Author’s note: I shared this story about Barry McGee with my A-2 mates at a recent reunion. Several advocated that I should share this anecdote with the Class.
Most of our class know of the heralding accounts of Barry’s last moments at Firebase Mary Ann. Our classmate Tom Hayes later recounted to me that he, being a member of a sister company in Barry’s battalion, entered Firebase Mary Ann the morning after. Blood and mayhem everywhere. A survivor approached him: “Hey, aren’t you a West Pointer? Wasn’t Lt. McGee your classmate?”
“Well, your Class should be proud. Barry was the one bright spot in this grim debacle. It would have been a lot worse had it not been for Lt. McGee.”
Yet very few know my account of his unsettling premonition of the fate that awaited him in The Republic of Vietnam.
Barry and I were roommates first semester plebe year, along with Ron Wasilewski.
Most know Barry hailed from Detroit, street tough and smart. Golden Gloves boxer. Think of a Rocky Balboa from Detroit—smarter but with the same big heart. He eagerly shared his boxing prowess with me, and it was during one of his ‘lessons’ that he broke my nose. But I digress.
It was halfway through the semester through the toil of plebe math. Our desks abutted face to face. On this now fateful evening, Barry looked up from the calculus text, looked directly at me, clearly wanting to tell me something and then aloud stated, out of the cold clear blue: “I am going to die in Vietnam as an infantryman.” ‘What?’ I responded. He repeated, “I am going to die in Vietnam as an infantryman.” Of course, I had no response to that other than— ‘get outta here…’ Or something to that effect. And trying to change the mood perhaps, “hey I can’t do number 6—did you figure that one out?”
We never discussed it again, and I have no insight as to how he received that premonition. Later Barry joined the cadre to create D-2 and we interacted less. It was not until I heard of his death in March of ’71 that I recalled his statement to me that distant evening. The moment still haunts me. I regret that I did not realize then in 1965 that I was honored to share space and time with an American hero. I would have treasured our time more.
In our Class yearbook we admonished each other to ‘march to the sound of the guns’, which many of our Class obeyed many times over. Barry heard the drumbeat and responded early. Even knowing his ominous foreboding, he ‘marched’ nonetheless. Did he ‘march’ in response to Duty, ‘choosing the harder right instead than the easier wrong’? Or did he ‘march’ to uphold Honor, ‘to live above the common level of life’? Or did he ‘march’ in response to the call of Country, ‘no substitute for victory’? I suspect, knowing Barry, it was all three.