Friday, May 27, 2016

A Salute to the War Heroes Encoutered Along Highway 83

During the week preceding Memorial Day 2016, I highlighted on the Fans of U.S. Route 83 page several young men who paid the ultimate sacrifice for the nation, and called a Highway 83 community their hometown.

I have compiled them here. Of course, there are so many others I have not listed, and we salute them as well.

Army Pvt. David B. Barkeley, Laredo, Texas

Barkeley, whose father was Mexican-American, was actually named David Cantu. He enlisted under his mother's maiden name so he could join a unit that would go into combat in World War I. For his bravery, he became one of three Texans to earn the Medal of Honor during The Great War. Later, when they discovered his origins, he was recognized as the first Mexican-American to earn the Medal of Honor.

His citation reads: “When information was desired as to the enemy's position on the opposite side of the Meuse River, Pvt. Barkeley, with another soldier, volunteered without hesitation and swam the river to reconnoiter the exact location. He succeeded in reaching the opposite bank, despite the evident determination of the enemy to prevent a crossing. Having obtained his information, he again entered the water for his return, but before his goal was reached, he was seized with cramps and drowned.”

Marine Corp Corporal Harlon Block, Weslaco, Texas

Marine Corps Corp. Harlon Block, the man planting the flag in the Iwo Jima Memorial sculpture. Block was a star football player at Weslaco High School in his hometown along Highway 83 in Weslaco, Texas. Block was mortally wounded by an enemy mortar round explosion while leading the squad during an attack toward Nishi Ridge about 11 days after the flag was raised. He was 20 years old. In January 1949, Block's remains were re-interred in Weslaco, Texas. In 1995, his body was moved to a burial place at the Marine Military Academy near the Iwo Jima monument in Harlingen, Texas.

Petty Officer 2nd Class Alfredo Salinas, San Ygnacio, Texas

In the town of San Ygnacio, Texas, along the banks of the Rio Grande, you will find in the town square this granite marker commemorating the life of Petty Officer 2nd Class Alfredo Salinas. Salinas was aboard the USS Indianapolis the day a Japanese submarine torpedoed it, sending 900 of the crew into the waters with few supplies or life rafts. They floated there for four days before being discovered. By that time, 600 more of the sailors had perished due to exposure, injuries or shark attacks. Salinas was among those who didn't make it and his remains were never found. He was 19 years old.

Navy Lt. Cmdr. John C. Waldron, Fort Pierre, South Dakota

When you travel 83 from Pierre to Fort Pierre over the Missouri you are on the
John C. Waldron Memorial Bridge. Named after Naval aviator Lt. Cmdr. John C. Waldron, a hero of the Battle of Midway. Waldron was the son of a Fort Pierre rancher and part Lakota. On June 4, 1942, Waldron’s squadron of  torpedo aircraft found the Japanese carrier group before dive bomber backup could arrive. Undaunted, he led an attack on the carriers but all 15 of the Hornets were shot down by Japanese Zeroes. Waldron and 29 of his 30 men perished. Nevertheless, his attack forced the Japanese carrier group to take up defensive positions against low altitude attacks. The Zeroes were refueling when the high-flying U.S. dive bombers arrived. They destroyed three Japanese carriers, a mortal blow to the Imperial Navy.  Waldron's unit received a citation for bravery and Waldron the Navy Cross.

Army Staff Sgt. Edwin Lloyd Magnuson, Stapleton, Nebraska
The next one is personal. It’s is my second cousin, Staff Sgt. Edwin Lloyd Magnuson, from my father’s hometown, Stapleton, Nebraska. Lloyd, as he preferred to be called, earned the silver star for gallantry in action during World
War II in the Italian campaign.

His citation reads: “On the 13th of October, 1943, while his company was engaging the enemy, Sergeant Magnuson observed that the left flank of his company was endangered by several of the enemy firing machine pistols from a ditch by the road.

“He worked his way toward them, taking advantage of all cover, until he had approached to within 20 yards of the enemy, he then opened fire with his sub-machine gun, killing three of the enemy and capturing the other four.”

About two months later, January 24, 1944, Lloyd was killed in action during the Battle of Anzio. The family doesn’t have any details of the circumstances surrounding his death. VFW Post #8258 in Stapleton is named in his honor. He is buried at the Fort McPherson National Cemetery east of North Platte.

Marine Corps First Lt. Jack Eitel, Scott City, Kansas

You will find these boots at the War Memorial in Scott City, Kansas, which is a
few blocks east of Hwy 83. 1st Lt. Jack Eitel went from S.C. to West Point, then Vietnam in the Marine Corps. He died during an enemy ambush on July 8, 1965.
I found this very moving piece written about him by one of his West Point classmates on the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Wall Fund website.

Brigadier General Ramon M. Ong (Ret) wrote: “I met Jack on my first day at West Point. We were assigned to the same squad during Beast Barracks. He was a quiet, country-boy type who had an inner toughness that just didn't quit. He helped me a lot during those first two months when the training was almost more than I could handle. I was an 18 year old foreigner from the Philippines, and the new diet, discipline and demands took a serious toll on my physical and mental performance. Jack was always there to help me, whether to carry part of my heavy backpack, or push me up a steep mountainside or simply to yell words of encouragement at me when I was at the edge of despair and ready to call it quits.

The rest of the 4 years, I observed Jack grow steadily into a great leader, poised, capable and ready to conquer any obstacle, yet also ready to help those who couldn't. We went our separate ways after graduation, he to the US Marines and I to the Philippine Army. We never saw each other again and I learned about his death only many, many years later. Too bad, he would have gone far, had he survived.

Goodbye, Jack, I shall never forget you. Thank you for being at my side when I needed a helping hand. Thank you for helping me become what I am today.”

Stew Magnuson is the author of The Last American Highway: A Journey Through Time Down U.S. Route 83: The Dakotas, and  The Last American Highway: Nebraska Kansas Oklahoma edition and The Last American Highway in Texas. All are available online or in museums, bookstores and gift shops on Hwy 83.

To join the Fans of U.S. Route 83 group on Facebook, CLICK HERE. And check out the U.S. Route 83 Travel page at  Contact Stew Magnuson at stewmag (a)


  1. A great article about some of the great people that served. Thank you.

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