Radio operator Cpl. Patrick Iacunato, left, and 1st Lt. Harvey C. Barnum Jr. in Vietnam on Dec. 20, 1965, two days after Barnum’s actions that resulted in his Medal of Honor. (PC: USMC)
Medal of Honor recipient Harvey C. “Barney” Barnum Jr. has received a fair share of awards and recognition in his lifetime. Apparently, it doesn’t get old.
Three months ago, the retired Marine colonel learned he was one of two people selected to receive the 2018 Lone Sailor Award.
He was floored by the news, as a feeling of complete surprise and shock hit him. It was similar, he said, to what he felt two years ago, when he learned that the Navy decided to name a destroyer after him.
“I got to tell you, I had the same unbelievable sensation throughout my body as I had when Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus called and said he was going to name a destroyer the Harvey C. Barnum, Jr. You know, ‘how could this be happening to me?’ ” Barnum recalled.
The Navy Memorial honored Barnum last week, during its annual Lone Sailor Awards Dinner, a posh, black-tie event with 500 guests in attendance. Navy veteran Bill Hannigan, a former AT&T president and chief operations officer, was the other award recipient. Hannigan served in the Navy as a radioman for six years before leaving the service as a first-class petty officer.
Barnum, 78, joked that “it takes three men and a work party to lift” the award, a bronze 15-inch-tall statue of the iconic Lone Sailor bundled up in a Pea coat and sporting the distinctive round Dixie cup hat that junior enlisted sailors wear.
Retired Rear Adm. Frank Thorp, president and chief executive officer of the U.S. Navy Memorial, called Barnum the “consummate professional who earns the respect and admiration of everyone he meets.” In selecting awardees, the Navy Memorial considers veterans of the Navy or Marine Corps who have drawn upon their “Sea Service experience” to distinguish themselves in their subsequent careers and lives.
In 1965, then-1st Lt. Barnum demonstrated tremendous courage after enemy fighters ambushed his unit, mortally wounding the company commander and killing the radio operator. Jumping into actions, Barnum led a counter-attack against overwhelming odds, charging a small hill and firing a rocket launcher at enemy positions. He also ordered his men to blow up a section of trees to make a clearing while he radioed for helicopters to come extract the casualties. When word came that the helicopters couldn’t land, Barnum stood in the clearing open to hostile fire and radioed back “If I can stand here, by God, you can land here.”
For his bravery and heroic actions that day, Barnum was awarded the Medal of Honor in 1967. He then volunteered for a second tour to Vietnam. He retired from the military after 27 years of service with numerous other awards, including the Purple Heart and Bronze Star with the combat valor device. Barnum then held many high-ranking positions as a civilian in the Defense Department.
Once the Arleigh-Burke class destroyer Harvey C. Barnum Jr. is commissioned, estimated to occur in 2024, Barnum said he will include the Lone Sailor statue as one of his personal mementos he plans to give to the ship. He also wants to give back what he can to the crew to show his appreciation for the honor bestowed upon him.
“To be recognized by your Navy and Marine Corps team is pretty awesome,” said Barnum who plans to offer his mentoring services to the crew. “I’m going to spend a lot of time with that ship – good Lord willing – and pass on to them my experiences … the leadership traits – honor, courage, and commitment ethos – that all Marines follow throughout their careers.”
Of all the awards and honors he has received in his military and civilian career, Barnum answered unhesitatingly when asked which one holds the most meaning. “My marriage certificate,” he said.
His wife, Martha – whom he married on June 27, 1992, at the Fort Myer base chapel in northern Virginia where the two live – said she never tires of all the recognition her husband receives.
“He’s done a lot, and people like to recognize him for it. I’m very proud of him and what he’s accomplished. The honors that he receives … it’s always a wonderful thing.”
Story by Carlos Bongioanni