A congressional commission tasked with renaming U.S. Army bases previously named after Confederate officers is rebranding Fort Pickett to Fort Barfoot, in honor of World War II Medal of Honor recipient U.S. Army Tech. Sgt. Van T. Barfoot.
On May 23, 1944, near Carano, Italy, the 25-year-old Barfoot led an assault on entrenched German positions as part of an offensive campaign, dubbed Operation Buffalo, to break out from the Anzio beachhead. Advancing alone from his squad, which became disconnected from support elements when their radio was destroyed by German small arms fire, Barfoot neutralized three German machine gun positions, disabled a tank with a grenade, took 17 German prisoners, and pulled two comrades to safety while under fire. Barfoot not only earned a battlefield commission for his actions that day, but he also received a Medal of Honor.
“I was doing my job,” Barfoot later said. “A leader is supposed to protect, lead, and sacrifice himself if necessary.”
A native of Edinburg, Mississippi, Barfoot (who is one-quarter Choctaw Indian) enlisted in the Army in 1940 and served in Company L, 2nd Battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division—the same regiment that shares lineage with the Colorado Army National Guard.
“When I got to regiment headquarters [after that day], it had been raining and miserable, and the Assistant Division Commander stuck out his hand and said: 'I want to congratulate you...we received information that you've been awarded the Medal of Honor.’ It means so much…the recognition that the troops in my unit gave me when they recommended me [for it]. All this came as a surprise to me because I feel personally, and I still feel personally, that I was doing my job.”
At his request, he received the medal during a field ceremony in Epinal, France, Sept. 28, 1944.
“I remember the motto of my first unit, the 1st Infantry Division: ‘No mission too difficult, no sacrifice too great! Duty first!’ I believe I felt that [on that day],” he said.
Barfoot participated in the Allied invasions of Sicily in July 1943 and mainland Italy in December 1943. Later, he served in the Korean and Vietnam Wars as a helicopter pilot and retired at the rank of colonel in 1974. In addition to the Medal of Honor, Barfoot was awarded the Silver Star, Bronze Star, three Purple Hearts, three Legions of Merit, 11 Air Medals, and Mississippi Medal of Honor, among other decorations, during his distinguished military career.
“High morale among troops is, in itself, a great weapon,” Barfoot said.
He died in Richmond, Virginia, March 2, 2012, at the age of 92. He is buried at H. C. Smither Memorial Cemetery in Hudgins, Virginia.
The 157th Infantry Regiment was first constituted in 1917 during WW I from the 1st Colorado Infantry Regiment and was part of the 40th Infantry Division. The original 157th regimental unit patch was a swastika; a common solar symbol used by southwestern tribes that represented the four winds. This symbol was changed before troops were mobilized for WWII as a war with Germany was imminent.
During, and briefly after WWII, the 157th became part of the 45th “Thunderbirds” Infantry Division and served with distinction during 511 days of combat from the invasion of Sicily to the liberation of Dachau concentration camp under the leadership of Colorado’s own U.S. Army Lt. Col. Felix Sparks, a company commander in 3rd Battalion, 157th Infantry, when Barfoot was awarded the Medal of Honor. In 1950, the 157th was relieved from assignment from the 45th ID and, after the Korean War, transformed into artillery.
In 2007, infantry returned to the CONG after a 57-year hiatus when the 1st Battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment was reconstituted; it is technically a completely new regiment with no lineal connection to the previous 157th Infantry/157th Field Artillery; it inherits campaign participation credit and a decoration from other Colorado field artillery units. As of 2016, 1st Battalion, 157th Infantry Regiment was reassigned to the 86th Infantry Brigade Combat Team (Mountain), Vermont National Guard, itself aligned with the 10th Mountain Division. It was also redesignated as a Mountain Battalion, becoming one of only three Mountain Infantry battalions in the Army National Guard.
Fort Pickett, near Blackstone, Virginia, was built in 1941 and is home of the Army National Guard Maneuver Training Center. It was named for the Confederate Gen. George Pickett who became notorious for Pickett’s Charge during the American Civil War at the Battle of Gettysburg July 3,1863. The doomed infantry charge, ordered by Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee, was repelled with very heavy losses, forcing the Confederates to retreat south, ending their summer campaign.