The story of one forgotten 'national hero' of World War I

By Pete Mecca
via the The Citizens newspaper (GA) web site 

Most Americans believe that Sergeant Alvin York of Pall Mall, Tenn., was the most decorated American soldier of The Great War, better known as WWI. Indeed, York was a national hero and a man of extraordinary courage; his feats in combat were certainly worthy of his various decorations, including the Medal of Honor. The 1941 film, “Sergeant York,” starring Gary Cooper, was the highest-grossing movie that year plus made Sergeant York a household name for the second time to new generations of Americans.

Charles Denver BargerPfc. Charles Denver BargerNonetheless, the most decorated American soldier of WWI was born into the notorious Staffelbach gang from Galena, Kan., in 1892. His mother ran a house of ill-repute out of her home, and several grown sons, all of whom were disreputable characters, were in and out of trouble for a variety of petty crimes. By the time the baby boy, Charles, turned five years old in 1897, his father and two older brothers were arrested for the murder of a disruptive and a bit too persistent gentleman caller who kept demanding his ‘special girl’ in the wee hours of the morning.

Unable to manage family concerns, the mother gave up Charles for adoption. He did not see her again until after WWI. Charles was eventually adopted by Sidney and Phoebe Barger of Scotts City, Missouri, took their last name, and worked as a farmhand.

Charles D. Barger enlisted in the United States Army on April 1, 1918. He earned the Expert Rifleman Badge during basic and was eventually assigned to Company L, 354th Infantry Regiment, 89th Division. Arriving in France in June of 1918, Barger gained a promotion to private first class and due to his marksmanship was selected as an automatic rifle gunner. He fought bravely during the St. Mihiel Offensive but really proved his mettle in the famous Meuse-Argonne Offensive. A week-long German bombardment of high-explosive shells and mustard gas sent numerous American doughboys into hospitals and/or required medical care. The gas fumes lingered for days on end. No one escaped the effects, yet Barger never reported for any type of medical treatment.

On Oct. 31, 1918, his regiment sent out numerous patrols in broad daylight (a questionable tactic) into no man’s land to reconnoiter the German positions. Two patrols were quickly pinned down by heavy rifle and machine gun fire, leaving two officers seriously wounded. Another soldier managed to crawl back to Allied lines to report that the officers were trapped in no man’s land. No man’s land meant exactly that, neither side controlled the area yet had guns and artillery zeroed in on the barren ground. Darkness gave limited concealment; daylight turned no man’s land into a killing field.

Nevertheless, Barger and Pfc Jesse Funk volunteered to run the 500 yards through no man’s land to rescue the two officers. They also discovered a wounded enlisted man about 50 yards from a German machine gun nest. The two intrepid doughboys made three trips into the killing field to rescue their three seriously wounded brothers. That they survived one trip is unbelievable but to survive three trips into no man’s land is nothing short of a miracle. In February, 1919, General John Pershing presented Barger and Funk with the Medal of Honor. In total, by the end of WWI, Charles D. Barger was awarded the Purple Heart 10 times for different wounds suffered during combat.

In an interview after the war, Jesse Funk said of Barger, “Then there was Charlie Barger. He came from down at Scotts City, Mo., and he’d never had much of a chance in life. He was an automatic Chauchat gunner; I was his carrier, and I used to write letters for him and got to know him pretty well. He was scared, too, just as badly scared as any of us, but he had the grit to put it all behind him, and what was more, he’d force it down so far that he could cheer up the other fellows. Believe me, he sure had grit, and I’m proud to have been the running mate of a man that had as much fight in him as he had.”

Read the entire article on the The Citizens web site.

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