In the forests of Quang Tri, South Vietnam, rubber trees tapped for harvest resemble nothing so much as the maple trees of northern New England, where Lance Cpl. Jedh Colby Barker was born. The Marine's singular name and person reflected the ramrod-straight values of his birthplace.
Barker was a machine gunner with Company F, 2nd Battalion -- "The Magnificent Bastards" of the 4th Marines, 3rd Division. On Sept. 27, 1967, his squad was on a reconnaissance operation in Quang Tri when they were hit by enemy fire. They deployed to a combat formation and advanced on the enemy position. They found it heavily fortified and were again struck, sustaining numerous casualties.
Barker was wounded in the initial firestorm but did not retreat. He "boldly remained in the open," according to his Medal of Honor citation, firing with devastating accuracy on the more numerous enemy forces. When the Viet Cong realized Barker was threatening its position, it began directing its fire straight at him, wounding his right hand.
Unable to continue operating his machine gun, Barker watched as a live grenade flew toward his surviving fellows. Without hesitation, he threw himself on the missile and absorbed the explosion's impact with his own body. Most stories would end there, but Barker -- in a final act of bravery and courage -- crawled to a wounded comrade's side to administer first aid before finally succumbing to his wounds.
Barker's story is told on the Medal of Honor page on the 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines website. "The fate of nations often hangs in the balance during great battles, which in turn often hinge upon the actions of great men or even those of a single towering and heroic individual," the page is prefaced. "Medal of Honor recipients are the type of men who alone can turn a battle and bring a nation immeasurably closer to victory. The debt of gratitude due them is endless."
Barker brought a bold spirit and devotion to his duty, giving his life for his country and saving his comrades from further injury or possible death. For this, no thank you is sufficient.
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