WASHINGTON – Fort Pickett, Virginia, is scheduled to officially redesignate the base’s name to Fort Barfoot March 24 in honor of Col. Van Thomas Barfoot, one of 33 Native Americans who received the Medal of Honor.
Barfoot was admitted to the Army Aviation Hall of Fame for his influence and support of building the aviation branch of the Army.
During Barfoot’s career, which spans through World War II and the Korean and Vietnam Wars, he earned the Silver Star, the Bronze Star, three Purple Hearts, two Legions of Merit, and 11 Air Medals during his 34 years of military service.
“It is such a tremendous honor to name an installation where military forces train to defend our freedoms in honor of Col. Van T. Barfoot,” said Maj. Gen. Timothy Williams, the adjutant general of Virginia per a news release by the Virginia National Guard. “His magnificent military career was marked by heroism and decades of selfless service to our nation, and his legacy will serve as an inspiration for current and future generations of service members.”
Barfoot, whose maternal grandmother was a member of the Choctaw Nation, enlisted into the Army in 1940 out of Carthage, Mississippi. After basic training, he joined the ranks of the 1st Infantry Division and then was assigned to the headquarters of Amphibious Force Atlantic Fleet at Quantico, Virginia. From there, he deployed to Europe to participate in the Italian liberation from German forces. He fought in multiple campaigns throughout Italy, starting with the Allied invasion of Sicily in July 1943, then the mainland invasion at Salerno in September 1943, and finally the landing at Anzio in January 1944.
During the landing of Anzio, Barfoot was a part of the 45th Infantry Division. His unit fought its way to the small town of Carano in the Latina province. The then-Tech. Sgt. Barfoot led a squad on the morning of May 23, 1944 through a minefield to flank several machine gun nests.
He crawled to the first machine-gun nest and threw a hand grenade that killed two and wounded three of the Germans within. He kept moving through the enemy defensive line to another nest where, with his Thompson machine-gun, he killed two more Germans and captured three others, according to Barfoot’s Medal of Honor citation.
By the time Barfoot finished engaging the nests, a total of 17 German soldiers were captured and eight were killed.
Later that day, an armored counterattack was launched towards his squad’s position.
He grabbed an unsecured bazooka and, while exposed, engaged the first of three German Tiger battle tanks from 75 yards away. He took aim and destroyed the track of the lead tank, disabling it and forcing the other two to change course. As the crew of the disabled tank started to dismount, Barfoot killed them with his machine-gun, his citation said.
After he returned to the squad’s position, Barfoot helped two seriously wounded Soldiers by carrying them over 1,700 yards to a safe location.
He was promoted to second lieutenant shortly after the battle and continued to lead his unit into France and then Germany. While serving in France, Barfoot was presented the Medal of Honor on Sept. 28, 1944 for his actions in Carano, in May that year.
In 1960, at age 40, Barfoot moved to the Army’s aviation branch.
The Army was having difficulty with close air support since the creation of the Air Force during the Vietnam War. To help alleviate those problems, the Army needed flying capability for ground support and created the Army’s aviation branch. Barfoot felt this was the area he could support the Army’s mission best, he said in an interview with the National World War II Museum.
After finishing flight school, he deployed to Vietnam and proceeded to fly 177 combat hours, according to the Army Aviation Hall of Fame.
Before retiring Barfoot was an advisor to the Virginia National Guard where he assisted with training multiple units at Fort Pickett, home of the Army National Guard Maneuver Training Center.
“I served as senior advisor for the state of Virginia National Guard for four years. I love them, they’re dedicated people,” Barfoot said during an interview that was part of the Library of Congress Veterans History Project. “I’ll tell you, the greatest asset we have now is our National Guard. They’re just complete Soldiers.”
After he retired as a colonel in 1974 he lived in Amelia County later Henrico County, Virginia. Barfoot passed away in 2012 at the age of 92, leaving behind three sons and a daughter.
“Our family is extremely proud of the honor that is being bestowed on our father. He was devoted to serving God, family and this great nation not only during his Army career but until his death in 2012,” said Tom Barfoot, one of Col. Barfoot’s sons in an interview with the VNG. “He wanted people to know that his award of ‘The Medal of Honor’ was not just representative of him, but of all the men and women of this nation who sacrificed to meet our country’s call.”
For more information about the Fort Pickett base redesignation visit Virginia National Guard.