A veteran of three wars who was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor is now facing an unlikely enemy — his neighbors.
Col. Van T. Barfoot, 90, has raised the Stars and Stripes every day at sunrise and lowered them every day at sunset since he served in the U.S. Army. But on Tuesday he received a letter from the law firm that represents his homeowners' association, ordering him to remove the flagpole from his Richmond, Va. yard by 5 p.m. on Friday or face "legal action."
The homoeowners' association at Sussex Square community told Barfoot that the freestanding, 21-foot flagpole that he put up in September violates the neighborhood's aesthetic guidelines.
Barfoot had sought permission to install the pole shortly after he moved into the community — a complex of townhouses where the grounds are community property — last June. The board denied his request in July.
But Barfoot and his family say there is no provision in Sussex Square's rules that forbids erecting flagpoles. And for Barfoot, that's a cause worth fighting for.
"There's never been a day in my life or a place I've lived in my life that you couldn't fly the American flag," Barfoot said in an interview with the Richmond Times-Dispatch.
In a statement released last night, the association sought to defend its position against a growing chorus of outrage.
"This is not about the American flag. This is about a flagpole," reads the statement from the association, which insists that Barfoot directly violated its board's July ruling.
"Col. Barfoot is free to display the American flag in conformity with the neighborhood rules and restrictions. We are hopeful that Col. Barfoot will comply."
The statement reminded the public that many American flags hang from homes in the Sussex Square community, and that the board members object only to Barfoot's freestanding flagpole.
But Barfoot says he has always flown the flag from a height: "Where I've been, fighting wars ... military installations, parades, everything else, the flag is vertical. And I've done it that way since I was in the Army," Barfoot told the paper.
Barfoot is one of the country's last living World War II veterans who received the Medal of Honor. He also served in the Korean War and the Vietnam War and earned a Purple Heart. In WWII, Barfoot showed his mettle in Carano, Italy, where he single-handedly destroyed a set of German machine gun nests, killed eight enemy soldiers, took 17 prisoners and stared down a tank before destroying it and killing its crew — all in a single day. Exhausted by his herculean efforts, he still managed to move two of his wounded men 1,700 yards to safety.
"Sgt. Barfoot's extraordinary heroism, demonstration of magnificent valor, and aggressive determination in the face of pointblank fire are a perpetual inspiration to his fellow soldiers," reads the official citation for his Medal of Honor.
Barfoot's resolve is now once again being tested.
"I've flown the flag at my home as long as I can remember," said Barfoot, who lived in rural Amelia County before moving to suburban Richmond. "This is the first time in the last 36 years that I've been unable to put my flag up on the same pole, the same staff and take it down when it's time to come down.
"I don't have any qualms with [the board's] authority, but the thing about it is that I cannot get enough conversation out of them where we can try to work out a solution," Barfoot said.
Neighbors largely have expressed their support, but he realizes that ultimately it's up to the nine-member association board whether to grant an exception to the rules.
"Emotional torture is what they've done to my father," said his daughter, Margaret Nicholls. "He has lost sleep, he worries about it constantly. He just doesn't understand. He thinks that if it's on his property they can't tell him what to do."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.