Colonel Van T. Barfoot, a Medal of Honor recipient from World War II, died earlier this morning at 92 years old. Always very patriotic, Barfoot joined the Army in 1940 before the start of the draft and by December 1941 was promoted to Technical Sergeant in L Company, 157th Infantry, 45th Infantry Division. In July 1943, Barfoot took part in the invasion of Sicily and fought at Salerno just two months later. In January 1944, Barfoot landed at Anzio and with his unit pushed inland. By May his unit held a defensive position near the town of Carano, Italy. During his time there, Barfoot lead numerous patrols during the day and night over the next four weeks in an effort to probe the German lines. While out on patrol, he learned the layout of the German minefields, which would prove important for a future attack. On May 23, his company led an attack against the Germans. As a squad leader, Barfoot requested to lead his squad to the German flank, going through some of the German minefields to get to the enemy positions with minimal casualties.
Barfoot led his men to the minefields and placed them in a position to defend a possible withdrawal. Being so familiar with the area, he personally moved through ditches and depressions in the terrain toward the enemy. Barfoot reached the first enemy machine gun on the far right flank and destroyed it with a hand grenade, killing 2 and wounding 3 Germans. He continued along their defensive line to the next gun emplacement and immediately killed two soldiers with his Thompson sub-machine gun, while wounding and capturing three others. As he approached the third gun emplacement, the Germans there surrendered to him. He left the prisoners there for his support squad to pick up and proceeded to “mop up” the area and captured a few more prisoners. In total, Barfoot captured seventeen men during his attack.
Barfoot and his men then occupied the German positions. Later that afternoon, the Germans launched a fierce counter attack on Barfoot’s position. With a bazooka, he knocked the tracks off of the tank closest to his position, causing the other two tanks to move away towards his flank. As the crew of the disabled tank attempted to dismount, Barfoot quickly grabbed his Thompson submachinegun and eliminated them. Along with the attack that afternoon, Barfoot also discovered several abandoned German artillery pieces and disabled one of them. At the end of the day, Barfoot aided two of his severly wounded men and carried them to a safe position some 1,700 yards away.
Not long after this action, Barfoot received a promotion to 2nd Lieutenant and soon afterwards learned that he was to be awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions on May 23, 1944. Given a choice to return to the United States for the award or to be awarded in the field, Barfoot felt it was important not to leave his men. On September 28, 1944, Lieutenant General Alexander Patch awarded him the medal in Épinal, France (see photos below).
Van T. Barfoot retired from the US Army as a Colonel, after also serving in the Korean and Vietnam wars. Colonel Barfoot has been a long time friend of The National World War II Museum. He was awarded the Museum’s American Spirit Award in 2008 and attended our most recent Grand Opening event in 2009. Colonel Barfoot’ s story will live on within future exhibits of the museum that will be featured in our US Freedom Pavilion and the Museum’s Campaigns Pavilion in the near future.
It was personally a great honor to know Colonel Barfoot and to be able to call him a friend. I will always remember his unique sense of humor, his patriotic feeling towards this country and his devotion to God. We have lost another great warrior and hero of World War II. While he may be gone, he will never be forgotten.
This post by Historian/Curator Tommy Lofton