ON THIS DATE in 1918, eighteen-year-old U.S. soldier David Barkley lost his life in a daring World War I reconnaissance mission that brought him a posthumous Medal of Honor.
The Hispanic private (his mother was Mexican American) and another soldier volunteered to swim the icy Meuse River in France to get intelligence on German positions. Barkley cramped up on the return back and drowned.
After his death, Barkley was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor from the U.S., the Croix de Guerre from France, and the Croce Merito di Guerra from Italy.
It was not until 1989 that Barkley’s Hispanic heritage was discovered. He had kept his ethnicity a secret because the U.S. Army in World War I separated Hispanic Americans from Anglos, and he feared he would lose the opportunity to fight if his heritage were known.
Barkley was the first Hispanic in the “regular” U.S. Army to have been awarded the Medal of Honor, although Hispanic militia member Joseph H. De Castro received the Medal of Honor for his actions at Gettysburg in 1863.