Veterans recognized at inaugural Medal of Honor Bowl

  • Posted: Saturday, January 11, 2014 9:51 p.m., Updated: Saturday, January 11, 2014 9:52 p.m.
Medal of Honor recipient James Livingston receives the game ball Saturday from Kevin Presgraves, Golden Knights U.S. Army Parachute Team, before the start of the Medal of Honor Bowl at Johnson Hagood Stadium. Buy this photo

A jagged scar that weaves between patches of Burness Britt's brown hair hints at the horrors of his past.

Britt, 24, of Georgetown, was nearly killed in a wheat field in Afghanistan in 2011.

Then a 21 year old U.S. Marine corporal, Britt was charged with leading a group of fellow marines through that field.

He recalled his time at war on Saturday during the inaugural Medal of Honor Bowl at The Citadel's Johnson Hagood Stadium.

The mission had its risks.

Tales from soldiers who previously worked the area were enough to shake his core.

Alone with his thoughts one night beforehand, Britt called his father back home and cried.

"He was walking into a suicide mission," his father, Neil Britt said. "I didn't want him to go."

Once in the field, Britt knew something wasn't right. A group of farmers scattered from the area as the marines slowly moved through the golden stalks.

Then, an explosion.

An IED erupted in the distance, sending pieces of hot shrapnel into Britt's neck and lower extremities. Two others were also wounded.

Neil Britt later received a phone call alerting him to his son's condition: serious but stable.

The words offered little comfort. From a distance, there wasn't much Neil Britt could do to help.

"It was like my guts were ripped right out of me. I didn't know what to say or think," Neil Britt said. The father traveled overseas to greet his son and usher him home for further treatment.

Britt's prognosis was bleak. He suffered a stroke during his recovery.

"I asked the doctor to give it to me straight. He told me he was 90 percent sure my son wouldn't walk again, and he was 90 percent sure he would never talk again," Neil Britt said.

The doctors were wrong.

"I'm a walking miracle," Britt said, followed by a joke regarding the weight he's gained since Afghanistan.

A smile adorned Britt's face on Saturday as he walked into The Citadel's Johnson Hagood Stadium, proudly sporting a burnt orange Wounded Warrior T-shirt.

He and nearly 40 other veterans were honored as part of the inaugural Medal of Honor Bowl.

The Post and Courier, a sponsor of the game, sought nominations of military veterans or active-duty service personnel to be acknowledged for exceptional duty to country, family and community.

Britt's right arm hangs limply at his side, and speaking, at times, can be difficult for him.

The scars from war run deep for Britt. He said he suffers from survivor's guilt and often questions why his life was spared when so many others weren't as fortunate.

He said he was honored to make the sacrifice. Even in childhood, Britt felt the call to serve, he said.

On Saturday, Britt rebuffed any talk of him being a hero.

"The ones who died," Britt said. "They're the heroes."

Also recognized on Saturday was 74-year-old Medal of Honor recipient Barney Barnum of Virginia.

Barnum laughed and chatted with other recipients who were gathered near one of the stadium's end zones shortly before the game. His medal hung prominently from his neck.

Barnum was a colonel in the U.S. Marine Corps in 1968 when his company's commanding officer was killed in Vietnam. Barnum assumed control over the group, leading them through enemy fire to carry out their mission.

"I'm not a hero. I did what I was trained to do. I'm just someone who did the right thing at the right time for the right reasons," Barnum said.



Reach Christina Elmore at 937-5908 or at Twitter.com/celmorePC.

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