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Local Man Receives Bronze Star – 70 Years Late

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Caldwell, June 11, 2018 | comments
Late really is better than never, especially when it isn’t too late to honor a man who served his nation in a time of war.
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Noble County Journal Leader
By Anne Chlovechok
Published June 11, 2018

Late really is better than never, especially when it isn’t too late to honor a man who served his nation in a time of war.

Local resident Jack Barnhart was recently awarded the prestigious Bronze Star Medal, which is a high honor awarded to a man or woman who, after Dec. 6, 1941, while serving in any capacity with the United States armed forces, distinguishes himself or herself by “heroic or meritorious achievement or service, not involving participation in aerial flight.”

“In war, something happens in an instant,” Barnhart said. “You’re there to have your buddy’s back. They have your back. That’s the way it is in the service.”

As a World War II infantryman, Barnhart is part of a special group of men who are automatically eligible for the Bronze Star. This group includes infantrymen who received the CIB, or Combat Infantryman Badge, awarded to infantrymen who served in a time of war and who saw combat person to person on a battlefield. A special law was passed saying any man who received the CIB during World War II was automatically also eligible for the Bronze Star Medal, for which a serviceman or woman must usually be specially recommended by his or her commanding officer and vetted through proper channels.

Unfortunately, not everyone understood this, and many men who should have received this award did not. Fortunately, Barnhart’s stepson, Damon Bickerstaff, was aware of this provision.

Bickerstaff was visiting his mother, Windy Barnhart, and Jack, for Thanksgiving last year when he noticed that his stepfather had the CIB.

“When I saw Jack had the badge, but no Bronze Star, I figured he deserved one,” Bickerstaff said.

Bickerstaff’s wife’s family has a lot of World War II vets, and as a hobby and a service to the family, he researches what kind of awards they won, and puts together souvenir boxes for the family to hang on their wall commemorating these heroes.

“I just got lucky,” Bickerstaff said. “While researching, I saw a U.S. Army regulation that Congress passed around 1947 saying any soldier during World War II who had the CIB would also be awarded the Bronze Star after the fact. I told Jack he should have gotten the Bronze Star, and I mailed him the regulation so he could pursue it.”

Barnhart worked with Noble County Veterans Service Coordinator Joe Williams to file the paperwork, and on Memorial Day, Barnhart was presented with his Bronze Star Medal by U.S. Congressman Bill Johnson, a retired Lt. Colonel in the U.S. Air Force.

“It was an extreme honor for me to be able to do this,” Johnson said. “There are few things in a military officer’s career more meaningful. Presenting a medal like this is a very humbling experience for me. I’m so grateful that Jack’s family and the veterans service organization offered it to me.”

Johnson said that Barnhart served in The American Division as an infantryman in the Philippines in 1945, when he was about 18. His division was the only division to have a name instead of a number. They were awarded a presidential unit citation at the time.

“In 1945, there was a lot going on in the Pacific, particularly in the Philippines, and Jack was right in the middle of all of it. Jack brought that same get-it-done service-mindedness back when he returned from the war,” Johnson said. “He’s been involved in community service his entire life, through the fire department, the fair board, the chamber of commerce, serving as president of Noble County Recreation, as commander of VFW Post 4721, as a member of the American Legion, by participating in Memorial Day parades and veterans’ funerals since 1955, when he joined the color guard.

“Jack doesn’t ask for accolades. He just serves. Jack Barnhart didn’t get a medal for surviving. He got a medal for fighting. It’s their generation that changed the world forever. If World War II didn’t go the way it did, who knows what kind of world we’d be living in now.”

Barnhart is honored to have received the medal, but wants people to recognize and think about all the people who were just as heroic, out of necessity or character, and were not recognized.

“I’d forgotten completely about the Bronze Star until my stepson brought it up and told me I was entitled to it,” Barnhart said. “I thought to receive it, but others do more and don’t get recognition at all. Some don’t get home alive. Several boys I knew did just as much.”

Williams, Bickerstaff and Johnson all agree that recognizing a man such as Barnhart is important, not just for what he did, but to make people think about what all the men who were not recognized did, and to bring to mind the unbelievable sacrifice made by so many.

Williams describes battle as a huge chaos. When people find the courage to do what they have to do, and then stretch even further to do what they must in the midst of that, they deserve all the recognition they can get.

If you know someone you believe should have been recognized, please call Williams at the Noble County Veterans Service Administration at 740-732-5567 to find out how to help a veteran get the recognition he or she deserves.

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