Honor those who gave ‘the last full measure of devotion’ by working for peace
(Note: As we exit the pandemic, we celebrate “returning to normal.” That is as it should be, yet as we do, especially as we still do not have peace with North Korea, we should stop and consider the potential costs of returning to “normal.” Our “way of life” is made possible by sacrifices of people like my uncle. Memorial Day is a sobering commemoration. We honor the fallen by seriously considering our nation’s priorities — both here and abroad).
MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — It was May 1950, about five years since Morgantown, W.Va. native Lt. George M. Barrick Jr. had returned from World War II, recipient of two Bronze Stars and a Purple Heart for meritorious action and wounds received during the Battle of the Bulge. During those five years of peacetime, Lt. Barrick – a direct descendant of Morgantown founder Colonel Zackquill Morgan – had graduated from West Virginia University with a Bachelor of Arts, received his commission as an officer in the U.S. Army, had fallen in love and started a family.
On May 12 1950, a short paragraph in the social pages of The Morgantown Post noted a visit by Lt. Barrick. It read, “Lieut. and Mrs. George Barrick and their infant son George Barrick III, arrived last night from Ft. Benning, Ga., to visit in the home of Mr. and Mrs. Max Mathers and Mrs. Margaret Barrick on Park street. Lieut. Barrick has been assigned to Japan for 30 months duty and will leave for San Francisco, May 29. Mrs. Margaret Barrick and Mathers Barrick (his brother) motored to Fort Mead, Md. to meet the visitors.”
Though it spoke of a new deployment, it did so without alarm. As it turned out, this brief account of a family gathering is also an account of the last time the family was together, for in less than two months, Lt. Barrick was dead, killed in action in Korea.
The social announcement hinted at no such danger. Nearly five years since Japan’s unconditional surrender to Allied forces in August, 1945, the United States military continued to serve as an occupying force. So, the assignment seemed routine. That changed, however, on June 25 when North Korean forces crossed the 38th parallel in overwhelming force, quickly capturing the South Korean capital and driving the surprised and disorganized army further and further south. Soon afterward, the United Nations condemned the action and authorized the use of force to repel the invasion. Based on this resolution, President Harry Truman ordered U.S. troops into the war. Those troops closest – those overseeing the transition in Japan – were among the first to be airlifted into areas still under South Korean control, soon to be positioned in defensive positions among unfamiliar hills and valleys, with rifles and bazookas to hold off tanks.
Lt. Barrick was killed in action on the last day of the delaying action above near Choch’iwon (bottom right)
So, in just over two months, a much different story was being told in the local newspaper. The Morgantown Post of July 26, 1950 carried this headline: “Local Officer Reported Missing in Korea Action.” Beside his photo, the newspaper reported, “This area’s first casualty of the Korean War was reported here today with the receipt of word that 2nd Lieut. George M. Barrick Jr., 26, has been missing in action since July 12.” The article continued, “Lieut. Barrick, son of Mrs. Margaret Barrick, was serving with the 21st Infantry Regiment of the 24th Division, the first American unit to go into action against the North Koreans.”
It wasn’t until November, 1950 that his family learned for certain that he had been killed. It was even longer before he returned home. Indeed, it was more than a year since his last visit in May. Again, the local paper tells the story. In the June 20, 1951 edition of The Dominion-News, the headline read, “Body of Hero Brought Home: Barrick Rites Set for Saturday.” Again accompanied with a photo of Lt. Barrick in his uniform, the first full paragraph read simply, “The last full measure of devotion.”
The account continued, “Home yesterday from the faraway battlefield in Korea on which he died last July fighting under the country’s colors accompanied by a military escort, came the body of Lieutenant George Milton Barrick Jr., son of Mrs. Margaret Mathers Barrick and grandson of Mr. and Mrs. Max Mathers of this city.”
After detailing funeral arrangements, the story continues, “Lieutenant Barrick was one of the most popular young men to reside in this city. He was a direct descendent of Colonels Zackquill Morgan and John Evans, Revolutionary War heroes and pioneer settlers of what later became Morgantown and Monongalia County.” The account revealed, “He was killed while commanding an ammunition and pioneer weapons platoon of the Headquarters Company, Third Battalion, 21st Infantry Regiment, 24th Division.”
He was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery on June 25, 1951, one year to the day that the Korean War began. Those present at his funeral Mass prayed, “O Jesus our Savior….Grant peace and eternal rest to the souls of all who were engaged in this whirlwind of war and were swept unto death.” Now, 71 years since these events unfolded, with peace still quite tenuous on the Korean Peninsula and around the world, there is no greater time to pray and work for peace – so that accounts of pleasant family gatherings such as those from May 1950 are not nullified by battlefield dispatches just two months later. Such prayers and efforts make the sacrifice of Lt. Barrick – and every person who has given “the last full measure of devotion” – worthy of honor.