A park for the ages

Col. Bill Barber Marine Corps Memorial Park is more than a place to play — it’s a living history lesson

by TOM BERG

Marine Col. Bill Barber received the nation’s highest honor, the Medal of Honor, in 1952. He was a longtime Irvine resident.

“We will hold, sir.”

Remember those words next time you visit Col. Bill Barber Marine Corps Memorial Park.

They were spoken by Col. Barber during one of the most famous battles of the Korean War. In keeping that promise, Barber saved 8,000 American lives.

How?

It started in November 1950, when Barber was ordered to lead his company of 220 Marines up the icy Toktong Pass in North Korea and prepare for battle. His mission was to hold the pass at all costs — to allow safe passage for American troops surrounded by an enemy force of 120,000.

“It was an epic battle,” Marine veteran Brian Iglesias said in 2009, while making a documentary about the Chosin Reservoir Campaign.

He compared Barber’s stand to Thermopylae, the mythic stand of 300 Spartans against the entire Persian army in 480 B.C., adding: “You almost can’t believe they did it.”

On the first night, Barber’s men dug in along a snowy hillside that later would be named for their company — Fox Hill. The fighting started at dark. For seven hours, an enemy force of 1,400 tried to take the pass. And failed.

On Day 2, Barber was shot in the leg and had to be carried by stretcher. Three times, the enemy broke through and was driven back.

And twice, Marine attempts to send in reinforcements were driven back.

Finally, Barber was ordered to withdraw. His reply was as short as it is now famous among Marines: “We will hold, sir.”

For five nights, Fox Company held the pass, enduring subzero temperatures, severe casualties and dwindling ammunition. When it was over, only 82 of its 220 men were able to walk out.

But they had saved the lives of 8,000 trapped Americans.

For his actions, Barber received the nation’s highest honor, the Medal of Honor, from President Harry Truman.

Barber, a longtime Irvine resident, died in 2002 — two years after the city named a park after him.

It remains one of the city’s most beautiful parks, with 42 acres of ballfields, tennis courts,

playgrounds, picnic shelters and a formal garden. It is a place filled with joy.

Next time you visit, you might want to pause and remember the man it is named after — Irvine’s most decorated veteran, Marine Col. Bill Barber.  


A park for the ages


In 2000, the city of Irvine opened a park named for its most decorated veteran.

Since then, the 42-acre Col. Bill Barber Marine Corps Memorial Park, next to City Hall, has been one of the city’s most popular parks.

The park’s namesake, Col. Barber, was a longtime Irvine resident and recipient of the nation’s highest honor, the Medal of Honor. He died in 2002, and was buried with full military honors at Arlington National Cemetery.