Military Wiki
William Earl Barber
Colonel William E. Barber
Born (1919-11-30)November 30, 1919
Died April 19, 2002(2002-04-19) (aged 82)
Place of birth Dehart, Kentucky
Place of death Irvine, California
Place of burial Arlington National Cemetery
Allegiance United States United States of America
Service/branch USMC logo.svg United States Marine Corps
Years of service 1940–1970
Rank US-O6 insignia.svg Colonel
Commands held 2nd Marine Regiment
3rd Reconnaissance Battalion

World War II

Korean War

Vietnam War
Awards Medal of Honor
Silver Star
Legion of Merit
Purple Heart (2)

William Earl Barber (November 30, 1919 – April 19, 2002) was an officer in the United States Marine Corps awarded with the Medal of Honor for his actions in the Battle of Chosin Reservoir during the Korean War. With only 220 men under his command, Barber held off more than 1,400 People's Republic of China soldiers during six days of fighting. Despite the extreme cold weather conditions and himself suffering a bone fracturing wound to the leg, Barber refused an order to leave his position fearing that a retreat would trap 8,000 other Marines. Barber and his limited number of men killed over 1,000 enemy troops; only 82 of his men were able to walk away after eventually being relieved.


William Earl Barber was born on November 30, 1919, in Dehart, Kentucky. He completed Morgan County High School in West Liberty, Kentucky, and attended Morehead State Teachers College prior to enlisting in the Marine Corps.[1]

Marine Corps career

Barber enlisted in the Marine Corps in March 1940 and completed his recruit training at Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island, South Carolina, followed by parachute training at the Naval Air Station, Lakehurst, New Jersey, was designated a paramarine and assigned as a parachute instructor at the newly activated Parachute Training School at New River, North Carolina. In May 1943, he entered Officer Candidates School at Marine Corps Base Quantico, Virginia, and was commissioned a second lieutenant on August 11, 1943.[1]

World War II

Second Lieutenant Barber served with the 1st Parachute Regiment on the West Coast until 1944. Assigned as a platoon commander with the 26th Marine Regiment, 5th Marine Division, at Marine Corps Base Camp Pendleton, California, he embarked for the Pacific area and later took part in the Battle of Iwo Jima. After being wounded, he was evacuated and later returned to his unit, serving as company commander during the last two weeks of the operation. Shortly after, he was promoted to first lieutenant and again commanded the company during the initial occupation of Japan. He was awarded the Silver Star and the Purple Heart his actions on Iwo Jima in which "he disregarded his own wounds and directed enemy fire to rescue two wounded Marines from enemy territory."[1]

Barber returned to the United States in 1946; he served on recruiting duty in Milwaukee, Wisconsin; served as a rifle company commander with the 8th Marines, 2nd Marine Division, at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune, North Carolina; Inspector-Instructor of the Marine Corps Reserve's Company D, 6th Infantry Battalion, in Altoona and Philadelphia, respectively.

Korean War

In October 1950, as a captain, Barber was ordered to Korea and took part in the action for which he was awarded the Medal of Honor and the Purple Heart — the Battle of Chosin Reservoir in November and December 1950. He led his company in a desperate five-day defense of a frozen mountain pass vital to the 1st Marine Division's breakout to the sea. Fighting in sub-zero temperatures against overwhelming odds, he was wounded on the first night of the action (November 29, 1950), but refused evacuation and remained in action in command of his company. He was evacuated on December 8, and hospitalized at the United States Fleet Activities Yokosuka, Japan, until his return to the United States in March 1951.[1]

In April 1951, he joined Marine Corps Recruit Depot San Diego as a company commander and later Executive Officer of the 1st Recruit Training Battalion. He was promoted to major in July 1952.

On August 20, 1952, Major Barber was presented the Medal of Honor by President Harry S. Truman in ceremonies at the White House.

Major Barber completed the Advanced Infantry Course, Fort Benning, Georgia, in March 1954, then served as Operations and Training Officer, 2nd Battalion 2nd Marines at MCB Camp Lejeune. From 1956 to 1958, he served in Thailand as Assistant Naval Attache and Assistant Naval Attache for Air at the American Embassy in Bangkok. During the next four years he was assigned to Marine Corps Schools at MCB Quantico, and served as Assistant Chief Instructor of the Junior School. While there, he was promoted to lieutenant colonel in April 1960.[1]

Again ordered overseas, LtCol Barber joined the 3rd Marine Division on Okinawa, Japan in July 1962 as Commanding Officer of 3rd Reconnaissance Battalion. Following his return to the United States, he served at Headquarters Marine Corps as Head, Combat Requirements Section, until January 1966 when he became Head, Marksmanship Branch, G-3 Division, and served in this capacity until July 1967. He was promoted to colonel on September 22, 1965.[1]

Transferred to the 2nd Marines, 2nd Marine Division, Marine Corps Base, Camp Lejeune, North Carolina, Col. Barber served consecutively as Division Plans Officer, Assistant Chief of Staff, G-2 (Intelligence), and Commanding Officer of the 2nd Marines, until May 1969.[1]

Vietnam War

In 1969, he was ordered to Vietnam where he served his last tour of active duty as Psychological Operations Officer, III Marine Amphibious Force, Military Assistance Command, Vietnam. For his service in this capacity, he was awarded the Legion of Merit with Combat "V.”[1]


Colonel Barber retired from active duty on May 1, 1970. He then returned to Morehead University and completed his degree upon completion of which he became a civilian military analyst for the Northrop Corporations. Barber died at his home in Irvine, California on April 19, 2002 of bone marrow cancer and he was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery. His wife Ione died four years later and her ashes were interred in his grave.[2][3]

Awards and honors

Col. Barber's awards include:[1]

A light blue ribbon with five white five pointed stars
Gold star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
Bronze star
1st Row Medal of Honor
2nd Row Silver Star Legion of Merit w/ valor device Purple Heart w/ 1 award star Navy Presidential Unit Citation w/ 1 service star
3rd Row Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal American Defense Service Medal American Campaign Medal Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal w/ 1 service star
4th Row World War II Victory Medal Army of Occupation Medal w/ "Asia" clasp National Defense Service Medal w/ 1 service star Korean Service Medal w/ 3 service stars
5th Row Vietnam Service Medal w/ 1 service star Korean Presidential Unit Citation United Nations Korea Medal Vietnam Campaign Medal

Medal of Honor citation

For his actions at the Chosin Reservoir, Korea from November 28, to December 2, 1950, Barber was awarded the Medal of Honor.[4] His citation reads:

The President of the United States in the name of The Congress takes pleasure in presenting the MEDAL OF HONOR to


for service as set forth in the following CITATION:

For conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity at the risk of his life above and beyond the call of duty as Commanding Officer of Company F, Second Battalion, Seventh Marines, First Marine Division (Reinforced), in action against enemy aggressor forces in Korea from November 28, to December 2, 1950. Assigned to defend a three-mile mountain pass along the division's main supply line and commanding the only route of approach in the march from Yudam-Ni to Hagaru-ri, Captain Barber took position with his battle weary troops and, before nightfall, had dug in and set up a defense along the frozen snow-covered hillside. When a force of estimated regimental strength savagely attacked during the night, inflicting heavy casualties and finally surrounding his position following a bitterly fought seven-hour conflict, Captain Barber, after repulsing the enemy, gave assurance that he could hold if supplied by air drops and requested permission to stand fast when orders were received by radio to fight his way back to a relieving force after two reinforcing units had been driven back under fierce resistance in their attempts to reach the isolated troops. Aware that leaving the position would sever contact with the 8,000 Marines trapped at Yudam-ni and jeopardize their chances of joining the 3,000 more awaiting their arrival in Hagaru-ri for the continued drive to the sea, he chose to risk loss of his command rather than sacrifice more men if the enemy seized control and forced a renewed battle to regain the position, or abandon his many wounded who were unable to walk. Although severely wounded in the leg the early morning of the 29th, Captain Barber continued to maintain personal control, often moving up and down the lines on a stretcher to direct the defense and consistently encouraging and inspiring his men to supreme efforts despite the staggering opposition. Waging desperate battle throughout five days and six nights of repeated onslaughts launched by the fanatical aggressors, he and his heroic command accounted for approximately 1,000 enemy dead in this epic stand in bitter sub-zero weather, and when the company was relieved, only 82 of his original 220 men were able to walk away from the position so valiantly defended against insuperable odds. His profound faith and courage, great personal valor and unwavering fortitude were decisive factors in the successful withdrawal of the division from the deathtrap in the Chosin Reservoir sector and reflect the highest credit upon Captain Barber, his intrepid officers and men and the United States Naval Service.[5]



The following have been named in honor of Medal of Honor recipient William Barber:

  • Colonel Bill Barber Marine Corps Memorial Park, Irvine, California.[7]
  • Camp Barber, Helmand Province, Afghanistan.

See also


 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the United States Marine Corps.

Further reading

External links

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