By: Jennifer Martin - email
JACKSON, MS (WLBT) - Van Barfoot is best known in Mississippi for his service in World War II, but he served in the Army for years before those days near Carano, Italy, when he earned his medal of honor.
"I did all my training with the 1st Infantry Division. I think that's probably the greatest thing that ever happened to me."
He had a modified basic training under a World War I vet, then moved on to amphibious training and maneuvers.
"They selected 76 enlisted men and two officers and we were gonna be assigned to Quantico, VA, along with the marine corp and the navy and establish the amphibious force headquarters of the Atlantic fleet."
He worked in Maryland, requestioning homes for the military before joining up with the 157th Infantry, 45th Infantry Division. They headed first to Africa, then to Sicily.
"My unit made the 1st landing on the south side. At the end of the initial landing, the Germans counter attacked, came down the road with armored vehicles and a tank was coming up the hill. We had nothing to fight with except Molotov cocktails. So I jumped down off the bank, got closer to the tank, threw the bottle and it lit. The flame came back and it burned my pants, burned the pants right off of me."
After fighting the Germans off the island, the 45th moved on to Solerno. He remembers one night when his unit was cut off and surrounded by Germans at the Sele River.
"I had our troops turn their jackets inside out so it would look more like the German troops and they were as confused as we were. We got on a German truck. We crossed the bridge into the village on the other side. We got off the truck and got into some haystacks until the Germans moved on."
After they fought through the mountains of Solerno, they withdrew and landed on Anzio.
"We got into the ultimate battle. We didn't have any armor except bazookas, rocket launchers, machine guns. We fought a real good battle. The next morning the Germans got hit by some of our aircraft."
They stopped fighting to pick up the wounded and took up a defensive position. They stood their ground against German attacks for four months before they moved to cross the Tiber River near Carano. It was May 23, 1944, a day that would change Van Barfoot's life forever.
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