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Our View: Saluting our nation's true heroes

Posted: December 11, 2009 3:58 p.m.
Updated: December 13, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 
Van Thomas Barfoot's story reads like a lost scene from "Saving Private Ryan."

Born one-quarter Choctaw, a 21-year-old Barfoot enlisted in the United States Army in 1940.

The Mississippi native served in non-combat roles until 1943, when he shipped off to Europe.

He landed with the invasion force at Sicily in July and Salerno in September. Early 1944 found him on the beachhead at Anzio - the battle that gave "Gunsmoke's" James Arness his signature limp.

From Anzio, Barfoot's unit pushed on to the town of Carano. His platoon was heavily engaged when he moved off alone to surprise the enemy's left flank.

Crawling up to a German machine-gun nest, Barfoot lobbed a hand grenade. Direct hit. Two dead, three wounded.

He crawled to the next machine-gun nest, raised his Tommy gun, killed two more German soldiers and took three captive.

Members of the next machine-gun nest apparently knew what was in store for them. They surrendered to Barfoot without a fight.

The technical sergeant tied up his prisoners and left them for his support squad to pick up.

He had more work to do. By midday he had disabled 17 enemy troops.

Time for lunch.

He reorganized his men just in time for the enemy to launch an armored counterattack.

Barfoot grabbed a bazooka and stood in plain sight of three advancing Mark VI tanks.

He fired from 75 yards.

BOOM.

One tank disabled. Barfoot shot down three of its crew as they fled the tank. The other two tanks turned tail.

Returning to his platoon, the exhausted Barfoot put on his game face and helped drag two of his seriously injured men 1,700 yards to safety.

The Congressional Medal of Honor is the highest form of gratitude this nation bestows upon its military service personnel.

It has been awarded 3,467 times to 3,448 different people since it was created in 1862 - almost half of them Civil War veterans.

Only 92 recipients are alive today. One of them is Van T. Barfoot, who retired as a colonel after serving in Korea and Vietnam and
earning a Purple Heart.

The state of Mississippi named a section of highway for him - an uncommon honor for someone who is living.

Now 90, Barfoot is still a proud American.

He shows his pride and patriotism every day by raising and lowering an American flag in front of his suburban Virginia home, where he lives so he can be close to his daughter.

He flies it from a 21-foot flagpole.

And the neighbors don't like it.

They think it's unsightly.

His homeowners association told him he would have to remove the flagpole "for aesthetic reasons."

There aren't enough words we can print in a family newspaper to express our disgust.

Suffice for it to say it must have come as a surprise to Barfoot, 65 years later, to learn he hadn't defeated tyranny and dictatorship after all. They were alive and well in his own neighborhood.

Barfoot's son-in-law took the story to his local radio station. From there it spread like wildfire.

Virginia's Democratic senators, Mark Warner and Jim Webb, pressured the HOA to back down - and it did. Barfoot can keep his flagpole.

Two House Republicans - our own Rep. Howard "Buck" McKeon, the ranking member of the House Armed Services Committee, and Virginia Rep. Eric Cantor - want to make sure this little accident of history never repeats itself.

McKeon and Cantor quickly introduced legislation permitting recipients of the Congressional Medal of Honor - 92 individuals in a nation of 308 million souls - to "properly display the flag of the United States of America" on their property.

The bill doesn't define what "properly" means or who decides - but as far as we're concerned, these 92 American heroes should be able to fly their country's flag wherever and however they darned well please.

We owe them - and the countless men and women who served before and after them, with or without the accolades, on the battlefields and behind the desks, at outposts from one corner of the globe to the other - everything.

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