Combat War Hero Visits Korean Memorial
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 15, 2003 Decked out in a heavily starched, sharply creased khaki Army uniform and highly polished black shoes, Bob Barfield, 69, was the epitome of a proud soldier as he strolled around the Korean War Veterans Memorial.
With him was his wife, Debbie, affectionately known as "J.J.," and their Chihuahua, Bambi, decked out in sunglasses, Uncle Sam-type hat and a patriotic-colored "shirt" with a big "Proud to be a Korean War Veteran" button attached.
Debbie Barfield said she and her Korean War veteran husband had come to Washington in 1995 for the dedication of the Korean War Veterans Memorial. And, she said, they were back now in July for the 50th anniversary celebration of the armistice that resulted in a cease-fire "because we felt it was something we had to do."
Debbie is particularly proud of her husband being a combat hero. Affixed to his uniform were ribbons of valor the Silver Star Medal for gallantry in action and the Bronze Star Medal with V for valor. He also wore a Purple Heart, Combat Infantryman Badge, parachutist badge, expert rifleman badge and several combat ribbons.
The former sergeant first class said he received the Silver Star in part because he rescued four wounded fellow soldiers, one of whom was his commander, who told Barfield to leave them alone.
Exhibiting the modesty of most battlefield heroes, Barfield said, "I hate to talk about it. But it was under fire and I had orders to leave the dead and wounded lay until morning. But I ignored the orders and rescued the wounded men. One of them was my platoon leader, Lewis Hotelling, who was lieutenant at the time. He lost his leg, and I never located him until 1998 in Hamilton, Ohio. Now we talk two or three times a week."
Hotelling played a big role in Barfield getting the Silver Star Medal in 1998, 45 years after his heroic acts during the Battle of Boomerang, which was fought on June 14 and 15, 1953.
It took almost as long, 42 years, for Barfield to receive the Bronze Star Medal for valor prior to the Battle of Boomerang. "Sen. Bob Graham of Florida presented me the Bronze Star with V Device in 1995 for bravery in action in Korean in 1953," said Barfield.
Barfield hadn't tried to locate the officer whose life he was credited with saving. "After I got the Bronze Star, my wife kept after me about that," said the Groveland, Fla., resident. "I told her he was beat up so bad, I know he'd died. But she insisted, so finally I wrote to the Retired Officers Association.
"I just wrote a short letter to Maj. Hotelling saying I was in the Battle of Boomerang with him in 1953 and 'please let me know if you remember me,'" Barfield said. "The Army found out that he'd survived and stayed in the service after he lost his leg and was a retired major."
Hotelling called Barfield in August 1998 and later visited him at his home in Tennessee. "We had a long talk and a long reunion," Barfield recalled. "The Knoxville News did a big article about us.
"He said he felt like I should have the Medal of Honor and he wrote to the Army awards board requesting that it be awarded to me," he said. "The board recommended the Silver Star in 1998, because members said there wasn't enough evidence for the Medal of Honor.
He received the medal on Veterans Day 2000.
In his letter to Army Personnel Command suggesting that Barfield be awarded the Medal of Honor, Hotelling wrote in part, "I reminded Sgt. Barfield my orders were to leave the dead and wounded till daybreak and to leave me and take cover. He ignored my orders. Thank God. Partially carrying, partially dragging me, we ran into a mass of Chinese soldiers. Dropping me to the ground, Sgt. Barfield laid across me with his own body. In the ensuing firefight, Sgt. Barfield single-handedly killed at least five of the Chinese soldiers. He killed several others before getting me to shelter that night."
Hotelling said he'd been told that Barfield again went above and beyond the call of duty that night to rescue Pfc. Douglas Ford (who later died on June 19, 1953) and a South Korean soldier from his rifle squad. "Sgt. Barfield rallied the survivors of his squad and several others to form a blocking position to prevent the Chinese infantry from overrunning our command bunker," he continued.
"He also wrote the president trying to get me the Medal of Honor," said Barfield, who fought in Korea as a rifleman with the 187th Airborne Infantry from 1952 to 1953. "He got the Silver Star, too, but as far as I'm concerned, he should have gotten the Medal of Honor.
Wounded at the age of 17, Barfield said he volunteered to return to the frontline after about six weeks in the hospital. Reflecting back on that more than 50-year-old decision, Barfield, who was shot through the right shoulder, said, "I was young and stupid to volunteer to go back to the frontline.
"They gave me three profiles and said I wasn't fit for frontline duty," he said. "They sent me to Pusan (South Korea) with a bunch of conscientious objectors working in a medical facility. After about a month, I asked for a transfer to any frontline outfit in Korea. So they sent me to the 3rd Infantry Division."
After the Battle of Boomerang, when he was with the 3rd Infantry Division, the 187th Airborne returned to Korea and asked for all their experienced paratroopers back. "I was sure they were going to make a combat jump and I wanted to be part of one," Barfield said. "So I volunteered to go back to the 187th Airborne. I left my 3rd ID outfit that had moved off the hill after Boomerang to about five miles behind the line."
But instead of jumping, the 187th put troops on the frontline as regular infantry. "So I went right back on the frontlines with the 187th Airborne Regimental Combat Team," he noted.
Barfield spent three years in the Army and was discharged in September 1954. Ten months later, he switched to the Navy, where he remained until 1959. He joined the postal service in 1960 and retired in 1982.
He said he wore his uniform to the memorial because "I'm proud of the uniform and of what we did over there for the Korean people."