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Segment of 101 to Honor Army Division

Signs will be erected designating the 44-mile stretch through Ventura County as the 'Screaming Eagles Highway.'

August 13, 2003|Gregory W. Griggs | Times Staff Writer

A retired dentist in Thousand Oaks has persuaded the California Legislature to rename a 44-mile stretch of U.S. 101 to honor the Army unit that shares a common number.

After fund-raising is completed, signs will be erected to designate the Ventura County segment of U.S. 101 as "Screaming Eagles Highway," a tribute to the Army's 101st Airborne Division, which distinguished itself during World War II and the Persian Gulf War and is deployed in Iraq.

Dental consultant Mike Mitrosky, who served as a field artillery officer with the 101st in Vietnam, said the idea came to him shortly after he moved to the Conejo Valley from New Jersey nearly six years ago. Seeing U.S. 101 daily made him think it was fitting to consider the designation.

"It's something I felt that I should do," Mitrosky said. "Especially since so many of the division members have given their lives so that we can live in peace."

He thought the effort could be similar to one on California 23, where signs are posted designating the stretch through Thousand Oaks as "Military Intelligence Service Memorial Highway" on behalf of thousands of Japanese American translators and intelligence experts who served in World War II.

"The dedication is going to be to the fallen members of the 101st Airborne -- to those who died both in combat and peacetime who have worn the patch," Mitrosky said, referring to the division's emblem of a screeching white eagle's head on a black background.

In the film "Saving Private Ryan," the title character is a member of the 101st Airborne who is rescued from behind enemy lines by a group of soldiers. The real air assault division, headquartered at Ft. Campbell, Ky., includes about 16,000 soldiers and 270 helicopters.

Mitrosky got his campaign going after hearing Assemblyman Tony Strickland (R-Moorpark) speak at a gathering of retired military officers earlier this year.

Strickland, who was born on an Army base to a father in the 82nd Airborne, said it didn't take much convincing for him to back the measure, which was approved early last month and sent to the secretary of state and California Department of Transportation for processing.

"I have a special fondness for those who wear our country's uniforms and put their lives on the line to defend our freedoms," Strickland said. "This is a great idea that costs taxpayers no money and honors the Screaming Eagles."

Mitrosky, 64, is president of the Southern California chapter of the national 101st Airborne Division Assn. His group will raise the money to install the memorial signs along the freeway.

According to Caltrans, there will be at least two signs -- one on westbound 101 just inside the county line in the Thousand Oaks area, and another on the eastbound side near Santa Barbara County. They will cost about $8,000 for the pair, including installation.

The national association is holding its 58th annual reunion in Reno this week, and Strickland plans to be there so he can join Mitrosky in announcing the freeway project to the hundreds of veterans and their families expected to attend.

Mitrosky, who intends to retire in January as a consultant to an insurance company, said he planned to approach other legislators whose districts are intersected by U.S. 101 about authorizing similar designations in honor of the 101st Airborne.

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