Veterans History Project: Van Barfoot (Part 2) - - Jackson, MS


Veterans History Project: Van Barfoot (Part 2)

By Jennifer Martin - email

JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - May 23, 1944. Van Barfoot and the rest of the soldiers with the 45th Infantry Division had spent the past four months holding off German assaults on the beachhead at Anzio.

"We knew they were laying mines out there. We'd go out and patrol. There was a big cemetery out there where the railroad came south. I got the idea and discussed it with my battalion commander said 'why don't we take a real study of these mines because we're going to have to go through there one of these days?'

So I went out about 25-30 times in that period of time. You go out and find out where the mines were and marked them off. Lucky, fortunate or unfortunate, they assigned our regiment to go through the cemetery and go attack the Germans through that position."

When they finally got the orders to breakout and head toward Cerano, Barfoot volunteered to use his knowledge of the mines to attack the Germans from another position.

"Let me take a couple of troops around the left flank and get in behind these folks. I ran into a German machine gun. Knocked the people out with a hand grenade. Then I went on up the creek a little further and there was another one. Got most of them with my tommy machine gun.

I went up and one surrendered to me. While they were surrendering out in the ditch, one guy opened fire, I got them. And I didn't know where the other troops were. There was nobody out there except me in a ditch. Finally when I got to the end there was a whole lot of people standing there at the front of the ditch and 2 or 3 dead ones laying around. Now they said, I didn't say, 17 people.

Well, we got our troops moved through the mine field, to our objective.  Well, you could hear German tanks roaring up on the railroad. I said I need to go patrol and see where these tanks are. When I got out there they were coming underneath the overpass. I thought there was two, someone said it was 3.

They came down at the edge of the ditch toward me and with me on patrol out there was a guy with a rocket launcher. I took his rocket launcher from him and got in on the edge of the ditch brush. I waited till he got close enough and I got a good shot at him and I saw the tread on his tank. And what it did, the tread came off and the tank started to turn and it turned over on the edge of the ditch. I guess they saw what happened and the other tanks, they turned and went back and left over the hill."

Later in the day, the Germans counterattacked, and began to push back the American troops. Barfoot helped two injured fellow soldiers move nearly a mile to safety.

"My platoon was going this way back to the ditch where we came from and I was going this way down and took them to a safe place --then I went back and rejoined my unit.  Finally the Germans withdrew and we went on up the mountains. I didn't have any idea I was going to get the Medal of Honor."

Barfoot wouldn't say if he thought someone or something was looking out for him that day, but he did say this: "I don't really think it just happens. I think I was pretty smart too, against the Germans, against what was taking place."

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