John Andrew Barnes III
by Molly Strakosch


I interviewed my Grandmother, Carson Barnes Fleming about her brother John who sacrificed his life on November 12, 1967 fighting in the Vietnam War. My Grandma is 81 years old and grew up in Belmont Massachusetts, and now lives down the street from me in Needham, Massachusetts. She was from a family with a mother, a father, and one brother, John Andrew Barnes III. My Grandma was 18 years old when her family adopted John. He was born on April 16, 1945 in Boston, MA. He was 2 years old when he became a part of their family. Even though there was a big age difference between them, my Grandma knew John very well and they were pretty close siblings, as my Grandma would take care of him a lot. My Grandma said, “he was a nice little boy and he always pretty much did want to join the army from a young age. He was very brave and he is certainly a hero. He did some foolish things when he was young, so I never thought he would be as brave as he was in that November.” John went to grammar school in Belmont and later when he was a teenager, his family moved to Dedham. He attended Dedham High School. After Dedham High School, he joined the army at 18.

173rd Airborne Brigade: "Sky Soldiers"

John fought in the Private First Class, U.S. Army, Company C, 1st Battalion, 503d Infantry 173d Airborne Brigade. The 173rd Airborne Brigade regiment is also known as “Sky Soldiers”. It was the first complete US unit that was placed in South Vietnam during the Vietnam War.  During 6 years of the Vietnam War, the 173rd Brigade earned “14 campaign streamers and 4 unit citations, 13 Medal of Honor recipients, 137 Distinguished Service Crosses, more than 6,000 Purple Hearts and the only Combat Parachute Assault of the war. Sadly, more than 1,700 names of 173rd Brigade's soldiers are inscribed on the Vietnam Memorial Wall” (Global Security). John was one of those 13 recipients of the Medal of Honor. John went overseas once to Vietnam in 1964, fought for 2 years, and then was sent back home in 1966 because his time was served. He was not demanded to return, however, he wanted to so he joined the 173rd Airborne Brigade once again and returned to Vietnam in that same year, and would never come home again, alive.

This is a song about the “Sky Soldiers”, which was the name the 173rd Airborne Brigade received. This song was written during the war in 1973, two years before it ended. This song is to praise the 173rd Airborne Brigade for their dedication and fighting in the war. The 173rd Airborne was so important in many of American victories, including at the Battle of Dak To.

    Battle of Dak To
  This photograph of soldiers waiting for orders during the
     Battle of Dak To was taken on November 23, 1967 on Hill 875.

In the summer of 1967, the People's Army of Vietnam (PAVN) began a series of attacks in western Kontum Province.  To counter the attacks, Major General William R. Peers launched Operation Greeley using the 4th Infantry Division and the 173rd Airborne Brigade (About). He planned on taking the PAVN out of the jungle-covered mountains of the region. After many fights, the engagements stopped in August so the Americans thought that they had withdrawn across the border into Cambodia and Laos. In September, the US gained intelligence that PAVN forces around Pleiku were moving into Kontum in the beginning October. The PAVN plan was to utilize the 24th, 32nd, 66th, and 174th regiments to isolate and destroy a brigade-sized American force near Dak To (About). Dak To is about 280 miles north of Saigon near the Cambodian border ( The PAVN thought that this would lead to more American troops going to the border  regions, therefore, leaving South Vietnams’ cities vulnerable.  With the build up of PAVN forces, Peers launched Operation MacArthur on November 3. The US had the location and  objective of every PAVN unit, so they began to engage the  enemy on the same day. The North Vietnamese plans for attacking Dak To were disrupted. The 4th Infantry, 173rd Airborne, and the 1st Brigade of the 1st Air Cavalry went into action and found out that the the North Vietnamese had  prepared extreme and extensive defensive positions on the  hills and ridges around Dak To. For 3 weeks, the Americans worked on reducing the PAVN positions. When the positions were located, huge amounts of fire, both artillery and air strikes, occurred. The PAVN troops fought fiercely and a lot  of American blood was shed. The airstrip became a target for PAVN artillery and rocket attacks.

John's Death and the End of the Battle
The worst of the attacks occurred on November 12, which is the day that John Barnes sacrificed his life. “Barnes was serving as a grenadier when his unit was attacked by a North Vietnamese force, estimated to be a battalion. Upon seeing the crew of a machine gun team killed, without hesitation, he dashed through the bullet swept area, manned the machine gun, and killed 9 enemy soldiers as they assaulted his position. While pausing just long enough to retrieve more ammunition, Barnes observed an enemy grenade thrown into the midst of some severely wounded personnel close to his position. Realizing that the grenade could further injure or kill the majority of the wounded personnel, he sacrificed his life by throwing himself directly onto the hand grenade as it exploded...” The Battle of Dak To did not end that day, moreover, it would continue for a couple more weeks after the death of John. On November 22, the 503rd regiment attacked the crest of Hill 875  is 12 miles southwest of Dak To, and neared the top of it but needed to stop because it turned dark. On the 22nd, they launched many air and artillery strikes. On the 23rd, they got to the top of the hill to find that the North Vietnamese had already departed. The battle ended because the PAVN forces were worn out and were withdrawn across the border. The Americans and South Vietnamese won, however lost 376 and 1,441 were wounded. The PAVN lost around 1,455 men in battle. Both sides won and lost some during this battle. The US forces drove the North Vietnamese from the Kontum Province and decreased the number of men in the 1st regiment of the PAVN. The PAVN, however, reached their goal because over half of all US combat troops were drawn north to the border areas by January 1968 and South Vietnam cities were left, as planned, vulnerable for attack.

General William Peers said:
"The Battle for Dak To was not a designated operation in itself, but occurred within the boundaries of the 4th Infantry Division's Operation Macarthur.Nevertheless, the size of the two opposing forces, the length and violence of the engagement and the overall significance of the battle have made the events that occurred in the vicinity of DAK TO from 2 October to 1 December the most important that have occurred in the Central Highlands since the 1954 Geneva Convention..."

This is a map of Vietnam that shows the provinces surrounding Dak To and where the battle would be fought.

This is a map of the Battle of Dak To. It shows all of the hills in which the battle was fought on. The circle represents the area where the bulk of the fighting took place.

Remembrance of John Andrew Barnes III
John's Medal of Honor
        This is a photograph of John's Medal of Honor
John’s name is seen on the Vietnam Wall in Washington D.C. John also won one of the few Medal of Honors that were given out from the Vietnam War. He recieved the medal on November 4, 1969. It was given to his parents, my great granparents, and then it was passed on to my Grandma.

In May of 2009, I travelled to Washington D.C. with my school. When we visited the Vietnam Wall, I found John's name and traced it in my journal that I had been keeping. John's location on the Wall was 29-E 84.

This is a picture taken from a newspaper article in the Dedham Times written about the Barnes Memorial Field located in Dedham, Massachusetts.
There is a monument in Dedham at a field called the John Barnes Field honoring his sacrifice and duty to the town and country. There is also a street sign named after him in Dedham near the neighborhood where he lived most of his short life. In Boston, there is a government building that used to be called the Fargo Building which is now the John A. Barnes III Building. John is a well remembered hero who shall be honored and remembered for all of time. He loved his country, and his country is now returning the love by the monuments, buildings, and honors that have been made in the remembrance of him and his courageous actions.
My Grandma has told me about her brother since I was a little girl. She is very proud of the hero and that person that he was, and so am I. He sacrificed his own life for his country and his troop mates. I never knew much about what John did in the war or how he died until this project. It was very fun and interesting learning about what my great uncle experienced and what his role in the Vietnam War was.  I never had the chance to meet John, but learning about his past and what he did in the war made me feel closer to him, and I'm very grateful for that.  This past fall, there was a street sign in Dedham dedicated to him, and a service was held for the showing of the sign. My family and I attended the memorial service on and early Saturday morning. We watched my Grandma take down the cover of the sign while soldiers played the trumpet and shot their guns in the sky out of respect and honor for John.

This photo was taken by me at the ceremony which dedicated this street, in Dedham, to John.  Colwell Drive was the street where he lived during his high school career.


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