Both Men had to Deal with Flag Deniers … in Different Ways
… by Jim W. Dean, VT Editor
Confederate History and Heritage Month will soon be upon us once again with April 1rst around the corner. As we are beginning the second year of the Sesquicentennial, the 150th anniversary of The War, special events are being planned.
Sons of Confederate Veterans National Cmdr, Michael Givens will be heading up our Stone Mountain memorial service here in Atlanta on April 14th.
My friend and historian Gregg Clemmer has a greatjoint Medal of Honor piece below which I felt might set a interesting tone to kick the month off. There is a grand irony about it.
Colonel Van Barfoot, despite having been awarded his country’s highest decoration for valor, found that meant but naught to the homeowners’s association’s rule of no flag poles other than the ones that hang of the porch.
Many vets perform the their daily flag raising ceremony as a salute to those who did not come home. It is the ultimate patriotism. But alas, the homeowners association had property values to be concerned about.
American veterans are quite used to the public’s fleeting respect for their sacrifices. A couple of parades and holidays a year, that is OK, but a Medal of Honor recipient wanting to raise the flag every day…well you just have to draw the line somewhere, right? As we like to say so often here at VT, “You just can’t make this stuff up.”
The media picked up the story, political support was soon to follow, and the homeowners association got at quick down and dirty civics lesson. Alas, they thought the flag pole in front of a MoH recipient’s house was not a threat to their community after all. But Colonel Barfoot learned that even a Medal of Honor recipient was not immune to this ‘flag denial’ abuse.
Descendents of Confederate Americans have been use to denial treatment despite Confederate soldiers all being officially made American veterans by Act of Congress in the 1950’s. This was an act of reconciliation that one might expect from a Democratic, progressive society, and it was celebrated as such at the time.
They were later joined by the post WWI ‘Bonus Army’, the Occupy DC folks of their day, with none other than the infamous Marine General Smedley Butler supporting them. Ignoring their pleas to cash in their bonus bonds prior to their 1944 date, the Attorney General ordered them cleared out and several were killed by DC. police. General MacArthur was then ordered in with infantry and cavalry along with Patton leading six tanks.
The Bonus Marchers, along with their wives and children were driven out and all with belongings burned. It was a sad stain on the active American military.
WWII vets would fare better but the Vietnam ones suffered once again at the hands of their fellow veterans. Large numbers returning were anti-war and were wanting the Vet orgs to support them in getting it stopped.
When given the cold shoulder the Nam vets began trying to take over various individual vet chapters so they ended up being blackballed completely, which pushed them into forming their own separate organization.
But as time passed, the shameful treatment of the Vietnam vets is carved in stone now on the those vet orgs. They don’t discuss it publicly.
A similar situation has happened with the Confederates, with so many descendents having served in the military. Those good enough to fight on the front lines must endure the ‘descendants of traitors’ smear by so-called civil rights groups here back home.
The public is now learning how cruelly Confederate descendants have been used by post Civil Rights race hustlers, two bit politicians, and even old Commies, would you believe.
The Commies have reinvented themselves as ‘anti-racist’ activists and have even been promoted by the likes of the South Poverty Law Center fundraising hucksters, and even NPR’s Democracy Now. Of course all their former communist work is never mentioned in the guest introductions.
Coming full circle we have the Gulf War and War on Terror vets joining the smear targets with again the SPLC dressing them up as homeland terrorists in waiting, and even selling Homeland Security on the con until they got their tail chewed.
But Confederate descendants found themselves dealing with a different type of homeowners association, the NAACP. They passed a resolution in the early ’90’s which called the Battle Flag ‘that odious blight upon the universe’. Ouch!!
To find out why, the heritage folks infiltrated an Atlanta NAACP chapter and sat in on their board meetings for two years before being kicked out. What did they learn?
The short story was the NAACP ship was sinking, with members not renewing and young people not wanting to join. And then there were the leadership scandals, girl friends getting cushy organization jobs, board members embezzling client funds, etc.
They decided to use the Confederate flag as a cheap way to fire up the ‘racism still exists as long as that flag flies’ hustle. With a ten year effort and tremendous help from liberal media, the polls began to show increasing black support of Confederate heritage cleansing.
The poll numbers went up from only 25% concerned over being terrorized seeing a Battle Flag, to 65%. A fading Civil Rights leadership had taught a new generation to hate.
The 1995 to 2005 period saw lots of heritage battles, and the Sons of Confederate Veterans membership growing to 30,000+, with me included.
But the public finally grew weary of the ‘racists under every bed’ mantra, realizing that they were just trying to copy the SPLC boogeyman fundraising success. When black Confederates began appearing to stand up to them they had a nervous breakdown.
When I helped host Henry Lewis Gate’s Looking for Lincoln PBS segment at the Sons of Confederate Veterans reunion in Concord, N.C., a black Confederate family was being given a special honor for their ancestor. Gates was blown away. It is one of the gems of my Heritage TV archives.
When Prof. Gates left that day, (we were calling him Skip by then) he had enough class to pony up and say, “Fellas, I was lied to.” He also got a kick out of W.E.B. Dubois having been born a few miles from my childhood home in Gt. Barrington, Mass., was a member of my Congregational Church, and they paid for his college education, an item later airbrushed out of his resume.
You can view this Looking for Lincoln historical event here.
Scroll down to the segment, Lincoln and the beginning of the Civil War. Our SCV segment begins at 4:00 minutes. You even get to see yours truly get my hanging Lincoln comment in, which I thought had a good chance the editors might use, and they did.
But today we honor two great Americans, linked by their bravery of course. But they are also linked by the disrespect the flags they fought under have been shown by an ungrateful and sometimes dishonest public, exploiting them for partisan political gain even through defaming the dead. Hard to go lower than that.
Confederates consider this nothing less than cemetery desecration, and we treat it accordingly.
Confederate Medals of Honor are all posthumous of course. During the war the Confederate War Department was against the awarding of medals as all who served where considered heroes. Lee was also against it, stating, ‘To be mentioned in dispatches was enough of an honor’.
And we have all of those records still with us fortunately. And we have people like Gregg Clemmer and the SCV helping us out.
A Medal of Honor Recipient Honors Another
… by Gregg Clemmer DC Civil War Heritage Examiner
[Editor’s Note: Both men’s full citations are viewable below]
When Medal of Honor recipient Van Barfoot passed away on Friday, March 2, at the age of 92, he was one of our last World War II holders of the nation’s highest decoration for valor.
Indeed, Sgt. Van Barfoot’s citation for his heroism near Carano, Italy, on May 23, 1943, noted that his “Herculean efforts … extraordinary heroism …magnificent valor … and aggressive determination in the face of pointblank fire are a perpetual inspiration to his fellow soldiers.”
Van Barfoot went on to serve in both the Korean and Vietnamese wars, retiring in 1974 at the rank of colonel as one of our most decorated living veterans with the Medal of Honor, Silver Star, Bronze Star and THREE Purple Hearts.
But this Mississippi-born American hero whose grandmother was Choctaw was not going to be just another old soldier who “faded away.”
Several years ago, the colonel, now pushing 90, moved from below Petersburg, Virginia, to be nearer his daughter who lived outside Richmond, in Henrico County.
Patriotic to the core, he erected a prominent flagpole in front of his residence so that he might raise and salute Old Glory every morning. But the homeowner’s association of Sussex Square said “no,” and ordered him to take it down “for aesthetic reasons.”
Barfoot said “no,” and took his case to court, in the process garnering the support of both Virginia Senators Mark Warner and Jim Webb.
Hearing good words from White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs, and seeing major news networks seize the story, Van won the PR battle hands down as the now humiliated homeowner’s association meekly dropped their complaint in December of 2009.
Yet perhaps Van Barfoot’s most poignant, patriotic moment came five years earlier at Goochland Court House, Virginia.
He was the Official Presenter of the Confederate Medal of Honor in a ceremony to posthumously recognize the extraordinary valor of Private James Pleasants, Company F, 4th Virginia Cavalry. Some noted at the time how ironic it was that Pleasants’ citation in some ways so mirrored that of his presenter’s.
And yet most who attended that day knew that this quiet ceremony west of Richmond meant more than that. In a time where all things Confederate are more and more regarded with indifference, cynicism, disrespect … or worse, here was a modern hero of the Blue coming forth to honor a long ago hero of the Gray.
Students of history recognize that it was the soldiers themselves who were the first to start bringing us back together again after that less than civil war a century and a half ago. And yes, certain challenges still endure …
But thank you, Colonel, for your shining example on that November day in 2004, when you stepped forth to continue this long ago tradition of honor and respect for all American valor. Requiescat in pace, good friend.
Gregg Clemmer lives in Maryland but as a native Virginian possesses an interest in the American Civil War that hearkens back to the Civil War Centennial. He numbers two Union generals and 14 “lesser ranked” Confederates in his ancestry. Gregg has a MA in Military History and is the author of five books including the acclaimed “Valor in Gray.” His biography, “Old Alleghany,” won the Douglas Southall Freeman Book Prize for 2005. Contact Gregg at [email protected].
The President of the United States
in the name of The Congress
takes pleasure in presenting the
Medal of Honor
BARFOOT, VAN T.
Rank and organization: Second Lieutenant, U.S. Army, 157th Infantry, 45th Infantry Division.
Place and date: Near Carano, Italy, 23 May 1944.
Entered service at: Carthage, Miss. Birth: Edinburg, Miss. G.O.No.: 79, 4 October 1944. Citation:
For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of life above and beyond the call of duty on 23 May 1944, near Carano, Italy. With his platoon heavily engaged during an assault against forces well entrenched on commanding ground, 2d Lt. Barfoot (then Tech. Sgt.) moved off alone upon the enemy left flank. He crawled to the proximity of 1 machinegun nest and made a direct hit on it with a hand grenade, killing 2 and wounding 3 Germans.
He continued along the German defense line to another machinegun emplacement, and with his tommygun killed 2 and captured 3 soldiers. Members of another enemy machinegun crew then abandoned their position and gave themselves up to Sgt. Barfoot. Leaving the prisoners for his support squad to pick up, he proceeded to mop up positions in the immediate area, capturing more prisoners and bringing his total count to 17.
Later that day, after he had reorganized his men and consolidated the newly captured ground, the enemy launched a fierce armored counterattack directly at his platoon positions. Securing a bazooka, Sgt. Barfoot took up an exposed position directly in front of 3 advancing Mark VI tanks. From a distance of 75 yards his first shot destroyed the track of the leading tank, effectively disabling it, while the other 2 changed direction toward the flank. As the crew of the disabled tank dismounted, Sgt. Barfoot killed 3 of them with his tommygun.
He continued onward into enemy terrain and destroyed a recently abandoned German fieldpiece with a demolition charge placed in the breech. While returning to his platoon position, Sgt. Barfoot, though greatly fatigued by his Herculean efforts, assisted 2 of his seriously wounded men 1,700 yards to a position of safety. Sgt. Barfoot’s extraordinary heroism, demonstration of magnificent valor, and aggressive determination in the face of pointblank fire are a perpetual inspiration to his fellow soldiers.
CONFEDERATE MEDAL OF HONOR
Private James Pleasants
Company F, 4th Virginia Cavalry, C.S.A.
The Dahlgren-Kilpatrick Raid – Goochland County, Virginia – 1 March 1864
At home on furlough, 19 year-old Private Pleasants awakened to learn that Union raiders had taken his 2 cavalry mounts in the early morning hours. Arming himself with his carbine and donning a captured Union sack coat for protection from the winter cold, he set out on foot intending to recover his horses and, if possible, to take the war to his foe. Sighting numerous small groups of Federal cavalry during a 3-mile trek, it became apparent that a sizable Union force was in the area.
Though alone and without hope of support, he remained steadfast in his quest. Using the wood line as cover, Private Pleasants twice captured lone raiders as they rode near him. Now mounted, he pressed on toward the main body. Unfazed at suddenly meeting a small party of raiders, he swiftly presented his carbine and forced their surrender without resistance.
Returning to the road with his prisoners, Private Pleasants deliberately allowed an unsuspecting group of Union riders to converge. Audaciously presenting his carbine with a demand for surrender, he captured them all. With 12 prisoners now in his custody and other groups of raiders still in the vicinity, Private Pleasants deemed it prudent to return home, by now nearly 5 miles away.
When 150 yards from his house, he spied 2 Federals there at a well. Though burdened by his prisoners, Private Pleasants boldly continued toward them. Arriving, he presented his carbine and demanded their surrender. The raiders instead responded by drawing revolvers and firing at him.
In the brief but furious fusillade that followed, Private Pleasants displayed uncommon coolness by shooting one and forcing the other to surrender, all the while maintaining control of his prisoners. With assistance from his uncle and a neighbor, Private Pleasants then began a 20-mile trip, much of it still teeming with Union cavalry, to the jail of a neighboring county. That night he deposited his prisoners and a wagon load of their equipment with authorities.
Young, determined and intrepid Private Pleasants, displaying astounding daring and personal valor, captured 13 Union soldiers, killed another and took 16 horses that morning. For extraordinary heroism at great personal peril, Private James Pleasants is hereby awarded the Confederate Medal of Honor.
Mike Thomas, 57, Chaplain of the General Robert E. Lee Camp No. 1589 of the Sons of Confederate Veterans , researched Pleasants’ actions for the group. He spent four months poring over newspaper accounts and state and local historical records.
Jim W. Dean was an active editor on VT from 2010-2022. He was involved in operations, development, and writing, plus an active schedule of TV and radio interviews.
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