METTER - Overcast skies Monday reflected the solemnity of the ceremony to honor Metter's Oscar Barker, Jr.
Veterans, friends and family gathered for the long-awaited recognition Specialist Barker, who was killed in Vietnam on Nov. 16, 1965, and was posthumously awarded the Silver Star during the ceremony. The medal is the nation's third highest military honor.
Barker's sister-in-law and closest surviving relative, Emma Dean Ross was present to accept the award from Congressman John Barrow.
Barrow described Barker's gallantry in one of the first major battles between the American Army and the People's Army of Vietnam, where he fought at la Drang Valley as part of the 2nd Platoon, A Co., 2nd Battalion, 7th Cavalry Regiment.
Barker refused direction to go to a safer location, Barrow said, but instead allowed other soldiers to go to safety and dressed the wounds of many others.
"His gallantry displayed was keeping with the highest tradition of the U.S. Army," Barrow said.
arker specifically saved the life of Staff Sgt. John Eade, who came Monday from his home in Massachusetts to attend the ceremony. The battle later became the basis for the movie "We Were Soldiers," starring Mel Gibson.
In the May 24, 2008 online edition of the Mudville Gazette, editor Jules Crittenden recounted details of the battle.
In the article, Eade was quoted expressing the intensity of combat his platoon faced that day.
"For the first hour and a half, it was intense hand-to-hand," Eade said. "It was like a gang fight. It was small groups of us versus small groups of them. It got down to knives. It got down to choking people."
When Eade was wounded to the point of immobility, he urged Barker to move to safety.
"He told me I wasn't allowed to die," Eade said Monday, "and insisted on staying in position." Barker never left his side but faced his own death that day in 1965 after suffering a gunshot wound to the chest.
Eade was found the sole survivor of those who had remained in Second Platoon's position at LZ Albany, shot in the head, yet alive and conscious at the end of the battle, Crittenden said.
Eade carried the torch to see that Barker finally be recognized for his heroism, said Candler County Probate Judge Tony Thompson.
After Congress passed an act in the late 90s for this type of recognition to occur, Eade said he later became aware of the steps it would take to make the recognition a reality. Three hundred written pages of battle history and documents and seven years later, Eade said the paperwork finally passed through all the necessary hands.
Eade also gained the support of both Congressman Stephen Lynch of the 9th Congressional District of Massachusetts and Barrow of Georgia's 12th District in the completion of the project, he said.
While it took years to submit the paperwork and gain proper approval, "it all led up to this day," Eade said.
"It was an obligation to (Barker)," he said. "However, it is more than recognition for his heroism," Eade said, "but also for his friendship."
Eade initiated the process to bring the recognition, Barrow said, and he represents an entire nation of thanks.
Lt. Pat Kelly, one of Barker's platoon leaders from Atlanta, was also in attendance Monday, and led the group of veterans in a salute and placing of flowers on the memorial that bears Barker's name.
As he presented the Silver Star to Barker's sister-in-law, Barrow said: "Mrs. Ross represents two important categories of people. Those who died for this country and their families who were left behind."
Ross's sister Donnie married Barker before his deployment in 1965, and while she stayed in Candler County, Donnie Barker never remarried and passed away on Dec. 15, 2003. The two are buried together at St. Matthews Missionary Baptist Church.
Thompson, along with Metter's VFW Post Commander Lt. Col. Mark Cauley, and the Women's Auxiliary, helped organize and stage the ceremony. They were also joined by Metter High School's JROTC Honor Guard, Rev. Lee Hunter of St. Matthews Missionary Baptist Church, and Dorie P. Johnson, for the opening and closing moments of the ceremony.