David B. Barkley

This article is about the American soldier David B. Barkley. For the Australian rules footballer, see David Barkley (footballer). David Bennes Barkley, also known as David B. Barkeley Cantu (March 31, 1899 – November 9, 1918), was a United States Army private who posthumously received the Medal of Honor for his heroic actions during World War I in France. After successfully completing a scouting mission behind enemy lines, he drowned as he swam back across the Meuse River.




Barkley was born in Laredo in Webb County in south Texas, to Jose and the former Antonia Barkley. He grew up with his Mexican-American father. He enlisted in the Army when the United States entered what was then known as the Great War. He used his Anglo father’s name to avoid being segregated into a non-combat unit.[1]


As a part of Company A, 356th Infantry, 89th Division in France, he and Sergeant M. Waldo Hatler swam across the Meuse River near Pouilly-sur-Meuse to get behind German lines and gather information about troop strength and deployments. They were able to gather the needed information; however, returning across the river, Barkley was “seized with cramps and drowned”. (This is the exact wording from his citation, duplicated below.) Sergeant Hatler survived to bring the information back to their unit.


Barkley was awarded the Medal of Honor for his actions, one of three Texans to be awarded the Medal of Honor during World War I.[2] Additionally, France awarded him the Croix de Guerre, and Italy the Croce al Merito di Guerra.


Private Barkley lies in state at the Alamo, the second person to ever receive this honor. He was then buried at the San Antonio National Cemetery.[3]


Medal of Honor citation


Rank and organization: Private, U.S. Army, Company A, 356th §→→→→§ 89th Division. Place and date: Near Pouilly, France, November 9, 1918.

Entered service at: San Antonio, Tex.

Birth: Laredo, Tex.

G.O. No.: 20,

W.D., 1919.




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.


In memory


Barkley has received three notable posthumous recognitions. In 1921, an elementary school in San Antonio, Texas, was named in his honor. On January 10, 1941, the U.S. Army installation, Camp Barkeley, was named in his honor. A clerical error resulted in the discrepancy in spelling.[4] Finally, in 1989 when his Hispanic background was discovered, Barkley was recognized as the U.S. Army’s first Hispanic Medal of Honor recipient.[5][6]


David B. Barkley Plaza


A memorial honoring the forty-one Hispanic soldiers who have received the Congressional Medal of Honor was built in Laredo in 2002 and named for Barkley. The David B. Barkley Plaza has a bronze statue of David B. Barkley and an American flag measuring 100 ft by 50 ft and is 308 ft tall making it the tallest flagpole in the United States.[7][8] The memorial is located at 27°30′22″N 99°30′8″W / 27.50611°N 99.50222°W.[9]


The restored chapel at Laredo Community College is also named in Barkley’s honor. Memorial Day and Veterans Day services are held there each year.


Awards and decorations


David Bennes Barkley’s awards and decorations include the following:


  •  Medal of Honor
  •  Purple Heart with Oak Leaf Cluster.
  •  World War I Victory Medal
  •  French Croix de Guerre with Palm medals (2)
  • Croce al Merito di Guerra (War Merit Cross)-Italy