DAVID BENNES BARKLEY (1899 ~ 1918). Medal of Honor recipient David B. Barkley was born in Laredo, Texas, on March 31, 1899, to Josef Barkley, who was stationed there with the U.S. Army, and Antonia Cantu, a Mexican American native of South Texas. The family moved to San Antonio in 1904 after the birth of Barkley's sister, Amelia. Josef Barkley abandoned his family, forcing his son to drop out of school at age 13 to work a series of odd jobs to support his mother and sister.
David Barkley enlisted in the Army at 17 and was sent to France during World War I. Throughout his service in the Army he kept his Hispanic heritage a secret for fear of being kept from serving on the front lines (at the time, segregation in the Army kept minority soldiers from serving in combat). Barkley instructed his mother in a letter not to use her maiden name in letters that would prevent his removal from combat.
On November 9, 1918, Barkley's unit, Company A of the 356th Infantry, surveyed the Meuse River in order to locate enemy positions. Volunteers were called for to swim across the river to explore German territory and return with information about the enemy. Barkley volunteered, along with another soldier, Private Harold Johnson, and crossed the river. Despite enemy fire while swimming the river, Barkley and the Johnson scouted the German side of the river and returned. However, before Barkley could reach the American side, he was seized with cramps and drowned.
Barkley's family believed that fear of being discovered as a Mexican American might have prompted him to volunteer for the dangerous mission. He was commended by General John Pershing and posthumously awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor, which was presented to his mother at her home in San Antonio in 1919. He also received the Croix de Guerre from France and the Croce Merito de Guerra from Italy for his actions.
In 1921, his body was returned to the United States and lay in state at the Alamo; Barkley was the second person to receive the honor. The same year, an elementary school in San Antonio was named in his honor.
In 1941, Camp Barkeley near Wichita Falls was named after him as well, though the spelling reflects an error in Army records. Barkley is buried in San Antonio National Cemetery. In 1989, he was recognized by the Army as its first Hispanic Medal of Honor recipient.
Bibliography: "Above and Beyond: The Medal of Honor in Texas. "Capitol Visitors Center, State Preservation Board of Texas; "Crowds Greet Bodies of San Antonio Boys Returned from France." San Antonio Light. April 5, 1921: page 8; "Crowds Honor Memory of David Barkeley, World War Soldier." San Antonio Light. April 6, 1921: page 7; Fuentes, Diana R. "Hispanic medal winner honored posthumously." San Antonio Express. September 17, 1989: page 2B; Handbook of Texas Online, Texas State Historical Association, University of Texas, http://www.tsha.utexas.edu/handbook/online/articles; Michaels, Jim. "Medal of Honor winner honored as Hispanic hero." San Antonio Light. September 17, 1989: page B1; Official U.S. Military Records, National Personnel Records Center, National Archives and Records Administration; Phelon, Craig. "The hero who hid his heritage." San Antonio Express: Sunday Magazine. May 21, 1989; "Requiem Mass Will Be Sung For Young Hero." San Antonio Express. April 5, 1921: page 4; "Texan who concealed his origin is 38th Hispanic Medal of Honor recipient." Austin American Stateman. January 4, 1992.