Van Thomas Barfoot dies at 92; WWII hero fought to fly flag at Virginia home

Retired Army Col. Van Thomas Barfoot, a World War II Medal of Honor recipient who later made headlines for his efforts to fly an American flag in his Virginia frontyard, has died. He was 92.

Barfoot, who died March 2 of complications from a fall, gained national attention in 2009 when he fought to keep his 21-foot flagpole at his home in suburban Richmond after the homeowners association ordered it removed and threatened to sue him.

The White House even entered the fray, with a spokesman for President Obama calling it "silly" not to allow Barfoot to fly the flag.

The association later backed off, but Barfoot's fight eventually led to a state law that makes it tougher for homeowners associations to restrict the flying of the U.S. flag.

Born June 15, 1919, in Edinburg, Miss., Barfoot joined the Army in 1940. His Medal of Honor citation praises his "Herculean" efforts during the Army's invasion of Italy in May 1944 when he was 25.

According to the citation, Barfoot crawled through a minefield to a German machine gun nest, which he destroyed with a hand grenade, then took out another machine gun nest with his own machine gun before a third German machine gun crew surrendered to him.

Later in the day, he borrowed a bazooka and stood before three advancing tanks, firing a shot from 75 yards that destroyed the track of the leading tank, disabling it. He then continued into enemy terrain and destroyed an abandoned German fieldpiece with a demolition charge.

"While returning to his platoon position, Sgt. Barfoot, though greatly fatigued by his Herculean efforts, assisted two of his seriously wounded men 1,700 yards to a position of safety," the citation states.

During the ordeal at Carano, Barfoot killed eight German soldiers and captured 17.

"Sgt. Barfoot's extraordinary heroism, demonstration of magnificent valor, and aggressive determination in the face of point-blank fire are a perpetual inspiration to his fellow soldiers," the citation states.

He later served in the Korean War and in Vietnam, and was awarded the Purple Heart, Silver Star and Bronze Star, among other honors.

Barfoot retired as a colonel and senior Army advisor to the Virginia Army National Guard in 1974.

His wife, Norma, died in 1992. He is survived by four children, a sister, 12 grandchildren and six great-grandchildren.

In a 1999 interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Barfoot said his family was his anchor.

"I like to tell about life without war stories," he said. "I've always had something more important in my life than war and the military."