Reston resident Harvey C. Barnum Jr., 73, belongs to a very prestigious, unique and dwindling fraternity.
He is a recipient of the military’s highest award for military valor; the Medal of Honor, and one of only 79 living members of the Congressional Medal Of Honor Society which honors those recipients.
The society’s small membership includes men of all races, social classes and economic levels, ranging in age from 26 to 94, and they live throughout the U.S.
This weekend, they are gathering in Gettysburg, Pa., for the 150th anniversary of the first medals bestowed by President Abraham Lincoln there in 1863. To date, 3,462 medals have been bestowed in total, according to the society.
“The choice of Gettysburg to host the convention has special historical significance,” said Robert J. Monahan, president and CEO of the convention. “This convention is designed to honor the medal’s recipients for their exceptional valor and courage at the hallowed site that has become a national shrine for heroism.”
Barnum, a retired U.S. Marine Colonel, received his medal in 1967 for his role in a Dec. 18, 1965, rescue of fellow marines during the Vietnam War in the Quang Tin Province. At the time, he was still a lieutenant, only two weeks into his first tour of combat duty.
Barnum is reluctant to retell the battle tale.
“It’s too difficult,” he said. But as a Medal of Honor recipient, his actions are forever recorded for posterity. According to his citation, Barnum’s company was suddenly pinned down by “a hail of extremely accurate enemy fire” and became separated from the remainder of their battalion. Finding the rifle company commander mortally wounded and the radio operator killed, Barnum removed the radio from the dead operator and strapped it to himself, immediately assuming command of the rifle company. After clearing a small area while he and the company returned enemy fire, Barnum requested and directed the landing of two transport helicopters for the evacuation of his company’s dead and wounded.
“I was Harvey’s Regimental Commander at the time of his action. In fact, I wrote the first draft of his citation,” wrote the late USMC Col. James M. Callender in a 2000 letter. “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.”
Barnum retired from the Marine Corps. in 1989 and moved to Reston in 1993.
He recalls favorably receiving his decoration in 1967.
“There were about 400 recipients of the Medal of Honor alive at that time,” he said. “They were from World War I, World War II and even going back to the Nicaraguan Banana Wars.” The Banana Wars were a series of occupations, police actions, and interventions involving the United States in Central America from the turn of the century until the mid 1930s.
“I received my medal from the Secretary of the Navy and it changed my life. I was suddenly center stage all the time after that,” said Barnum. “But the greatest thing that day as I recall was looking over and seeing my mom and dad, seeing the tears in their eyes and knowing I made them proud. That was the most important thing to me that day.”