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Bill to honor Gladewater veteran

By by Sherry Koonce skoonce@news-journal.com
Nov. 12, 2012 at 11 p.m.


State Senator Kevin Eltife announced he will introduce a bill to honor a Gladewater veteran by renaming a 12-mile stretch of U.S. 80 in honor of U.S. Army Master Sgt. Travis E. Watkins, who was recognized posthumously for his bravery during the Korean War.

Eltife, R-Tyler, said he will sponsor a bill to rename U. S. 80 from U.S. 271 to the Big Sandy city limits "Travis E. Watkins Memorial Highway."

Cheryl Vanek, Eltife's chief of staff, said the bill was not ready to be pre-filed Monday on the first day legislators could pre-file bills, but should be ready to file by January when the the 83rd Legislative Session begins.

Rep. David Simpson, R-Longview, announced in a Twitter feed Monday afternoon that he had pre-filed a companion bill in the Texas House of Representatives.

"It's thanks to people like Sgt. Watkins and the brave men and women currently serving in our military that we have a country of freedom and liberty," Simpson wrote in a Facebook attachment. "This Veterans Day I pray that we may never forget what our fellow patriots have sacrificed."

Vanek said she did not expect any opposition to the bill.

"We've done bills like this before, and they are usually not controversial," Vanek said.

The idea originated from constituents, Vanek said.

"I think this is a wonderful idea to honor Master Sgt. Watkins. This is a good way to keep his memory alive," Leon Watson, 71, a veteran and Gladewater city councilman, said.

Watkins was honored posthumously in March during a Medal of Honor ceremony at Gladewater Memorial Cemetery, where he was buried at the request of his wife, Madie Sue Barnett, of Gladewater.

Watkins was killed on Sept. 3, 1950, while serving in Korea. He sacrificed his life A native of Arkansas, Watkins moved to East Texas with his family when he was young; attended school in Troup and enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1939. During World War II, Watkins fought at Guadalcanal where he earned the Bronze Star for bravery.

He returned to East Texas and married Barnett in 1948. In 1950, Watkins was master sergeant in Company H of the 9th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Infantry Division stationed near Yongsan, Korea.

Just days before his 30th birthday, Watkins and 30 soldiers from his unit were cut off during a major assault by North Korean troops. Watkins established a perimeter of defense, according to his medal of honor citation. The group moved from foxhole to foxhole with Watkins giving instruction and encouragement to his men. When the need for ammunition and gunfire became critical, Watkins shot two enemy soldiers about 50 years outside his perimeter of defense and took their weapons. In the process, the East Texas solider was shot by three men.

Though wounded, Watkins shot all three men, took their weapons, and returned to his troops, according to the citation.

During a subsequent assault, six enemy soldiers threw grenades into Watkins' perimeter. Watkins left his foxhole and killed those soldiers -- but in the process, he received a paralyzing wound.

When it was apparent help would not arrive, Watkins ordered his men to escape but remained behind because of the gravity of his wounds. Watkins died two days later.

"Naming a portion of U.S. Highway 80 for Master Sergeant Watkins is a fitting tribute for this brave soldier who called Gladewater home," Eltife wrote. "Through this action, we can honor his service in World War II and the extraordinary valor and sacrifice he exhibited during the Korean War."

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