Every weekday for 110 straight days we will feature a different living recipient of the Medal of Honor. These are the men who have received their nation's highest military honor. Brian is a board member of the Congressional Medal of Honor Foundation. The words and photos are courtesy of Artisan Books, publishers of "Medal of Honor: Portraits of Valor Beyond the Call of Duty by Peter Collier with photographs by Nick Del Calzo.
VAN T. BARFOOT
Technical Sergeant, U.S. Army 157th Infantry, 45th Infantry Division
Later in his life, Van Barfoot would be hailed as one of the significant Native American heroes of World War II. His grandmother was a full-blooded Choctaw but his mother failed to enroll him with the government as a member of that tribe, so Barfoot grew up aware only that he had American Indian blood, not that he was an "official" Choctaw.
He enlisted in the Army in 1940, before the new selective service law authorizing the peacetime draft was passed by Congress, and he was assigned to the 1st Infantry Division. After his training, he participated in maneuvers in Louisiana and Puerto Rico. In December 1941, he was promoted to sergeant and assigned to the newly activated Headquarters Amphibious Force Atlantic Fleet at Quantico, Virginia. When the unit was inactivated in 1943, he was reassigned to the 157th Infantry.
Technical Sergeant Barfoot took part in the landings at Sicily in July 1943 and at Salerno two months later. In late January 1944, the 157th landed at Anzio and began moving inland rapidly. But counterattacking German reinforcements stopped the Allied advance, even forcing some withdrawals. By May, Barfoot's unit had been in a defensive position near the town of Carano for several weeks, during which time Barfoot conducted day and night patrols to probe the German lines, mentally mapping out the terrain and minefields in front of enemy positions.
Early on the morning of May 23, his company was ordered to attack. As the lead squads approached the German minefields, they came under heavy fire. Because he knew the lanes through the minefields so well, Barfoot asked for permission to head a squad. Moving through depressions in the terrain and shallow ditches, he advanced to within a few yards of an enemy machine gun on the right flank and destroyed it with a grenade. Then, following the German trench line, he moved to the next gun emplacement, where he killed two soldiers with his submachine gun and wounded and captured three others. When he approached the Germans manning a third gun, they surrendered. In all he captured seventeen of the enemy.
Later in the day, after he had consolidated the newly captured position. Barfoot, seeing three German tanks advancing in a counteroffensive, grabbed a bazooka and destroyed the track of the leading tank, causing the two other tanks to change direction. As the crew of the disabled tank jumped out, Barfoot killed three of them, then continued into enemy territory and destroyed a German fieldpiece with a demolition charge. He ended the day by helping two seriously wounded men from his squad walk nearly a mile to safety.
Not long after this action, Barfoot was promoted to lieutenant. Four months later, his unit was in France's Rhone valley when he was ordered to division headquarters and informed that he had been awarded the Medal of Honor. Given the choice of returning to the United States for the ceremony or receiving the medal in the field, Barfoot chose the latter so that his men could be present. Lieutenant General Alexander Patch awarded him the medal in Epinal, France, on September 28, 1944.