Medal of Honor recipient Barnum speaks at Gettysburg school
The Evening Sun, Hanover, Pa.
GETTYSBURG, Pa. — Ever since Barney Barnum was in high school, he knew that he wanted to be a Marine.
"It was career day and all the senior boys were in the auditorium," Barnum said to a room full of eighth-graders at Gettysburg Area Middle School.
Barnum remembers recruiters from the Army, Navy and Air Force all coming onto the stage at his school and speaking, only to be met by heckles and noise from the student body.
"But then this big Marine gunnery sergeant got up and he said, 'there is nobody in this audience that I would want in my Marine Corps', and he walked out of the room," Barnum said. "I thought, that's the kind of guy I want to be, and I went out after him."
After 30 years with the Marine Corps, Barnum is now a Medal of Honor recipient and an inspirational speaker, traveling to classrooms across the country as part of the Medal of Honor Curriculum Development Project.
On Wednesday he was at Gettysburg Area Middle School, speaking in front of a classroom of eighth-grade students about patriotism and citizenship.
"This is not just about you," Barnum said. "The greatest thing is what you can be for fellow students, for fellow man. It's all about the person on your left and on your right, fellow citizens."
With his talk, Barnum kicked off a series of character development lessons that will be taught in eighth-grade civics classes throughout the year. Having attended training in the Medal of Honor curriculum, teachers Carol Kessel and Alisha Sanders will now be integrating personal stories from medal recipients into their lesson plans.
"This lets us say to the kids, let me show you what real citizenship is like," Kessel said. "It puts a face to what is really important."
Barnum's visit to the school on Wednesday was a model of how many of these lessons will be taught, albeit with a live speaker. Future lessons will be led by the teachers with videos and books from the Medal of Honor Foundation. Teachers will share stories from Medal of Honor recipients and use them to teach students about teamwork, integrity, and citizenship.
Barnum began his talk by describing his experiences in Vietnam and the events that led to him receiving the Medal of Honor, putting them in terms that would make it easier for the students to understand.
"That day in Vietnam, it was like I was a member of a football team," Barnum said, describing the day that earned him the medal. "And our quarterback was killed, so I had to step in and go from being the lineman to the quarterback."
He explained that as his unit was bombarded with enemy fire, the company commander was killed, leaving Barnum to step in and rally his men to hold their ground.
"And in football, who usually gets all the credit? The quarterback," Barnum said. "So I was the quarterback and got all the credit, but it was teamwork that got us through the battle."
Barnum then encouraged the students to engage in leadership roles in their own school and community, crediting his experiences in Boy Scouts and student council with preparing him for that day.
"You need a strong foundation," Barnum said. "Now you are putting up the walls of life, so that you can eventually start putting a roof on those walls."
Barnum also lauded the school for providing civics classes at all, a subject that he said is often left out of school curriculums.
"It is important to learn about government, to learn what citizenship is all about," Barnum said.
It was a message that was not lost on Jacob Marthers, a member of Gettysburg High School's ROTC program who came to the middle school just to hear Barnum speak.
"It's just too cool," Marthers said. "It is better than meeting any celebrity."