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Medal of Honor Monday: Army Tech. Sgt. Carlton W. Barrett

Army Tech. Sgt. Carlton W. Barrett is one of four soldiers who earned the Medal of Honor on D-Day when more than 160,000 Allied forces breached the shores of Nazi-occupied France as part of the biggest air, land and sea invasion ever executed. A lot of men died that day, but Barrett helped save as many as he could. For that, he earned the Medal of Honor.

A person in a military uniform sits on the arm of a couch while looking down at a medal in a box.
Army Cpl. Carlton W. Barrett
Army Cpl. Carlton W. Barrett wears his Medal of Honor while looking at other decorations he received in Paris on Nov. 17, 1944. Barrett earned the Medal of Honor during his actions to save others on the beaches of Normandy, France, on D-Day, June 6, 1944.
Photo By: Army/National Archives
VIRIN: 441117-A-D0439-013Y

Barrett was born on Nov. 24, 1919, in Fulton, New York, to Lester and Olive Barrett. He had two older siblings, Madeline and Roland, the latter of whom also joined the military during World War II.  

Barrett dropped out of high school. In 1940, shortly before his 21st birthday, he decided to enlist in the Army. He was assigned to the 18th Infantry, 1st Infantry Division.  

Within a year and a half, the U.S. had joined World War II, and Barrett was in the thick of it. He took part in the North Africa and Sicilian campaigns before being assigned to one of the most important missions of the war – the invasion of Normandy, France, so the Allies could regain a foothold on the European continent. 

Dozens of service members run into water on a beachhead from a landing craft.
U.S. Army soldiers disembark a landing craft under heavy fire off the coast of Normandy, France, June 6, 1944.
Photo By: National Archives
VIRIN: 440606-D-LX472-540Y

On June 6, 1944 – D-Day – then-Pvt. Barrett was a field guide who helped coordinate troops and communications. Early that morning near the shores of St. Laurent-sur-Mer, France, Barrett's landing craft dropped him and several other soldiers into neck-deep waters off Omaha Beach, where they immediately faced a bombardment of enemy mortar and small-arms fire while trying to wade ashore. 

Several times, Barrett ignored the chaos and went back into the swirling waters to help his fellow soldiers, many of whom were floundering and drowning in the panic. 

Despite being short and slight by nature – researchers said he was about 5'4" and 125 pounds — Barrett refused to be pinned down by the intense enemy barrage coming toward them. According to his Medal of Honor citation, Barrett's fierce determination led him to save several lives by carrying the wounded to an evacuation boat offshore.  

Throughout the extreme stress of the day, Barrett rose up as a leader, doing more than what was required of him. His citation said he also carried dispatches across the entire fire-swept beach, calmed the shocked and helped treat the wounded, despite suffering four wounds himself. Barrett was injured in both hips, his left leg and his foot, wounds that eventually led to his own evacuation off the beachhead. 

Barrett was sent back to the U.S. for treatment. He spent about five months in hospitals due to his injuries and two bouts of malaria that he suffered. He was finally discharged in October 1944 and sent back to the European theater.  

Two service members shake hands while standing behind a desk in this black and white photo.
Army Tech. Sgt. Carlton W. Barrett
Army Tech. Sgt. Carlton W. Barrett shakes the hand of Capt. Burl C. Lewis as he returned to the 18th Infantry in the Services Co. in Germany, December 1950. Barrett was originally with the 18th during World War II when he earned the Medal of Honor for his actions on D-Day.
Photo By: First Division Museum at Cantigny
VIRIN: 240311-O-D0439-044Y

Barrett's calm demeanor on D-Day earned him the Medal of Honor, which he received in Paris on Nov. 17, 1944, after he was promoted to corporal. The medal was given to him by Army Gen. John C.H. Lee, who commanded the European communications zone.  

Three other Army soldiers earned the Medal of Honor for their actions on June 6, 1944: 1st Lt. Jimmie W. Monteith Jr., Tech. 5th Grade John J. Pinder Jr. and Brig. Gen. Theodore Roosevelt Jr. Sadly, Barrett was the only one who survived to receive it in person; Pinder and Monteith died on D-Day, while Roosevelt died about a month later.  

Newspaper reports showed that Barrett never liked to talk about his actions on D-Day. When he did, it was to deflect praise onto the men who didn't make it home.  

In July 1945, shortly after the war ended in Europe, Barrett was discharged from the Army. According to a 1945 Brooklyn Daily Eagle article, he took a job with the Department of Internal Revenue (now the IRS) in the Jackson Heights neighborhood of Queens, New York, where his aunt and uncle lived.  

A person in business attire shakes hands with another person in a military uniform in this black and white photo.
Army Cpl. Carlton W. Barrett
Former Army Cpl. Carlton W. Barrett, who earned the Medal of Honor for his actions in France on D-Day, is congratulated by Army Col. E. W. Leard upon his reenlistment, May 7, 1947.
Photo By: Army/National Archives
VIRIN: 470507-A-D0439-018Y

However, civilian life must not have suited him, because he reenlisted in the Army in May 1947. That same year, he married his wife, Josephine, who had also served in the war in the Women's Army Auxiliary Corps. The pair went on to have two daughters, Kathleen and Sharon.  

Barrett was stationed for a time in Germany before the family moved to the Los Angeles area so he could serve at the Army and Air Force Recruiting Station in Culver City. The family chose to put down roots in California, remaining there when Barrett was discharged in June 1963 as a technical sergeant.  

A medal hangs on a ribbon just below a plaque explaining who earned it.
Medal of Honor
Army Pvt. Carlton W. Barrett earned the Medal of Honor for actions he took to save his fellow soldiers on the beaches of Normandy during D-Day, June 6, 1944. His medal is on display at the First Division Museum at Cantigny in Wheaton, Ill.
Photo By: John Maniatis, First Division Museum at Cantigny
VIRIN: 240311-O-D0439-043Y
In his later years, Barrett moved to a senior living facility in Hawthorne, California. According to a Kansas City Times newspaper article, his right leg had to be amputated in 1984 as the result of a war injury. 

Barrett died March 3, 1986, at the California Veterans Home in Yountville, California. His obituary in the Napa Valley Register said he died of pneumonia and heart failure after a long illness. Barrett is buried in Napa Valley Memorial Gardens in nearby Napa, California.  

Barrett's memory lives on in the Army and in his hometown. In Fulton, June 6, 2023, was officially dubbed Cpl. Carlton William Barrett Day. Army enthusiasts can see his medal in person at a display at the First Division Museum at Cantigny in Wheaton, Illinois. 

This article is part of a weekly series called "Medal of Honor Monday," in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military's highest medal for valor.

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