Harvey C. Barnum Jr.: A Life of Valor and Service

Harvey C. Barnum Jr. is a name that resonates with valor, dedication, and exemplary service. A retired United States Marine Corps officer, Barnum's heroic actions during the Vietnam War earned him the prestigious Medal of Honor, making him the fourth Marine to receive this honor for his service in Vietnam. His career, spanning over 27 years, is a testament to his unwavering commitment to his country and the Marine Corps. Beyond his military service, Barnum continued to serve in various capacities, contributing significantly to the Department of the Navy and other organizations. This blog delves into his early life, military heroics, post-war career, and the numerous accolades he received throughout his distinguished life.

Early Life and Struggles: Born on July 21, 1940, in Cheshire, Connecticut, Harvey Curtiss Barnum Jr. exhibited leadership qualities from a young age. At Cheshire High School, he was not only the president of his Freshman and Senior classes but also an active participant in football, baseball, and several clubs, including the Boy Scouts of America. His high school years were marked by a blend of academic and extracurricular excellence, which laid the foundation for his future endeavors. After graduating, Barnum attended Saint Anselm College in Goffstown, New Hampshire, where he further honed his leadership skills and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Economics in June 1962.

Military Enlistment and Heroics: Barnum's journey with the Marine Corps began in November 1958 when he joined the Marine Corps' Platoon Leaders Class program. His commitment saw him through rigorous training sessions, and upon graduation from Saint Anselm College, he was commissioned as a Marine Reserve second lieutenant. His early military career included roles such as forward observer, battalion liaison officer, and several assignments that took him overseas, notably to Okinawa, Japan.

In December 1965, during Operation Harvest Moon in Vietnam, Barnum's bravery was put to the ultimate test. When his company commander was killed and the unit found itself in a precarious situation, Barnum assumed command under heavy enemy fire. His leadership and gallantry not only stabilized his unit but also ensured a successful counterattack and evacuation. For these actions, he was awarded the Medal of Honor, symbolizing his extraordinary courage and dedication.

Defining Moment: The defining moment of Barnum's military career undoubtedly came on December 18, 1965, during the Vietnam War. His unit was ambushed, and amidst the chaos, Barnum's swift decision-making and fearless leadership stood out. Strapping the radio to himself after the operator was killed, he took charge, coordinated artillery and helicopter attacks, and led his men through intense enemy fire. His actions not only saved lives but also exemplified the highest standards of Marine Corps leadership, earning him the Medal of Honor from President Lyndon B. Johnson.

Post-War Life and Career: After returning from Vietnam, Barnum continued to serve in various capacities within the Marine Corps. He held numerous leadership positions, including Aide-de-Camp for high-ranking officers and commanding officer roles. His career saw steady promotions, eventually reaching the rank of colonel. In August 1989, after more than 27 years of service, Barnum retired from the Marine Corps but his dedication to service did not end there.

Barnum transitioned to roles within the Department of Defense, including Principal Director for Drug Enforcement Policy and Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Navy for Reserve Affairs. His leadership extended to various organizations, including the Congressional Medal of Honor Society, the Marine Corps Law Enforcement Foundation, and several advisory boards. His post-military career was marked by continued service and contribution to the military community.

Military Awards and Decorations: Barnum's illustrious career is adorned with numerous awards and decorations, a testament to his bravery, leadership, and service. These include:

  • Medal of Honor
  • Defense Superior Service Medal
  • Legion of Merit
  • Bronze Star Medal with Combat "V" and Gold Star
  • Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medal
  • Purple Heart
  • Combat Action Ribbon
  • Navy Presidential Unit Citation
  • Vietnamese Gallantry Cross with Silver Star
  • Several other unit and service awards

His Medal of Honor citation highlights his "conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty," underscoring the heroism that has defined his legacy.

Conclusion: Harvey C. Barnum Jr.'s life is a remarkable narrative of courage, leadership, and unwavering service. From his early days in Cheshire, Connecticut, to the battlefields of Vietnam, and into his roles within the Department of Defense, Barnum's contributions have left an indelible mark on the United States Marine Corps and the broader military community. His story serves as an inspiration, embodying the values of honor, bravery, and dedication that define the spirit of the Marines. As we reflect on his legacy, we are reminded of the profound impact one individual can have through a lifetime of service and sacrifice.

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