Woodrow Barfield


Woodrow Barfield
Hollywood, FL
Parents, R. D. & Minnie Barfield
10/15/1940 – 2/27/1968
Roi-Namur D/1/24 651 Sergeant  
Saipan HQ/1/24 812 Sergeant  
Tinian HQ/1/24 812 Sergeant  
Iwo Jima 4th Amphibious Truck Co. 937 Sergeant  
Good Conduct Medal
Sergeant (WWII)
Sergeant Major (Retirement)

Woodrow Barfield was born in Gurley, Alabama in 1919. His family relocated to Hollywood, Florida at some point in the early 1930s; the head of the household, Randolph Barfield, found work as a city truck driver. Woodrow left school in 1935, and the following year began driving a truck of his own. Father and son supported their family in this manner until 1940, when Woodrow left home to join the Marine Corps.

Like thousands of young men before him, Barfield entered the Corps by way of boot camp at Parris Island. It took two months to transform the nineteen-year-old trucker into a Marine private; with the Eagle, Globe and Anchor on his collar and his sharpshooter’s badge on his chest, Barfield reported to the Marine Barracks at Quantico in December, 1940. Four months later, he was on duty with the Marine Detachment at Port of Spain, Trinidad – a post he would hold for more than a year.

Barfield was rated a PFC when Pearl Harbor was attacked; in early 1942 he was advanced in rank to corporal, and in the late summer received his third stripe as a sergeant. Though the upward mobility was a benefit, Trinidad was nowhere near the seat of war against the Germans or the Japanese, and as the legend of leatherneck prowess in the Pacific grew, many men in rear-echelon encampments began clamoring for transfers. Barfield may have been one of these, though his progress towards combat was slow – in October 1942 he joined the guards at the Naval Air Station in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and another five or six months would pass before he joined an outfit destined for the Pacific. Sergeant Barfield’s new assignment was to Company D, First Battalion, 24th Marines, a heavy weapons company in an infantry battalion; during training at Camp Joseph H. Pendleton in San Diego, he learned the role of heavy mortar section leader. In combat, Barfield would directly oversee the actions of two squads, each equipped with an 81mm mortar, on top of providing assistance to the section officer, Second Lieutenant Charles Bechtol.

The invasion of Namur, Barfield’s first exposure to enemy fire, was something of a letdown for the hard-chargers in the mortar section. The heavy weapons were difficult to transport and time-consuming to deploy, and as such did not land until several hours after the assault units. By the time the ammunition was unpacked, the tubes sighted in, and radio communication to headquarters established, it was too dark for Barfield’s men to fire safely. They were slightly mollified with a brief bombardment of enemy lines the following morning, but the battle was over within hours. Several months were spent training at Camp Maui, during which time Barfield’s Company D was disbanded and reassigned to battalion headquarters.

Sergeant Barfield had a very different experience in his regiment’s next engagement on Saipan, starting with the landing.

This operations order for the D-Day landing on Saipan names Barfield as leader of LCVP 4-5; his craft landed in the battalion's fourth wave.
This operations order for the D-Day landing on Saipan names Barfield as leader of LCVP 4-5; his craft landed in the battalion’s fourth wave.

Saipan, and the following campaign for Tinian, were the mortar section’s real baptism of fire. Not only were their services called upon daily, but they suffered their first casualties, earned their first decorations, and attracted the notice of their comrades for “liberating” a team of oxen to drag their equipment and ammunition.

Barfield’s leadership was also put to the test. PFC John Pope, a machine gunner with HQ Company was asked to give an honest assessment of the sergeants of his company on Saipan; one was being considered for a field commission. Pope related the story for Major George Webster:

I related one case where we were in a pretty bad situation and Lieutenant [Charles W.] Carbeau was dead. The way things were going it looked real bad for us. We might be overrun and slaughtered before help could get to us. I looked to [the senior sergeant] for instructions. He was crouched down against a tree stump with his knees tucked under his chin…. Tears were running down his cheeks…. We didn’t need that kind of crap. We needed leadership. A lesser-ranking sergeant named Barfield saw the situation and stepped up and started to shout orders in a voice none of us had ever heard from him before. Instantly every man responded and we were a bunch of fighting Marines. We turned the enemy back into a sugar cane field from which they had just emerged.

– John C. Pope, “Angel On My Shoulder.” 

Although Pope noted with satisfaction that the other cowardly sergeant did not get the commission, Barfield would not benefit from the story in the end. After serving in three campaigns, someone – perhaps Barfield himself – thought the sergeant needed a change of duty. Around the time of his 25th birthday, Barfield bade goodbye to his comrades in the mortar section, packed his sea bag, and transferred to the Fourth Marine Amphibian Truck Company. He would serve with them as an NCO during the battle of Iwo Jima, and through the end of the war.

Barfield returned to Florida after the war, but stayed in uniform. He served as a DI on Parris Island, taught advanced infantry courses at Quantico, went to Korea with the Fifth Marines, and by the time of his discharge in 1968 had attained the rank of sergeant major.

Woodrow Barfield passed away in 2003, leaving behind a wife, four children, eleven grandchildren, and eight great-grandchildren. He is buried in Eternal Hills Memorial Park, Oceanside, California. [1]


[1] Woodrow Barfield’s gravestone gives 1920 as his year of birth, however the US Social Security Death Index and the Department of Veteran’s Affairs claim 1919.

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