Harvey C. Barnum, Jr. ’62, H.D. ’04, U.S.M.C. (Ret.) traveled the world in his nearly 30-year career in the U.S. Marine Corps. He travels less frequently in retirement, but his name will journey to ports all over the globe—on the stern of a 9,000-ton ship. The USS Harvey C. Barnum Jr. (DDG 124) was named for the Saint Anselm College graduate as a tribute to his distinguished service and his heroic actions during the Vietnam War.

Harvey C. Barnum, Jr. ’62, H.D. ’04, U.S.M.C. (Ret.) in his home
Harvey C. Barnum, Jr. ’62, H.D.’04, U.S.M.C. (Ret.) in his home in Reston, Va., surrounded by the many medals and mementos from his nearly 30-year career in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Col. Barnum (“Barney”) learned in a surprise phone call from then Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus in 2016 that the Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer would bear his name.

“I was speechless,” he recalls. “It totally took me by surprise, especially when I thought of the great men who have had this honor.”

It may not have been as surprising to the people who knew him: his family, former classmates, and those who fought with him. The list of his medals and decorations includes the Medal of Honor, the Defense Superior Service Medal, The Legion of Merit, two Bronze Stars, the Purple Heart, and 18 more.

The ship bearing Barnum's name

Barnum began his military career in 1958 while a student at Saint Anselm. He participated in the Marine Corps’ Platoon Leader Class Program, and attended two six-week summer training sessions in Quantico, Va. Upon graduation, he was commissioned a Marine Reserve second lieutenant. After training, he was sent to Okinawa, Japan, where he augmented into the regular Marine Corps. He participated in Operation Steel Pike in Spain, the largest peacetime amphibious landing exercise in history, and was also stationed at Pearl Harbor.

Just two weeks after his arrival in Vietnam in 1965, the young lieutenant performed the actions that earned him the nation’s highest award for valor. When the company’s commander was mortally wounded during an enemy ambush, he took command, called in artillery, led counterattacks, and broke out of the ambush. He was credited with saving 130 lives. He received the Medal of Honor in 1967 during a ceremony at Marine Barracks, Washington, D.C., after which he volunteered for a second tour in Vietnam.

Barnum retired from the Marines in 1989. He continued to work with the military in various official capacities: principal director drug enforcement policy, deputy assistant secretary of the Navy for Reserve Affairs; and acting assistant secretary of the Navy (Manpower and Reserve Affairs). He also works with several nonprofit military services organizations, including Segs4Vets—and he visits his alma mater to talk with students about leadership.

The 2016 announcement of the naming of the warship was the beginning of a multistage process, and Barnum has been involved in every step. It was followed by a naming ceremony that, by his choice, took place at the parade ground at Marine Barracks in Washington, D.C., rather than the office of an admiral. The next step was the fabrication ceremony, where Barnum cut the first piece of steel for the warship.

The colonel’s wife of 31 years, Martha Hill, is the ship’s sponsor. In April 2021, the couple traveled to Maine from their home in Reston, Va., to be present at the laying of the keel of the future warship at Bath Iron Works. After Barnum and Hill struck the first welding arcs onto the steel, the shipyard’s master welder inscribed Barnum’s signature onto the keel plate. He recalls looking up at six stories of steel, alongside guests including Maine Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King, Rep. Chellie Pingree, Acting Secretary of the Navy Thomas Harker, Navy personnel, and BIW employees.

Harvey C. Barnum, Jr. ’62, H.D. ’04, U.S.M.C. (Ret.) waves to the crowd
Medal of Honor recipient, Harvey C. Barnum, Jr. ’62, H.D. ’04, U.S.M.C. (Ret.), waves to the crowd of 2,000 who gathered for the christening ceremony of The USS Harvey C. Barnum Jr. (DDG 124). | Photos by Jared Morneau

During construction—delayed somewhat due to Covid-19—Barnum and Hill checked in to see the progress and meet the workers. They returned to Maine on a sunny Saturday afternoon in July 2023 to attend the christening ceremony. More than 2,000 people looked on, including Maine’s governor and other dignitaries. Barnum’s guests numbered more than 400, including college roommates and a contingent from his hometown of Cheshire, Conn., where he led his high school freshman and senior classes as president, and played football and baseball. Hill broke a bottle of sparkling water against the bow of the vessel and Navy Secretary Carlos Del Toro praised Barnum’s humility and heroism. Abbot Mark Cooper, O.S.B., ’71, H.D. ’04 delivered the invocation, and the college also was represented by President Joseph A. Favazza, Ph.D., and James Flanagan, senior vice president and chief advancement officer.

“It was the most amazing event,” recalls the honoree. Several family members participated, and his granddaughter sang “God Bless America.”

Although one step closer to the day of its delivery to the U.S. Navy, sea trials will take place next summer, and the retired colonel looks forward to being onboard. The USS Harvey C. Barnum Jr. is expected to be commissioned in early 2025. When it leaves the shipyard and sails down the Kennebec River toward the open ocean, it will be ready to carry out its mission of protecting our nation, just as its namesake carried out his.