Every day, retired Col. Van T. Barfoot treated the American flag with the respect accorded to it by tradition and by the U.S. flag code. He raised the flag to the top of the 21-foot flagpole in his front yard every morning and took it down again – careful not to let it touch the ground and folding it into a perfect triangle – in the evening. But his Virginia homeowner’s association hated the flagpole, saying it brought down the curb appeal of the neighborhood. They told Barfoot to take it down. When he didn’t, they took legal action.
They messed with the wrong Texan. He wasn’t about to cave for some HOA. But they didn’t know that.
Barfoot joined the Army infantry in 1940, well before the start of World War II for the United States. In 1944, with the war in full swing, Barfoot was in Italy, flanking a machine gun nest by himself in a battle near Carano. In order to save his men from the deadly fire raining death on them, Barfoot had to book it through a minefield to kill the enemy and knock out the machine gun. He did that and took out two more. He brought 17 prisoners back to friendly lines.
When three Nazi tanks came to retake the positions held by those machine gun nests, Barfoot took those out too. For his actions that day, he received the Medal of Honor. The man would later go on to fight in Korea and Vietnam before finally leaving the Army in 1974. By the time his HOA picked a fight with the old soldier, Barfoot was 90 years old.
“In the time I have left, I plan to fly the flag without interference,” he told the Associated Press.
The HOA’s law firm even sent out a letter that ordered him to either remove the large flagpole from his property, or the firm would file a lawsuit to “enforce the covenants and restrictions against you.” But unlike the time he was running the minefields of Carano at a Nazi machine gun, Van Barfoot wasn’t alone this time. His story made national news. A heavy-hitting Richmond, Va. law firm offered to defend Barfoot for free, Virginia Senator Mark Warner offered his assistance, and even the 157th Infantry – Barfoot’s old unit – called to offer to help.
Not only did the HOA lose to Col. Barfoot like so many of his other fallen enemies, but the Virginia state legislature even introduced a bill that would prevent homeowners associations from banning flagpoles like Barfoots unless they could prove the harm it caused.
Barfoot died in 2012, two years after his row with the HOA. He will be remembered by many – especially the homeowner’s association.