Marine Corps Lance Cpl. Jedh Colby Barker left behind a promising college career to join the service during the Vietnam War. He never came home, but the lives he saved through his heroic actions earned him the Medal of Honor.
Barker was born on June 20, 1945, in Franklin, New Hampshire, just as World War II was ending. When he was six, his parents moved him and his five siblings to Park Ridge, New Jersey.
Barker was a natural-born athlete. He was the captain of Park Ridge High School’s football and baseball teams. According to the New Jersey Vietnam Veterans’ Memorial Foundation, he was also on the school’s track and basketball teams and belonged to the choir.
After high school, Barker went to Fairleigh Dickinson University in New Jersey before transferring to Northeast Missouri State Teachers College (now called Truman State University) in Kirksville, Missouri, to play football.
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By the spring of 1966, the war in Vietnam was escalating, so on June 20, Barker enlisted in the Marine Corps Reserve. Service ran in Barker’s family — his father and older brother made careers out of the Marines. In fact, according to the Truman Review, Jedh Barker’s first name was an acronym for four men with whom his father served in World War II — John, Ezekial, Donald and Herbert.
A few months after joining the reserve, Barker was discharged so he could join the active-duty Marines. He spent a few months in training before being sent to San Francisco to join Marine Air Base Squadron 21 and serve as a group guard.
In June 1967, Pfc. Barker was sent to Vietnam and reassigned as a machine gunner with Company F, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marines, 3rd Marine Division.
A few months later, the young Marine would be put to the ultimate test.
On Sept. 21, 1967, Barker’s company was near an area called Con Thien carrying out Operation Kingfisher, a mission meant to block the entry of North Vietnamese soldiers into Quang Tri province.
Barker’s squad was doing reconnaissance when they were suddenly attacked by sniper fire. They quickly got into a combat formation and moved forward until they reached a strongly fortified enemy position. That’s when heavy fire opened up on them, injuring several of the Marines.
Barker was one of the many who had been hit, but despite his injuries, he stayed out in the open to fire back at the enemy soldiers, who had his squad outnumbered. Realizing he was a threat to their position, the enemy then directed most of their fire toward Barker. This time, the young Marine was shot in the hand — an injury that cut off his ability to continue operating his machine gun.
Before he could react to that, a grenade flew into view and landed among the Marines. Without hesitating, Barker jumped on top of it, absorbing the blast with his body.
Barker didn’t die right away, though. When he came to after the blast, he crawled to a wounded comrade to give him first aid before finally succumbing to his devastating injuries. He was 22.
In his final moments, Barker used the last of his strength to help a comrade instead of himself. For that devotion to duty, he was posthumously promoted to lance corporal, and his family was notified that he had earned the nation’s highest award for valor.
On Oct. 31, 1969, more than two years after his death, Barker’s family accepted the Medal of Honor on behalf of the young Marine during a White House ceremony held by Vice President Spiro Agnew.
Barker is buried in George Washington Memorial Cemetery in Paramus, New Jersey. His sacrifice has not been forgotten. American Legion Post 153 and a street in Park Ridge, Barker’s hometown, were renamed in his honor. At Marine Corps Base Quantico in Virginia, Baker Hall stands in memory of the fallen Marine.
This article is part of a weekly series called “Medal of Honor Monday,” in which we highlight one of the more than 3,500 Medal of Honor recipients who have earned the U.S. military’s highest medal for valor.
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