Carl Barry McGee epitomizes the good and the bad that West Pointers experienced in the Viet Nam era. Barry was a tough kid who grew up in a family of modest means in Detroit. He was a fighter—in more ways than one—and was a Detroit Golden Gloves Champion at just over 100 pounds.
Barry also was smart. Not just "street" smart, which he certainly was, but a bright and capable student. By chance, more than anything, he joined his high school ROTC unit and excelled. His accomplishments as a student officer, along with his academic and athletic abilities, prompted several of his teachers to contact local Detroit Congresswoman Martha Griffiths about a possible appointment to West Point. The Congresswoman was impressed with Barry and urged him to apply. A whole new world, with seemingly endless potential, opened up for Barry.
At the Academy, Barry continued to grow and succeed. He was a good student and a solid athlete, earning honors in Corps boxing. He also showed excellent leadership potential. His cadet record reveals a future leader, with more than a little rebelliousness, and the infantryman’s concern for his troops.
As a Firstie, he lost two weeks of privileges for letting his plebes fall out one time too many in one week when the plebes at his table had scored intramural wrestling victories for the team he coached. He also was there for the "Great New Cadet Guidon Caper" of yearling Camp Buckner, when, in the middle of the night, he led a small group of classmates out of Buckner, through the woods, and into the New Cadet summer encampment at Lake Frederick. There, Barry and his comrades sneaked past upperclassmen and bluffed their way past plebe guards to snatch the guidons of the new cadet companies, which were then proudly displayed at "Reveille" at Buckner the next day.
Barry’s toughness made him superior Infantry material, and it was in the Infantry he chose to serve after graduation. But under the tough exterior was a warm and caring person few got to know. Barry cared about people; he was a good and loyal friend. Of course, he liked to party. Barry’s company commander on the First Class trip in June 1968 recalled that Barry did not let little things like curfew get in the way of appropriate farewells to his blind dates at each stop. Sometimes he seemed to be living on the edge, but that was how many of us dealt with the reality that we would soon find ourselves in Viet Nam, confronting whatever destiny awaited us.
Barry liked to think of himself as the next Paul Newman. "Cool Hand Luke" was his favorite movie. The parallels of Luke to Barry are striking. Both were loners—clever, good-hearted, tough guys who would not bow to the injustices and pressures of life—and both died much too young.
Barry graduated high enough in his class to have his pick of branches. He chose the Infantry, earned his Airborne wings and Ranger tab, volunteered for Viet Nam, and went to war with the 23rd Infantry Division (Americal) on 2 Aug 1970. Wounded in the middle ofhis tour, he was offered a staff assignment to finish his Viet Nam service. He shunned this offer and pleaded to return to troop duty. During the latter part of his tour, he served as a recon platoon leader, working out of fire support base LZ Mary Ann west of Chu Lai. As might be expected, Barry was a soldier’s officer. He led his men well, and they truly respected and liked him. He was committed to his unit and what he had been assigned to do.
In early March of 1971, he decided to extend his service in Viet Nam for another year; but on 28 March, he was killed in hand-to-hand combat when the fire support base was overrun by North Vietnamese sappers.
His posthumous Silver Star award citation relates that his company was in its night defensive position at Mary Ann when it came under intense mortar fire and a full-scale North Vietnamese Army sapper attack. During the initial phase, Barry was seriously wounded when satchel charges and grenades hit the bunker he was in. Despite the pain of his multiple injuries, in defense of his troops, Barry left the bunker and attacked, in hand-to-hand combat, two North Vietnamese soldiers. He killed one of them, but as he turned to the other, a barrage of small arms fire mortally wounded him. His exploits became legend in his unit.
Barry is buried in a large cemetery in Detroit, in a grave marked with a flat V.A. stone. It tells the visitor nothing about the strength, character, courage, humor, and spirit of this wonderful young man. We will tell our children and grandchildren about Barry—the good times and the bad. He will live on in our hearts.
Fondly, his classmates
- Mr. Barry C. Blay
- MAJ Daniel A. Buechner IV, USA, Retired
- COL (R) Robert R. Harper Jr. '69
- Mr. and Mrs. Robert T. Lynch '69
- Mr. and Mrs. Eugene T. Murphy '69