True heroes never see themselves as such. So, it was with this Medal of Honor recipient, Tech. Sgt. Van T. Barfoot. He was part Choctaw Indian and would become one of the most significant Native American heroes of WWII. His story is truly one of uncommon valor in the face of superior forces. But as you see and listen to him in this video, you will see the depth of his humility as well.
Barfoot enlisted in 1940 and was first assigned to the 1st Infantry Division. He would be reassigned later to the 157th Infantry Regiment of the 45th Infantry Division, and would take part in Italian campaign. The motto for that unit was: “No mission too difficult, No sacrifice too great, Duty first.”
As he tells us in this video, he took that motto seriously, he believed it.
Barfoot’s unit of the 157th Infantry had landed at Salerno and had started moving up the Italian peninsula. It was not easy going. In fact, the Germans were putting up a massive counter-offensive and his unit had been holding a defensive position at Carano, Italy for several days.
On May 23, 1944, they finally got orders to move out and his unit soon found themselves in a serious confrontation with the German forces. He and his squad had done some scouting ahead of the major body of the 157th Infantry. They had to get through a mine field as they approached to within a couple hundred yards from the German lines. Then they came under heavy machine gun fire from three separate positions.
Follow us on Instagram
Get deals on patriotic items from The Veterans Site store each week!
Barfoot asked if he could move alone to try to flank the left side of the German positions. He was given permission to do so. He was successful in getting around to the left of the German machine gun positions, and got close enough to take out the first machine gun nest with a hand grenade, killing two Germans and wounding three others. He then moved on to the second machine gun and was able to eliminate that threat with his tommy gun, again killing two and wounding three others. The Germans in the third machine gun nest then abandoned their position and surrendered to Barfoot.
He left them for his support squad and continued to move against other German positions, capturing more prisoners. The final count of captured Germans was 17.
But that was not the end of his day. The Germans sent three tanks toward the front in an attempt to reclaim the machine gun positions. Barfoot secured a bazooka and took up an exposed position in front of three advancing Mark VI tanks. His first shot with the bazooka at 75 yards destroyed the first tank’s tracks, disabling it. He killed three of that tanks crew as they abandoned the tank with his tommy gun. The other tanks changed direction then.
Barfoot continued forward finding and taking out a recently abandoned German artillery piece with satchel charge that he placed in its breech. Exhausted, he found and helped two seriously wounded Americans move over a 1,700 yard space to safety.
For his actions that day, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. Barfoot would also serve in both Korea and Vietnam. Besides the Medal of Honor, he was also awarded over his long career with a Silver Star, a Bronze Star and 3 Purple Hearts. Barfoot died on March 2, 2012, in Richmond, Virginia and is buried at the H.C. Smither Memorial Cemetery, Matthews Co., Virginia.
As you will see in this video, Van T. Barfoot is a humble man. He says that he always felt that a leader needed to do three things: protect his men, lead them, and be willing to sacrifice himself for them if necessary. I think that his actions that day in Carano, Italy, showed clearly that he was that kind of leader.
We at the Veterans Site are humbled by the courage and the undaunted commitment to sacrifice for others that was modeled by Tech Sgt. Van T. Barfoot. We will never forget!
Dan Doyle is a husband, father, grandfather, Vietnam veteran, and retired professor of Humanities at Seattle University. He taught 13 years at the high school level and 22 years at the university level. He spends his time now babysitting his granddaughter. He is a poet and a blogger as well. Dan holds an AA degree in English Literature, a BA in Comparative Literature, and an MA in Theology, and writes regularly for The Veterans Site Blog.