June 25: Virginians fly flags to commemorate statehood, and Col. Van T. Barfoot

June 24, 2015

June 25 is Virginia Statehood Day.  The U.S. Flag Code urges Americans to fly the U.S. flag on the statehood date of their states.

Virginia is counted as the 10th state, by virtue of the Virginia ratifying convention’s having voted to ratify the U.S. Constitution on June 25, 1788 — over the strong objections of Gov. Patrick Henry, and with the skilled legislative work of James Madison.

The Constitution became effective upon the ninth state’s ratification, but Virginia, being the largest state in the union at the time, was considered a make-or-break vote.

June 25 is the last U.S. flag flying date in June 2015.

So, Virginians: Fly your U.S. flags on June 25, as Col. Van T. Barfoot did every day until his death.

From the Washington Post: Retired Col. Van T. Barfoot, a Medal of Honor recipient, and his daughter Margaret Nicholls lower the flag outside Barfoot's home in the Sussex Square subdivision in Henrico County, Va., in 2009. Barfoot died March 2 [2012] at a hospital in Richmond. He was 92. (Photo by Eva Russo/AP)

From the Washington Post: “Retired Col. Van T. Barfoot, a Medal of Honor recipient, and his daughter Margaret Nicholls lower the flag outside Barfoot’s home in the Sussex Square subdivision in Henrico County, Va., in 2009. Barfoot died March 2 [2012] at a hospital in Richmond. He was 92. (Photo by Eva Russo/AP)”

You may remember the story of Col. Barfoot. As a veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, he flew Old Glory every day. In 2009 his Henrico County, Virginia homeowners association complained, ordered him to stop flying the U.S. flag and take down his flag pole, erected in violation of HOA “curb appeal” rules.

Col. Barfoot refused.  Eventually the public outcry, including pressure from President Barack Obama, got the HOA to back down.  Obama said Barfoot was a good example, and had earned the right to fly Old Glory.

Barfoot had a particularly compelling case to fly the flag. Barfoot was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for his service in Italy, against German troops, in 1944.  The Washington Post explained: 

Early in the war, he participated in the Army’s invasion of Italy. As his unit moved inland, the soldiers took up defensive positions near Carano.

On May 23, 1944, Col. Barfoot was ordered to lead an assault on German positions. He went out alone and crawled to within feet of a German bunker.

According to his Medal of Honor citation, he tossed a grenade inside, killing two Germans and wounding three others. He then moved to another bunker nearby and killed two more German soldiers with his submachine gun while taking three others prisoner. A third machine gun crew, watching Col. Barfoot’s methodical assault, surrendered to him. In all, 17 Germans gave themselves up to Col. Barfoot.

In retaliation, the Germans organized a counterattack on Col. Barfoot’s position, sending three tanks toward him.

Col. Barfoot grabbed a bazooka grenade launcher and stood 75 yards in front of the leading tank. His first shot stopped it in its tracks. He then killed three of the German tank crew members who had attempted to escape.

The other two tanks, witnessing the destruction, abruptly changed directions, moving away from Col. Barfoot. Returning to his platoon, he helped carry two wounded U.S. soldiers almost a mile to safety.

Commending his “Herculean efforts,” Col. Barfoot’s citation praised his “magnificent valor and aggressive determination in the face of pointblank fire.”

Col. Barfoot served in the Korean War and later in Vietnam as a helicopter pilot. His other military decorations included the Silver Star; two awards of the Legion of Merit; the Bronze Star; three awards of the Purple Heart; and 11 awards of the Air Medal.

So, Virginians, would it inconvenience you much to fly your U.S. flags today — in honor of Col. Van T. Barfoot, as well as in honor of your state’s entry into the Union?

What do we do to deserve the loyalty and service of such men?


Boy Scouts greet Col. Theodore Roosevelt, St. Paul, Minnesota, 1932

April 13, 2014

Interesting photograph.

1932 photograph of U.S. Army Col. Theodore Roosevelt III, being greeted in St. Paul, Minnesota by a group of Boy Scouts.  Minnesota Historical Society collection.

1932 photograph of U.S. Army Col. Theodore Roosevelt III, being greeted in St. Paul, Minnesota by a group of Boy Scouts. Minnesota Historical Society collection.

Found it at the site of the Minnesota Historical Society.

Col. Roosevelt, the son of President Theodore Roosevelt, is nearly center, in civilian clothes.  He would go on to command troops at the Battle of Normandy on D-Day, winning the Medal of Honor, awarded posthumously.  His father would later be awarded the Medal of Honor.  Is this the only father-son MoH duo?

MHS records identify Col. Roosevelt and 13 other people in the photo, mostly the Scouts; alphabetically, they are:  Baker, Curtis; Baker, Robert (brothers?); Haas, Frank; Hagman, R. J.; Jungwirth, Robert A.; Kehne, Clyde; Menz, C. J.; Nyman, David; Polanick, Alexander; Robertson, Donald; Roosevelt, Theodore [III]; Sommers, Charles; Torgerson, Gordon; White, Charles.

It would be interesting to know what the event was in 1932 that brought Roosevelt to St. Paul.  It would be interesting to know what happened to those Scouts.

Update: Mr. Higginbotham found an account of Roosevelt’s trip in the April 1932 issue of Boys’ Life (see comments).  Roosevelt was on his way to the Philippines, where he served as Governor-General, a post held earlier by William Howard Taft, Leonard Wood, and Henry L. Stimson, among others.  Roosevelt was a member of the National Board of Boy Scouts of America; Scouts saw him off from New York, and greeted him at stops all the way to Seattle, where he boarded ship for the Philippines.

Account of Col. Theodore Roosevelt III's trip from New York to Seattle, in 1932 -- with Scouts meeting him at almost every stop.  Boys' Life, April 1932, page 58.

Account of Col. Theodore Roosevelt III’s trip from New York to Seattle, in 1932 — with Scouts meeting him at almost every stop. Boys’ Life, April 1932, page 58.


Medal of Honor to former Sgt. Dakota Meyer

July 6, 2012

WhiteHouse.org:

President Obama awards Sergeant Dakota L. Meyer, United States Marine Corps, the Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty, while serving with Marine Embedded Training Team 2-8, Regional Corps Advisory Command 3-7, in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, on 8 September 2009. [Ceremony:] September 15, 2011.

Video from the White House includes the prayers offered before and after the ceremony (excluded from the commercial television video).

The citation for Meyer’s Medal of Honor described his gallantry in detail:

The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pleasure in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR to

CORPORAL DAKOTA L. MEYER
UNITED STATES MARINE CORPS

For service as set forth in the following

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty while serving with Marine Embedded Training Team 2-8, Regional Corps Advisory Command 3-7, in Kunar Province, Afghanistan, on 8 September 2009. Corporal Meyer maintained security at a patrol rally point while other members of his team moved on foot with two platoons of Afghan National Army and Border Police into the village of Ganjgal for a pre-dawn meeting with village elders. Moving into the village, the patrol was ambushed by more than 50 enemy fighters firing rocket propelled grenades, mortars, and machine guns from houses and fortified positions on the slopes above. Hearing over the radio that four U.S. team members were cut off, Corporal Meyer seized the initiative. With a fellow Marine driving, Corporal Meyer took the exposed gunner’s position in a gun-truck as they drove down the steeply terraced terrain in a daring attempt to disrupt the enemy attack and locate the trapped U.S. team. Disregarding intense enemy fire now concentrated on their lone vehicle, Corporal Meyer killed a number of enemy fighters with the mounted machine guns and his rifle, some at near point blank range, as he and his driver made three solo trips into the ambush area. During the first two trips, he and his driver evacuated two dozen Afghan soldiers, many of whom were wounded. When one machine gun became inoperable, he directed a return to the rally point to switch to another gun-truck for a third trip into the ambush area where his accurate fire directly supported the remaining U.S. personnel and Afghan soldiers fighting their way out of the ambush. Despite a shrapnel wound to his arm, Corporal Meyer made two more trips into the ambush area in a third gun-truck accompanied by four other Afghan vehicles to recover more wounded Afghan soldiers and search for the missing U.S. team members. Still under heavy enemy fire, he dismounted the vehicle on the fifth trip and moved on foot to locate and recover the bodies of his team members. Corporal Meyer’s daring initiative and bold fighting spirit throughout the 6-hour battle significantly disrupted the enemy’s attack and inspired the members of the combined force to fight on. His unwavering courage and steadfast devotion to his U.S. and Afghan comrades in the face of almost certain death reflected great credit upon himself and upheld the highest traditions of the Marine Corps and the United States Naval Service.


National Guard history: First African American Medal of Honor

March 18, 2009

From the National Guard Image Gallery: The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment was recruited in the spring of 1863 by Governor John Andrew, who had secured the reluctant permission of the War Department to create a regiment of African-American soldiers. Like all Massachusetts Civil War soldiers, the 54ths men were enlisted in the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia. These Guardsmen would serve as a test case for many skeptical whites who believed that blacks could not be good soldiers. The battle that proved they could was fought on Morris Island, at the mouth of Charleston Harbor. Following three days of skirmishes and forced marches with little rest, and 24 hours with no food, the regimental commander, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, requested the perilous honor of leading the attack of Fort Wagner, a sand and palmetto log bastion. As night fell, 600 men of the 54th advanced with bayonets fixed. Despite withering cannon and rifle fire, the men sustained their charge until they reached the top of the rampart. There, Colonel Shaw was mortally wounded. There, also, Sergeant William Carney, who had earlier taken up the National Colors when the color sergeant had been shot, planted the flag and fought off numerous attempts by the Confederates to capture it. Without support, and faced with superior numbers and firepower, the 54th was forced to pull back. Despite two severe wounds, Sergeant Carney carried the colors to the rear. When praised for his bravery, he modestly replied, I only did my duty; the old flag never touched the ground. Carney was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions, the first African-American to receive the award. The 54th Massachusetts suffered 270 casualties in the failed assault, but the greater message was not lost: some 180,000 African-American soldiers followed in the footsteps of these gallant Guardsmen, and proved that African-American soldiers could, indeed, fight heroically if given the opportunity.

From the National Guard Image Gallery: Fort Wagner, South Carolina, July 18, 1863; "The Old Flag Never Touched the Ground": The 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry Regiment was recruited in the spring of 1863 by Governor John Andrew, who had secured the reluctant permission of the War Department to create a regiment of African-American soldiers. Like all Massachusetts Civil War soldiers, the 54th's men were enlisted in the Massachusetts Volunteer Militia. These Guardsmen would serve as a test case for many skeptical whites who believed that blacks could not be good soldiers. The battle that proved they could was fought on Morris Island, at the mouth of Charleston Harbor. Following three days of skirmishes and forced marches with little rest, and 24 hours with no food, the regimental commander, Colonel Robert Gould Shaw, requested the perilous honor of leading the attack of Fort Wagner, a sand and palmetto log bastion. As night fell, 600 men of the 54th advanced with bayonets fixed. Despite withering cannon and rifle fire, the men sustained their charge until they reached the top of the rampart. There, Colonel Shaw was mortally wounded. There, also, Sergeant William Carney, who had earlier taken up the National Colors when the color sergeant had been shot, planted the flag and fought off numerous attempts by the Confederates to capture it. Without support, and faced with superior numbers and firepower, the 54th was forced to pull back. Despite two severe wounds, Sergeant Carney carried the colors to the rear. When praised for his bravery, he modestly replied, "I only did my duty; the old flag never touched the ground." Carney was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions, the first African-American to receive the award. The 54th Massachusetts suffered 270 casualties in the failed assault, but the greater message was not lost: some 180,000 African-American soldiers followed in the footsteps of these gallant Guardsmen, and proved that African-American soldiers could, indeed, fight heroically if given the opportunity.

This is one of a series of artworks describing the history of the National Guard.  A sizable gallery of art covers the first muster of a militia in Salem, Massachusetts, in 1637, through rescue and recovery efforts after Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  Along the way are highlights such as Lexington and Concord, Teddy Roosevelt’s New Mexico Rough Riders in Cuba, including Fort Wagner and the return of General Lafayette.  With some caution on accuracy, these are good for classroom use (the Rough Riders picture shows a man on horseback, but I understand the Rough Riders’ horses had not yet arrived when they stormed up San Juan Hill; it took more than 30 years for Carney to get his medal, etc.).



Silvestre S. Herrera, first Arizonan to win Medal of Honor

December 1, 2007

From the East Valley Tribune, November 9, 2007:

World War II veteran Silvestre S. Herrera, left, is applauded Thursday by Dr. Connie Mariano, veteran and former White House physician. Mariano gave a speech honoring veterans at a ceremony in Scottsdale.

“HEROES SALUTE: World War II veteran Silvestre S. Herrera, left, is applauded Thursday by Dr. Connie Mariano, veteran and former White House physician. Mariano gave a speech honoring veterans at a ceremony in Scottsdale.”
Photo by Bettina Hansen, For the Tribune

For Veterans Day this year, they gathered in Scottsdale, Arizona — mostly local veterans. Among them was World War II vet Silvestre Herrera, who fought in France.

One by one, veterans took their turn shaking hands and exchanging nods of respect with war hero Silvestre S. Herrera, 91, as he stood proudly wearing his Medal of Honor around his neck.

About 40 people gathered in 90-degree heat in north Scottsdale admiring a presentation of colors and listening in reverence to a high school band play in honor of the upcoming Veterans Day.

“It was very touching,” said Jackie Wolf, executive sales director for Classic Residence at Silverstone, where the event took place Thursday on a breezy patio.

It was fitting, somber and joyful all at once. A lot of veterans, paying honor to all veterans. [More below the fold]

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Jefferson DeBlanc, teacher, Medal of Honor winner

November 28, 2007

Jefferson DeBlanc, Sr, at the WWII Memorial - Medal of Honor Winner

You can just see the kid trying to get the goat of the physics teacher:“Hey, Teach! What do you think 5Gs feel like when one of those fighter pilots pulls a real tight turn?”

And you can see the teacher at the chalkboard scribbling a formula the kid doesn’t want to know, and a smile creeping over his face.

“It’s nothing like hitting the shark-infested Pacific — salt water, and you’re wounded — and then being traded for a ten-pound sack of rice! That’ll get your gut more.”

And don’t you wonder, did the kids ever think to ask him his view of the campaign against the Japanese in the Solomon Islands, for help on their U.S. history exams? Did they ever think he might have some knowledge to share?

Jefferson DeBlanc would have shared wisdom certainly, though it’s uncertain he would have shared his war experiences as a fighter pilot. He died last Thursday in St. Martinville, Louisiana. He was 86. DeBlanc was the last surviving Medal of Honor winner from World War II in Louisiana. Col. Jefferson DeBlanc, Sr.

What a story!

The incident that earned Jefferson the nation’s highest military honor took place Jan. 31, 1943, during operations against Japanese forces off Kolombangara Island in the Solomon Islands.

A Japanese fleet was spotted headed toward Guadalcanal. U.S. dive bombers were sent to attack the fleet, with fighter aircraft deployed to protect the bombers. In a one-man Grumman Wildcat fighter, DeBlanc led a section of six planes in Marine Fighting Squadron 112, according to the citation that accompanied his Medal of Honor.

At the rendezvous point, DeBlanc discovered that his plane, which was dubbed “The Impatient Virgin,” was running out of fuel. If DeBlanc battled the Japanese Zero fighter planes, he would not have enough fuel to return to base. Two of his comrades, whose planes malfunctioned, turned back, according to a 1999 article in the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

“We needed all the guns we could get up there to escort those bombers,” DeBlanc said in the Times-Picayune article. “I figured if I run out of gas, I run out of gas. I figured I could survive a bailout. I had confidence in my will to survive. You’ve got to live with your conscience. And my conscience told me to go ahead.”

DeBlanc and the other pilots waged fierce combat until, “picking up a call for assistance from the dive bombers, under attack by enemy float planes at 1,000 feet, he broke off his engagement with the Zeros, plunged into the formation of float planes and disrupted the savage attack, enabling our dive bombers and torpedo planes to complete their runs on the Japanese surface disposition and withdraw without further incident,” the citation says.

Ultimately, DeBlanc shot down two float planes and three of the fighters. But a bullet ripped through DeBlanc’s plane and hit his instrument panel, causing it to erupt into flames. DeBlanc “was forced to bail out at a perilously low altitude,” according to the citation.

“The guy who shot me down, he saw me bail out,” DeBlanc said in a 2001 article in the State-Times/Morning Advocate of Baton Rouge, La.. “He knew I was alive. I knew they (the Japanese) were looking for me. But I’m not a pessimist. I knew I could survive. I was raised in the swamps.”

A Louisiana kid raised in the swamps, a Tuba City, Arizona, kid raised in a hogan on a reservation, a kid from Fredericksburg, Texas, a kid from Abilene, Kansas, another kid from Columbus, Ohio, a West Point graduate with a corn-cob pipe — the reality of the people who fought the war looks like a hammy line-up for one of the post-war movies about them. Maybe, in this case, there was good reason for the stereotypes.

After his plane was shot down in 1943, DeBlanc swam to an island and slept in a hut until he was discovered by islanders and placed in a bamboo cage. The man who gave a sack of rice for him was Ati, an islander whom DeBlanc later called a guardian angel, responsible for orchestrating his rescue by a U.S. Navy boat.

DeBlanc served a second tour of overseas service in Marine Fighting Squadron 22 in the Marshall Islands. By the end of his service, he had shot down nine enemy planes.

On Dec. 6, 1946, President Truman awarded DeBlanc the Medal of Honor. His other honors include the Distinguished Flying Cross, several awards of the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart. In 1972, after serving six years as commander at Belle Chasse Naval Air Station, DeBlanc retired from the Marine Corps Reserve.

Then, as if to make the model for Tom Brokaw’s later book, DeBlanc went back home to mostly-rural Louisiana, and made the world a much better place.

At home, DeBlanc earned two masters’ degrees in education from Louisiana State University in 1951 and 1963, and a doctorate in education from McNeese State University in 1973. For years, he taught in St. Martin parish and supervised teachers.

Just a normal guy to his kids, neighbors and students:

Despite the illustrious awards, [daughter] Romero [DeBlanc] remembers a loving father first and dedicated educator second.

“I was very close to my father,” she said. “I could always talk to him. He taught me to drive. He taught school. He was very friendly with his students. He would come into the classroom and say, ‘I lost the test.’ Then he would look around and find it in the trash can. Of course he placed it in the trash can. He had a great sense of humor.”

Surely DeBlanc’s passing should have been worthy of note on national television news programs, and in the larger national print media. There was a note on the obituary page of the Dallas Morning News, and the Los Angeles Times obituary cited above. But DeBlanc has not yet gotten the recognition he probably deserved. A young cornerback for the Washington Redskins also died over the weekend.

No room for heroes in the news?

Resources for Teachers:

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