COL Barfoot celebrated his 91st birthday. He still flies his flag with honor and pride. I would like to say, on behalf of a grateful nation, thanks to COL Barfoot and all the great Dads out there who not only tried their best to provide and care for their families, but also answered the call to arms when our nation needed them.
To all the Dads out there, thanks for all you have done for us, both then and now. This, truly, is the story that the good man shall tell his son.
Happy Fathers’ Day!
For more information on the Congressional Medal of Honor, please visit this amazing website: