55 years after he saved lives, Marine Jedh Barker honored in Franklin

  • Marine Lance Corporal Jedh Colby Barker. U.S. Marine Corps

  • Rev. Father Roger E. Sargent stands at the new marker for Vietnam veteran Jedh Colby Barker, who was killed in action on Sept. 21, 1967. The marker is across the street from Franklin High and will be dedicated on Memorial Day. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 5/30/2022 1:52:09 PM

His act of courage — falling on a live grenade to save his brothers in combat — did not appear in a John Wayne movie or a Hemingway book.

This act of courage, sometimes used as the ultimate example of self-sacrifice in literature and theater, really occurred in this case. Lance Corporal Jedh Colby Barker, once a Franklin resident, made his decision to smother the explosive 55 years ago, during the Vietnam War.

The blast killed him, but Barker saved the few survivors left from the ambush aimed at Company F, 2nd Battalion, 4th Marine Regiment on Sept. 21, 1967. Barker received the Medal of Honor posthumously in 1969.

That’s the theme expected in Franklin on Memorial Day. Veterans who were there the day Barker died are coming. Active-duty Marines from Barker’s unit are coming. Siblings from out of state are coming. The Marine who lay wounded on the battlefield when a dying Barker crawled over to help him is coming.

And so is the medal itself — the military’s most prestigious decoration. One of Barker’s sisters, Susan Barker, plans to borrow the powerful symbol from the local Legion Hall in Park Ridge, N.J., where the Barker family also lived through the decades.

The hall’s name? The Cpl. Jedh C. Barker American Legion Post 153. For good reason.

“I started participating in Memorial Day celebrations in New Jersey,” Susan said by phone from the Garden State. “I started reading books and they described what they were walking into that day. I’ve been to the (Vietnam Memorial). Each time there, if I had to talk to someone about it, my heart would grow heavy and I would cry.”

Susan will speak at Monday’s tribute before returning the Medal of Honor to the Legion Hall in Park Ridge, where she lives. The family had roots in Franklin and Jersey, the two birthplaces for the six children.

Colby and Ruth Barker, Susan’s late parents, left Franklin in 1952 and returned from New Jersey in 1970, settling on Webster Lake following Colby’s retirement.

By then, the family’s service had become well documented. Jedh’s father named him using the acronym from the first names of the men he had served with during World War II.

John, Ezekial, Donald and Herbert.

Warren Barker, the oldest brother who died recently at the age of 80, served in the Korean War and World War II. He retired a Lieutenant Colonel from the U.S. Marines.

And Jedh gave his life to save others. Thorough research and first-hand accounts are needed before the Medal of Honor is handed out. That lent credibility to the story that emerged from Vietnam in 1967.

“During a reconnaissance operation, LCpl. Barker’s squad was suddenly hit by enemy sniper fire,” read the citation that honored Jedh. “The squad immediately deployed to a combat formation when it was again struck by small arms and automatic weapons fire, sustaining numerous casualties.”

Jedh, a gunner for his outfit, was wounded in the initial attack. Then he got hit again, this time in the right hand. This was no arbitrary wound, said the Rev. Roger Sargent of Franklin, a retired priest who was a member of the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam from 1965 to ‘67.

“He was a machine gunner,” Father Sargent said, “and I can tell you from experience in Vietnam that the enemy goes for two things: the machine gunner and the radio operator to stop communication. They shot his hand so he could not use his machine gun.”

Instead, Jedh used his heart. Already hit twice, he used his body to cover a grenade, thrown into the midst of Marines who were dead or dying. Gravely wounded, Jedh then crawled to an injured comrade to administer first aid.

“He gallantly gave his life for his country,” read the end of the citation.

Jedh was honored posthumously at the White House two years later, in 1969, greeted by Vice President Spiro Agnew. The medal and citation, displayed in New Jersey, will visit Franklin on Monday before returning. A monument will also be unveiled in Franklin to honor Jedh. Marines, former and current, will address the gathering.

Susan will as well.

“I cry whenever I speak on Memorial Day,” Susan said. “That will probably happen again on Monday.”

Ray Duckler bio photo

Ray Duckler, our intrepid columnist, focuses on the Suncook Valley. He floats from topic to topic, searching for the humor or sadness or humanity in each subject. A native New Yorker, he loves the Yankees and Giants. The Red Sox and Patriots? Not so much.

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