WEST LIBERTY — It is an iconic moment in U.S. Marine Corps lore, and it's now memorialized in bronze on the lawn of Morgan County's Old Courthouse in West Liberty.
The moment came during the Korean War when a wounded Marine captain, William Barber of Morgan County, told the men of Fox Company they would hold a frozen hill overlooking a vital road.
During a six-night battle in November and December 1950, at temperatures of minus 30, Barber's company of a little more than 240 Marines held off more than 1,400 Chinese soldiers at Toktong Pass. If the road had not been kept open, 8,000 Marines to the north would have been surrounded and cut off by tens of thousands of Chinese soldiers at the Battle of Chosin Reservoir.
After the battle, only 80 of Barber's men were able to leave under their own power.
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Barber's fight to keep the escape route open became its own legend called the Battle of Toktong Pass and the Battle of Fox Hill.
"There's no doubt I wouldn't be alive today, that's common knowledge," Chosin Reservoir veteran Johnny Johnson said of Barber's decision to hold the hill.
Johnson, of Madison County, said his position that winter was just above the Yalu River that separates China from North Korea.
"We could see the river, but we didn't know we were surrounded. They had us in a horseshoe," Johnson said.
On Saturday, Johnson unveiled the statue of Barber, titled We Will Hold, with fellow Chosin Reservoir veterans Jack Ditmer, also of Madison County, and Joe Head and Tom Varley, both of Louisville.
The statue represents the moment Barber had to tell his men they weren't leaving. With a bullet lodged in his pelvis, Barber is leaning on a branch for a crutch and raising a rifle above his head. Morehead sculptor and former Marine Stephen Tirone, who was commissioned to cast the 650-pound statue, said that for him that was the most important moment.
"That particular moment seemed to be, without a doubt, the moment that had to be captured in bronze," Tirone said. "The moment when he has to tell his men ... 'We will hold. And we're going to pay for it.'"
Jean Barber Sheets, 88, the only one of Barber's nine brothers and sisters still living, made her annual trip from Florida to be present for the unveiling.
"Its awesome. It's beyond anything I can even think, that the county would do this," Sheets said. "But, Bill was a selfless person. He gave everybody else credit for what happened and what he did."
Sheets also said the family didn't realize the importance of what her brother did until they all gathered at the White House to watch President Harry S. Truman pin the Medal of Honor on Barber.
"It had been in the back of my mind for years," Morgan County author and historian Lynn Nickell said of the idea to place a statue of Barber in West Liberty. He and Veterans of Foreign Wars adjutant Norvin 'Shorty' Terry raised nearly $25,000 from local and state organizations.
Barber was raised on a large farm in Dehart, a Morgan County hamlet about 7 miles from West Liberty. He graduated from Morgan County High School and then attended Morehead State Teachers College for two years before joining the Marine Corps in 1940.
In World War II, he was awarded the Silver Star Medal and two Purple Hearts for his actions rescuing two Marines trapped in enemy territory during the battle for Iwo Jima. Volcanic ash granules from Iwo Jima are sprinkled onto the concrete pedestal under Barber's statue in West Liberty.
Barber later served in Vietnam, his third war, before he retired from the military in May 1970. He died in April 2002 at age 82 in Irvine, Calif.
Jean Sheets spoke briefly at Saturday's ceremony and said her bother would be humbled.
"One thing, though. He was my big brother. He was my hero long before he was anyone else's," she said.