FORT BARFOOT, Va. – The Virginia National Guard’s Fort Pickett was officially redesignated Fort Barfoot in honor of Col. Van T. Barfoot, a World War II Medal of Honor recipient with extensive Virginia ties, during a ceremony March 24, 2023, at the Blackstone Army Airfield near Blackstone, Virginia.
During the ceremony, invited guests heard remarks from Barfoot’s daughter Margaret Nicholls, Sen. Tim Kaine, Director of the Army National Guard Lt. Gen. Jon Jensen, and Maj. Gen. Timothy P. Williams, the Adjutant General of Virginia. The speakers also helped unveil the Fort Barfoot sign which will sit at the main entrance to the installation.
“Our family is so proud of the man we called Dad, Granddad, and Great Granddad, for the love he shared, the example he set and his life of service to others,” said Nicholls. “As always, he would not have felt deserving of this honor and humbly would have said God had a plan for him and he hoped he lived up to God’s plan. Having his service to this nation memorialized by this redesignation is a tribute to a man who epitomized what is great about our American Soldiers.”
“The reason naming this base after Col. Barfoot is so important is he had a tie to the National Guard, a deep tie to the Virginia National Guard,” said Kaine. “He trained here, said goodbye to his fiancée here. He maintained a tie to the Virginia National Guard during the rest of his military service and after, and received lifetime achievement awards and other recognitions. It would have been a missed opportunity to have named this base for someone, no matter how heroic, who didn’t have a tie to a National Guard unit. And to be able to name it for someone whose ties to the Virginia National Guard were life-long and significant, I just say to the Naming Commission - you absolutely knocked it out of the park.”
The post is one of nine U.S. Army installations being redesignated based on the Naming Commission’s recommendations to remove the names, symbols, displays, monuments, and paraphernalia that honor or commemorate the Confederate States of America. Of the nine, it is the only Army National Guard installation being redesignated.
“Fort Pickett is the first of nine Army installations to be redesignated this year, and I could not think of a more fitting soldier to have the first honor. Thanks to this historic renaming in honor of one of America’s great heroes, members of the Army and our country will surely know of the impact Col. Barfoot had on our nation,” said Jensen. “May all Soldiers who train and serve here at Fort Barfoot, both now and for generations to come, do so in the same spirit of leadership, loyalty and selfless service to their fellow Soldiers and their nation. May we all be able to think and execute quickly under that kind of pressure, and find the personal courage when the moment calls us to do so, as Van Barfoot did without hesitation.”
“Today we have the distinction of paying tribute to the legacy of a truly great man, a tested combat leader, and a selfless servant,” said Williams. “I think I speak for everyone that we’re all privileged to be here for this occasion. Col. Van Barfoot is one of those rare individuals whose story gets better the more you hear it. And today is another example as we continue to learn more about and honor this man whose name now adorns our Maneuver Training Center.”
Barfoot was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1944 for his actions near Carano, Italy, as a technical sergeant in the 45th Infantry Division, as he battled against German soldiers and tanks. His Medal of Honor citation can be read at https://ngpa.us/24014. He served through the Korean and Vietnam Wars, and eventually became an accomplished aviator, and is a member of the Fort Rucker, soon to be Fort Novosel, Alabama, Aviation Hall of Fame.
He also has strong connections to the Virginia National Guard as well as the installation which now bears his name. He served two different times as an advisor to Virginia National Guard units. In the 1950s, he served as an advisor to the 116th Infantry Regiment and later was the Senior Army Advisor to the Virginia National Guard until his retirement in 1974. Those jobs brought him to Fort Pickett for training with VNG units on multiple occasions.
“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, 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.”
According to the same interview, Barfoot briefly trained at what was then Camp Pickett with the 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division, the unit he fought with in Italy, prior to shipping out for Europe during World War II.
After his retirement, Barfoot settled in Amelia County, eventually moving to Henrico County, where he again rose to national prominence when his desire to be able to fly the American flag in front of his home in Henrico County was challenged by the local home owner’s association. Barfoot received support from many national leaders and organizations, eventually prevailing in his efforts.
“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, Col. Barfoot’s son. “He wanted people to know that 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.”
Barfoot also has a significant Native American heritage, as his maternal grandmother was a member of the Choctaw Nation. To commemorate this heritage, representatives from Choctaw Nation as well as Virginia-based Native American tribes were in attendance at the ceremony, and performed ceremonial songs and dance for the gathered audience.
Barfoot passed away in 2012 at the age of 92. In addition to being the new namesake of the VNG installation, a portion of a highway near his place of birth in Mississippi is also dedicated in his honor. There is also a Sitter & Barfoot Veterans Care Center in Richmond, Virginia, operated by the Virginia Department of Veterans Services,” which Barfoot was incredibly proud of.
“He passionately pursued the creation of a Veterans nursing facility in central Virginia. I remember how he was overcome with emotion when he was told that it would bear his name,” said Nicholls.
The 29th Infantry Division Band provided music for the event, and volunteers with the Virginia Defense Force and Virginia Civil Air Patrol provided support for the ceremony. Outside of the World War II hangar where the ceremony was held, the installation’s tenets set up static displays showcasing diversity of units and services who train on the post.
Fort Barfoot sits on about 41,000 acres and is operated by the Virginia National Guard, which took control of the post in 1997. Built during World War II and originally named Camp Pickett, It features a combination of open-terrain and wooded maneuver areas, more than 20 ranges capable of training on nearly every Army weapons system, a rail spur and a C-17 capable airfield. It also boasts a forward operating base, multiple training villages and a Combined Arms Collective Training Facility, Fort Barfoot’s urban operations training facility.
The installation’s primary customer is the Virginia National Guard, but also regularly hosts units from other states and services.
“The name will change, but I guarantee the mission will not,” said Williams. “We stand ready to train and prepare our forces for combat in the most realistic and challenging manner possible. The next generation of warriors will be forged right here. And they will continue a long tradition of service and patriotism.”
In addition to the installation name change, four buildings, 19 roads and five bridges were also identified by the Naming Commission to be redesignated. Four roads on main post will be changed to A Avenue, B Avenue, C Avenue and D Avenue, which is how they were designated when the installation was established in 1942. Roads and trails in the maneuver area will be named for trees along the routes or tied in with existing geographic features. Fort Barfoot’s Directorate of Public Works employees have helped make signs with the post’s new name to replace existing ones around the installation. See photos of that process here: https://ngpa.us/24496.