101 Freeway Stretch Honors 101st Airborne

Times Staff Writer

The Army's 101st Airborne Division, dubbed the Screaming Eagles, is already famous for its daring air assaults during World War II, Vietnam and most recently in Iraq.

But Dr. Mike Mitrosky, a retired dentist who served as an artillery officer with the 101st in Vietnam, thought there should be an everyday reminder for California residents of the bravery and sacrifices made by the division's soldiers.

So Mitrosky, 67, helped lead a successful two-year campaign to rename the stretch of the 101 Freeway through Ventura County "The Screaming Eagles Highway."

In a ceremony to mark the dedication, Mitrosky joined nearly 200 others Saturday at the unveiling of a 15-by-7-foot sign adjacent to the westbound lanes of the freeway near the Westlake Boulevard exit. Another sign has been posted next to the eastbound lanes of the freeway near the Ventura County-Santa Barbara County line.

"It was like a dream come true," Mitrosky said. "I've always wanted to memorialize the members of the division -- not only the ones who fought in combat, but also those who served in peacetime. It's for the former, present and future soldiers of the division."

He said he got the idea for the freeway memorial in 1999 shortly after relocating from New Jersey to a home about a mile from the freeway.

At the time, Mitrosky was the incoming president of the Southern California chapter of the national 101st Airborne Division Assn. The group raised the nearly $11,000 needed to install the freeway signs.

"Now we're setting our sights on Los Angeles County," Mitrosky said, adding that the association hopes soon to find a state lawmaker willing to introduce legislation to extend the memorial designation.

A Caltrans spokesman said this is the third such highway dedication this year in the district that includes Ventura and Los Angeles counties. A large stretch of Interstate 10 to the Arizona border will be designated next month as the "Pearl Harbor Memorial Freeway."

Members of the 101st wear a black shoulder patch emblazoned with a screeching white eagle's head on their uniforms.

"It's a special unit, the Screaming Eagles. They're the ones who went behind enemy lines at Normandy," said Tony Strickland, a former Republican assemblyman from Moorpark who persuaded state lawmakers in 2003 to rename the Ventura County stretch of the freeway.

"It's a fitting tribute to the 101st Airborne, both those who now serve and those who have served in the past. We need to remember the people who paid the ultimate sacrifice to protect our freedoms and liberties," he said.

Because the airborne division is redeploying to Iraq, no active duty officials were on hand for the dedication ceremony, division spokesman Lt. Col. Ed Loomis said earlier this week, just days before he returned to the Middle East.

Other than a road that leads to Ft. Campbell, Ky., called 101st Airborne Division Parkway, Loomis said the stretch of the 101 -- at 44 miles -- is probably the longest thoroughfare to share the division's name.

"One of the important things in the Army is our history, and our veterans represent our living history and our connection to it," Loomis said. "They help us understand that we're part of a larger identity; they're Screaming Eagles, too.

The air assault division, headquartered at Ft. Campbell, has about 19,000 soldiers.

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