Medal of Honor Recipient Fights for Flagpole

By: Zinie Chen Sampson AP Email
By: Zinie Chen Sampson AP Email

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) - One of the nation's oldest Medal of Honor winners was back in the fight Thursday, this time against a neighborhood association that wants him to take down a front-yard flagpole.

Supporters, including a U.S. senator, have been falling in behind 90-year-old retired Army Col. Van T. Barfoot, a World War II veteran awarded the lofty Congressional honor for actions including standing up to three German tanks with a bazooka and stopping their advance.

Barfoot put up the 21-foot flagpole in September in front of his suburban Richmond home. He raises the American flag daily at sunrise and retires it at sunset.

"It's really ridiculous to want to keep the flag from being flown," he said in a telephone interview. "I've heard some terrible excuses out there."

The Sussex Square homeowners' association says the flagpole violates the neighborhood's aesthetic guidelines and ordered him to remove it by 5 p.m. Friday or face a lawsuit. The group has said Barfoot can display the flag, as long as it's in a way that conforms with association rules, such as from a pole mounted on the front of the house.

"This is not about the American flag. This is about a flagpole," the association said in a statement.

Sen. Mark R. Warner, D-Va., is among those offering to help break the impasse, Warner spokesman Kevin Hall said. On Thursday, the homeowners association voted unanimously to ask Warner's office to attempt to reach a compromise in the dispute.

"We intend to get to work right away to try to come up with a solution that's acceptable to both Col. Barfoot and to the homeowner's association," Hall said in an e-mail.

Warner and the war hero became acquainted at veterans' events when Warner was Virginia's governor from 2002-06. Others are backing Barfoot on the Internet, including with a Facebook page.

Barfoot won the Medal of Honor for actions while his platoon was under German assault near Carano, Italy, in May 1944. The award citation says Barfoot, then a 2nd lieutenant, crept up alone on German machine gun nests, killing and capturing enemy troops in three of them, stopped their three-tank advance and helped two seriously wounded comrades back to safety.

He also won the Purple Heart and other decorations, and served in Korea and Vietnam before retiring from the service in 1974. The Sitter & Barfoot Veterans Care Center, a state nursing home for military retirees in Richmond, bears his name.

Barfoot's daughter, Margaret Nicholls, said her father has been moved to tears by the outpouring of support, and hopes the nine-member homeowners' board will use its discretion and let him keep the pole.

"A house-mounted pole? That is not an option," Nicholls said. "The flagpole is definitely what he's fighting for."


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