An 80-year-old Cheshire native was honored this week for his Medal of Honor service during the Vietnam War with the laying of the keel of a U.S. Navy destroyer named in his honor.
Retired U.S. Marine Col. Harvey C. Barnum Jr. and his wife Martha Hill were in Maine on Tuesday to strike welding arcs into a steel plate that will be incorporated into the hull of the future USS Harvey C. Barnum, Jr., a guided missile destroyer being built at Bath Iron Works, company officials said Wednesday.
During his 27-year military career, Barnum became the fourth Marine Medal of Honor recipient in Vietnam for taking command of a rifle company, for which the then-first lieutenant served as a forward artillery observer, after the commander was killed by communist forces at Ky Phu in Quang Tin Province in December 1965, according to several accounts.
Barnum organized the company’s defense after it was separated from its battalion and led the company through a fierce battle until it was evacuated, according to seapowermagazine.org, a Navy League publication.
An account of the battle written by his commanding officer, retired Col. James M. Callender, illustrates the bravery Barnum displayed in pushing a medevac helicopter to take his wounded soldiers to safety. The account appears on homeofheroes.com, a website dedicated to Medal of Honor recipients,
“Harvey was on the radio himself and called for the chopper to land on a small hill near the wounded men. The pilot responded that the hill was ‘too hot to land in,’ or words to that effect, whereupon Barney, with the radio on his back, walked out onto the hill and said to the pilot, ‘Look down here where I am standing. If I can stand here, by God, you can land here!’ And the chopper did, although the hill in fact was under fire at the time. And Barney got his wounded out.”
That battle occurred two weeks into his first of two combat tours in Vietnam. His citation with the Medal of Honor, the nation’s highest award for gallantry in battle, lauded Barnum’s “sound and swift decisions and his obvious calm served to stabilize the badly decimated units and his gallant example as he stood exposed repeatedly to point out targets served as an inspiration to all.”
Barnum was born in Cheshire in 1940 and graduated with the Cheshire High School Class of 1958. He was president of his senior class and played football and baseball. He was also a member of the Boy Scouts of America, the “C” Club and the Gym Leaders Club.
Another account on homeoftheheroes.com describes how the young Barnum was drawn to the Marines while attending a military recruiting day as a senior at Cheshire High.
“The junior and senior boys were assembled in the school auditorium, with faculty members observing from the rear of the room as each recruiter got up to give his pitch. The Air Force recruiter got up to explain the advantages of joining the United States Air Force. He was greeted with catcalls and whistles from the young high schoolers. The Army recruiter received the same treatment, as did the Navy recruiter. Then the Marine recruiter, a seasoned gunnery sergeant, rose and glared. ‘There is no one here worthy of being a United States Marine. I’m deplored that the faculty in the back of the room would let the students carry on like this. There isn’t anybody here I want in my Marine Corps.’ When he sat back down, several eager students swarmed around his table.”
Barnum was among those students. He was sworn into the Marine Corps on Nov. 12, 1958, according to homeofheroes.com. He joined a Marine Platoon Leadership Class when he got to Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, where he eventually graduated with a degree in economics, and then joined the Marine Corps.
The ship with Barnum’s name is an Arleigh Burke-class destroyer and among several that Bath Iron Works is building. Other ships being built there include the USS John Basilone, named after the famous World War II Marine, and the future Zumwalt-class destroyer, Lyndon B. Johnson, according to Bath Iron Works.
Maine U.S. Senators Susan Collins and Angus King and U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine joined in the events.