There is a school in Alexandria and one in Arlington named for him, and the U. S. Marine Corps has honored him at Quantico. But until now, no biographer has written a comprehensive book about the life of Maj. Gen. Charles Barrett.
Thomas FitzPatrick, a retired FBI agent, has changed all of that with his book, "A Character That Inspired: Maj. Gen. Charles D. Barrett, U.S. Marine Corps, Amphibious Warfare Pioneer."
What did FitzPatrick see in this hometown hero that others had failed to memorialize?
“I am an alumnus of Alexandria’s Charles Barrett Elementary School, and in my maturing years, my home in Parkfairfax was right across from the school,” FitzPatrick said. “I never knew who the school was named for. I assumed it was named for an educator or a school superintendent. Late in my career with the FBI, I went to Quantico for a meeting that happened to be at Barrett Hall. Inside, there was a display that was dedicated to Maj. Gen. Charles Barrett of Alexandria. I wondered if that was the same man for whom my elementary school was named and decided that when I retired, I’d look into it.”
The article that he intended to write became a book. “As I researched Gen. Barrett’s life, I found that his family had contributed much and often to both the City of Alexandria and to our nation,” FitzPatrick said.
Gen. Barrett’s mother, Kate Waller Barrett, was well-known in Alexandria. The city’s Queen Street Library is named for her. Her eldest son, Robert South Barrett Jr., was a philanthropist, who contributed a great deal of money to the library’s construction. The building was dedicated in 1939. This eldest brother of Gen. Barrett’s also contributed significant amounts of money to the Alexandria Boys Club, to the city’s public health center, to scholarships for disadvantaged children and to the construction of the George Washington Masonic Temple.
GEN. BARRETT was the fifth of six children. The youngest child, Kitty, donated funds to the City of Fairfax to restore the Radcliffe-Allisson House, which is now a museum. The family home at 408 Duke St. is a national historic landmark. Gen. Barrett and his wife, Emily, also an Alexandrian, lived at 213 Pitt St. for many years.
Barrett died in 1943, and the controversy surrounding his death lingers. “When I started researching the book, I found that there were many questions about the details of Gen. Barrett’s death,” FitzPatrick said. “The Marine Corps was very sensitive about this because when he died in the Pacific in 1943, the war was in full swing. There was great concern at the time that we didn’t want the Japanese to find out that the top commander in the South Pacific had died and the circumstances surrounding his death. The Court of Inquiry that was called promptly ruled that his death was accidental, but those findings were classified until 1947. As a result, a lot of rumor surrounded the actual circumstances of his death, and that had never been cleared up in any substantive way. I set out to try and do that and have included the court report in my book.”
WAS IT AN accident? “I’ve laid it out using not only the court report but reports from a number of contemporary Marine sources at the time,” FitzPatrick said. “With any controversial issue, people come at it from different vantage points. I’d like the readers to draw their own conclusion.”
The book took 7 1/2 years to write. It includes 156 photographs, many of which were provided by the Barrett family. FitzPatrick also used Alexandria Gazette accounts of the period as part of his research. His wife, Arlene, was also a part of the writing of the book.
“I did the word processing and offered my opinions on various things,” she said. “It really was a fascinating experience, and I have learned a lot. We are thinking about doing a children’s version of this biography and have all of the information, so maybe that’s the next venture,” she said.
FitzPatrick donated two copies of his book to the Alexandria Biographies Section at the Kate Waller Barrett Library. The section contains 30 to 40 titles and includes biographies of such illustrious Alexandrians as John Alexander, Benjamin Hallowell, James Jackson and Charles Lee.
“This biography of Gen. Barrett is our most contemporary in the section,” said George K. Combs, the archivist and reference librarian at the Kate Waller Barrett Library. “We are very grateful to Mr. and Mrs. FitzPatrick for this donation.”
Like many first-time authors, FitzPatrick had a hard time finding a publisher. He published the book himself. There are a limited number of copies available, and they can be purchased for $34.95 plus tax, by calling FitzPatrick at 703-323-9775 or writing him at 5210 Pommeroy Drive, Fairfax, VA 22302.