WWII Hero At Center Of Virginia Flag Dispute Dies

Published March 3, 2012 5:27PM (EST)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — A World War II Medal of Honor winner who later made headlines for his fight to fly an American flag in his Virginia front yard, has died. Retired Army Col. Van Thomas Barfoot was 92.

Barfoot gained national attention in 2009 when he fought to keep his 21-foot flagpole at his Henrico County home after the homeowners association ordered it removed and threatened to sue him.

The White House even entered the fray, with a spokesman for President Barack Obama calling it "silly" not to allow Barfoot to fly the flag.

The association later backed off, but Barfoot's fight eventually led to a state law that makes it tougher for homeowners associations to restrict the flying of the U.S. flag.

Jim Barfoot told WWBT-TV (http://bit.ly/zESDxV) that his father died Friday after suffering injuries in a fall earlier in the week.

"He just had a zest for life and apparently he didn't fear for anything," Jim Barfoot said.

Sen. Mark. Warner called Barfoot a remarkable man who demonstrated bravery during three wars.

The Edinburg, Miss., native entered the Army in 1940. Barfoot's Medal of Honor citation cites his "Herculean" efforts in Carano, Italy, in May 1944 when he was 25 years old, according to the Richmond Times-Dispatch (http://bit.ly/wNazQw).

According to the citation, Barfoot crawled through a minefield to a German machine gun nest, which he destroyed with a hand grenade, then took out another machine gun nest with his own machine gun before a third German machine gun crew surrendered to him. Later in the day, he borrowed a bazooka and stood before three advancing tanks, firing a shot from 75 yards that destroyed the track of the leading tank, disabling it. He then continued into enemy terrain and destroyed an abandoned German fieldpiece with a demolition charge.

"While returning to his platoon position, Sgt. Barfoot, though greatly fatigued by his Herculean efforts, assisted two of his seriously wounded men 1,700 yards to a position of safety."

During the ordeal, Barfoot killed eight and captured 17 German soldiers.

"Sgt. Barfoot's extraordinary heroism, demonstration of magnificent valor, and aggressive determination in the face of pointblank fire are a perpetual inspiration to his fellow soldiers," the citation said.

He later served in the Korean War and in Vietnam, and was awarded the Purple Heart, the Silver Star and the Bronze Star, among other honors.

Barfoot retired as a colonel and senior Army adviser to the Virginia Army National Guard in 1974.

The Sitter-Barfoot Veterans Health Care Center at McGuire Veterans Affairs Medical Center was named in his honor.

"He was a very selfless man, a fiercely independent man," his daughter, Margaret Nicholls told the newspaper. Although the military was a large part of his life, "that wasn't him," she said. "He was all about family and faith and honor. He believed in serving in the community. He was always out in the community."

Barfoot tripped near his front door and hit his head on bricks, fracturing his skull and causing bleeding in his brain, Jim Barfoot said. He died with his family surrounding him.

Barfoot's wife Norma Louise Davis Barfoot, died in 1992. He is survived by children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Bliley's Funeral Home in Richmond said the funeral would be private.

In a 1999 Times-Dispatch interview, Barfoot said his close-knit, churchgoing family was his anchor.

"I like to tell about life without war stories," he said. "I've always had something more important in my life than war and the military."

By Salon Staff

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