New Destroyer Named After Medal of Honor Veteran

During a surprise ambush in Vietnam, Harvey “Barney” Barnum, a Marine 1st Lt., found himself hurled into action when he, the newest member of a rifle company, became its highest-ranking officer following the deaths of his radio operator and commander. With composure, he rallied his troops, called in artillery support, and mounted a courageous counterattack, ensuring the safe evacuation of the wounded and leading a successful breakout to rejoin their battalion.

Today, Barnum, aged 83, a Medal of Honor recipient, witnessed his wife inaugurate a future U.S. Navy destroyer, christened Harvey C. Barnum Jr., with the traditional smash of a bottle of sparkling wine against its bow. Upon hearing that a warship would bear his name, he said he was at a loss for words, a rare occurrence for him, he cheerfully remarked.

The ceremony at Bath Iron Works, a navy shipbuilding company, was held in honor of Barnum, a war hero unexpectedly propelled into leadership during his first engagement. In attendance were dignitaries such as the Maine governor and senators, Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro, and Gen. Eric Smith, the acting Marine Corps commandant. They commended Barnum’s humility, generosity, and inspirational role among his fellow Marines.

Barnum vividly remembers the fierce combat of Dec. 18, 1965, during Operation Harvest Moon, when his unit was unexpectedly outnumbered and separated from the larger battalion. He led the counterattack with a .45-caliber handgun, rallying his troops with bravery. Barnum would later make history as the first Medal of Honor recipient from the Vietnam conflict to return for a second tour.

After nearly thirty years of service, Barnum retired from the Marine Corps as colonel. He served in key roles within the defense department, working in areas of drug enforcement policy and reserve affairs. Barnum now resides in Virginia, was born in Cheshire, Connecticut, and is an alumnus of Saint Anslem College in New Hampshire.

The ceremony was a special occasion for the Barnum family, with his wife, Martha Hill, serving as the ship’s sponsor, despite her mobility challenges following a stroke five years ago. Also present were their daughter and two granddaughters, among other family and friends.

The Arleigh Burke-class destroyer named in Barnum’s honor, displacing 9,500 tons, is designed to simultaneously engage submarines, aircraft, missiles, and other warships. The 510-foot guided-missile destroyer equipped for ballistic missile defense is in dry dock as preparations are underway for its delivery to the Navy.