Nearly 45 years after he died in battle, Metter's Oscar Barker, Jr. will receive the nation's third highest military honor during a ceremony Monday afternoon.
Specialist Barker was killed in Vietnam on Nov. 16, 1965, but not before he helped save Sgt. John Eade in a battle that later became the basis for the movie "We Were Soldiers," starring Mel Gibson. Posthumously, Barker will be awarded the Silver Star.
The ceremony, put together by Metter's VFW/American Legion and Women's Auxiliary, will begin at 2 p.m. on the front lawn of the Candler County Courthouse. Metter High School's ROTC will provide an honor guard.
Metter's Veterans of Foreign Wars Post Commander Lt. Col. Mark Cauley and Candler County Probate Judge Tony Thompson helped organize the event to honor Barker for gallantry under fire in Vietnam.
Barker, who was part of the 2nd Platoon, A Co., 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment in Vietnam, will be honored with the Silver star, the third highest military decoration that can be awarded to a member of any branch of the U.S. Armed Forces for valor in the face of the enemy, Thompson said.
Sgt. Eade was the lone survivor of Barker's platoon and he spearheaded the effort to gain recognition for Barker, he said.
The first major battle between the U.S. Army and the People's Army of Vietnam was fought at la Drang Valley, Nov. 14-16, 1965. After the battle, Barker and Eade were the sole surviving soldiers of the platoon, said Thompson.
The battalion was sent in to reinforce troops on Nov. 16, 1965 in the battle. Details of the battle can be found in the May 24, 2008 online edition of the "Mudville Gazette," in an article by editor Jules Crittenden recounting the battle after a reunion for the la Drang Valley campaign survivors.
Eade was quoted recalling that his platoon was immediately pinned down with intense hand-to-hand combat.
After the fighting subsided, Barker and Eade realized they were the only ones left alive. Eade, wounded and unable to walk, urged Barker to move to safety. But Barker refused to leave his fellow soldier, and that is what has driven Eade since to see to it that Barker's long-overdue recognition with the Silver Star become real. Eade said he watched Barker suffer a slow death that November day after being shot in the chest.
Eade was found wounded in the head, but alive and conscious at the end of the battle. He was the sole survivor of those who had remained in Second Platoon's position at the battle, Crittenden wrote in his account.
Thompson said the battle was immortalized in the book "We Were Soldiers Once and Young" by Lt. Gen. Hal Moore, the commander of U.S. forces in the engagement, and Joe Galloway, a journalist present during the fighting. The book was later made into the movie "We Were Soldiers," with Mel Gibson.
Specialist Barker and wife Donnie B. Barker were married before his deployment in 1965. Donnie Barker remained in Candler County and never remarried. She passed away in 2003. The two are buried together at St. Matthews Missionary Baptist Church in Metter.
Traveling from his home in Massachusetts, Eade will be in attendance Monday, as will Congressman John Barrow.
"Our community takes special pride in its servicemen and women," Thompson said, "and I'm sure Metter and Candler County will want to take the opportunity to pay tribute to Specialist Oscar Barker and his family for his heroism and their shared sacrifice."
In the case of inclement weather, the event will be moved to the Veterans of Foreign Wars building on South Leroy Street toward Claxton.