Blackstone base renamed in honor of Choctaw native

Published 9:46 am Thursday, March 30, 2023

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BLACKSTONE – Politicians, military officers, native tribes and local residents all gathered in Blackstone on Friday, March 24. They came both to pay tribute to a local man and rename the local National Guard base in his honor. 

The facility formerly known as Fort Pickett is now Fort Barfoot. The name change honors Col. Van. T. Barfoot, a World War II Medal of Honor recipient with connections to this region. 

“The reason naming this base after Col. Barfoot is so important is he had a tie to the National Guard, a deep tie to the Virginia National Guard,” said Sen. Tim Kaine, who spoke at the ceremony. “He trained here, said goodbye to his fiancée here. He maintained a tie to the Virginia National Guard during the rest of his military service and after, and received lifetime achievement awards and other recognitions.” 

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Barfoot trained at what was then Camp Pickett with the 157th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division, prior to shipping out for Europe during World War II. 

Barfoot’s military career 

Barfoot received the Medal of Honor in 1944 due to his actions on May 23 of that year. Near Carano, Italy, Army documents say “Barfoot knocked out two machine gun nests and captured 17 German soldiers. Later that same day, he repelled a German tank assault, destroyed a Nazi fieldpiece and, while returning to camp, carried two wounded commanders to safety.”

The Mississippi native has strong connections to the Virginia National Guard as well as the installation which now bears his name. He served two different times as an advisor to Virginia National Guard units. In the 1950s, he served as an advisor to the 116th Infantry Regiment and later was the Senior Army Advisor to the Virginia National Guard until his retirement in 1974. Those jobs brought him to Fort Pickett for training with VNG units on multiple occasions.

“I served as senior advisor for the state of Virginia National Guard for four years. I love them, they’re dedicated people,” Barfoot said during an interview, part of the Library of Congress Veterans History Project. “I’ll tell you, the greatest asset we have now is our National Guard. They’re just complete soldiers.”

Reflecting in Blackstone

Friday’s ceremony featured static displays from the installation’s tenants and ceremonial music provided by the Troutville-based 29th Infantry Division Band. To commemorate Barfoot’s Native American heritage, representatives from Choctaw Nation as well as Virginia-based Native American tribes were in attendance and performed ceremonial songs and dance for the gathered audience. Volunteers with the Virginia Defense Force and Civil Air Patrol also provided support for the ceremony. Barfoot’s daughter, Margaret Nicholls, also shared what the designation means to the family. 

“Our family is so proud of the man we called Dad, Granddad, and Great Granddad, for the love he shared, the example he set and his life of service to others,” said Nicholls. “As always, he would not have felt deserving of this honor and humbly would have said God had a plan for him and he hoped he lived up to God’s plan. Having his service to this nation memorialized by this redesignation is a tribute to a man who epitomized what is great about our American soldiers.”