Cover Photo: Army Gen. John Pershing pins the Medal of Honor to recipient Pfc. Charles Barger during a ceremony for several soldiers at Chaumont, France, on Feb. 7, 1919.
“His life reads like a movie.” Army reserve building renamed after local World War I hero
By Kathy Feist
On October 19, Building 2 at the Army Reserve Center at 15303 Andrews Rd was renamed the Pfc. Charles D. Barger Army Reserve Center in a memorialization ceremony. Barger was a highly decorated World War I war hero who had received a Medal of Honor
“His life reads like a movie,” said Col. Michael E. Beane. Beane came across Barger’s biography last year after attending the 100th Anniversary of the Armistice in France. Fascinated with his story, Beane was equally astounded to see Burger served in the 89th Division, the same division he commands in Kansas City. He had an idea: “Everywhere I go, buildings are named after heroes,” he said. He began the renaming process for the building, receiving permission from the military as well as Barger’s grandson Joe Barger (who passed in July).
Another relative at the ceremony was south Kansas City resident Chris Kraft, whose mother would have been a first cousin to Barger. Kraft helped with a book about Barger called Quietly Exploding: The Life of Medal of Honor Hero Charles Barger written by Joe Bowman (also a distant relative). “His life from beginning to end was full of drama,” she said.
Barger, a native of Mount Vernon, Mo., was born as Charles Staffelbach in 1892 to a family of serial killers, known as the Staffelbach gang from Galena, Ks. After his father was sentenced to life in prison in 1897, his mother gave her son up for adoption. He was adopted by Sidney and Phoebe Barger and used for farm labor until eventually orphaned. Uneducated, poverty-stricken and homeless in his early teens, Barger’s future looked bleak until he was drafted in the United States Army on April 1, 1918. After receiving Basic MIlitary Training at Camp Funston (Fort Riley), Ks, he was assigned to the 89th Division which absorbed most of the men from southeastern and eastern Missouri.
Barger went to France as a machine gun operator. It was during the Meuse-Argonne Offensive that he proved his mettle. Two patrols from Barger’s regiment became pinned down by heavy rifle and machine gun fire. Second Lieutenant John M. Millis was seriously wounded in the legs and ordered his men to leave without him. One man managed to crawl to safety and brought news that Millis and another wounded officer were trapped in no man’s land.
Barger and his ammunitions carrier Jesse N. Funk voluntarily ran 500 yards through heavy machine gun fire with a stretcher to rescue Millis, who insisted the other officer be rescued first. When they returned to no man’s land to rescue Millis, they discovered a wounded enlisted man about 50 yards from a machine gun nest, so they returned a third time to rescue him. For these actions, Barger and Funk were awarded the Medal of Honor in February 1919 in Trier, Germany.
Barger returned to farming after the war but struggled to make a living. In 1922 he became a police officer in Kansas City and was involved in a shoot out with bootleggers and suspected murderers. Despite being shot five times, Barger was able to get one suspect in custody, who later died from his injuries.
He retired from police work in 1934. Barger, who was gassed during the war, dealt with many mental issues after the war, which the veterans’ agencies at the time refused to recognize as war-related. Without the support, commonly found now for those suffering from PTSD, he died a traumatic death at the age of 44.
Charles D. Barger’s Medals
- Medal of Honor
- Purple Heart
- WWI Victory Medal
- Army of Occupation Medal, WWI
- Medaille Militaire, France
- Croix de Guerre with Bronze Palm, WWI, France (First Award)
- Croix de Guerre with Bronze Palm, WWI, France (Second Award)
- Croix de Guerre with Bronze Palm, WWI, France (Third Award)
- Croix de Guerre with Bronze Palm, WWI, France (Fourth Award)
- Silver medal for Bravery, Montenegro
- Croix de Guerre with Bronze Palm, WWI, Belgium
- Military Medal, Great Britain
- Croce Merito di Guerra, WWI Italy
- Ware with Germany Medal, WWI, Missouri
- Expert Rifleman Badge
- Medal of Honor (not pictured)