US history, sadly, is replete with “forgotten wars.” American veterans of the War of 1812, the Mexican-American War, World War I, the Korean War, the Vietnam War, and the earlier and current Middle Eastern conflicts were and have been largely ignored to one degree or another after their service.
In fact, unless one was a participant in the American Revolution, Civil War or World War II, there’s a pretty good chance one’s service went unappreciated.
Among the “less-remembered” wars in US history is the Spanish-American War, which launched the nation on its path to being an imperial power.
The 1898 conflict, in which the US soundly whipped an outmoded Spanish foe in 10 weeks, left the Americans with control of Cuba, the Philippines, Puerto Rico and Guam, and precipitated the even lesser-known Philippine-American War, in which the US battled Filipino insurgents until 1902.
Over this past weekend, veterans of the Spanish-American War were honored in Columbia, SC, during the 78th National Convention of the Sons of Spanish-American War Veterans.
The three-day event attracted descendants of Spanish-American War veterans and other supporters of military veterans.
“The Spanish-American War is a time of reunification,” said Joe Long, curator of education at Columbia’s Confederate Relic Room and Military Museum. “And it is also a time that is horribly neglected today. If these traditions and values (of service) are going to be passed down, they are going to have to be done by us.”
Sunday’s guests included J. Wesley McBryant of Indiana, whose father served in the Spanish-American War, according to The State newspaper.
McBryant, who traveled to South Carolina with his two sons for the weekend convention, said it’s important that today’s generation not forget the services of those who fought for their freedoms, the publication added.
The Spanish-American War grew out a conflict in 1898 between Spain and the United States following the Cuban War of Independence (1895-98).
The Cuban fight for liberation had captured the American imagination for years, and newspapers, particularly those run by Joseph Pulitzer and William Randolph Hearst, looked to boost circulation by pushing for US intervention and intentionally sensationalizing stories of Spanish atrocities against the native Cuban population.
When the American battleship Maine exploded and sank in Havana harbor in February 1898 with the loss of nearly 260 US lives, many Americans were quick to target the Spanish as culprits, although to this day the cause of the blast has never been clearly determined.
President William McKinley, himself a Union veteran of the War Between the States, had wanted to avoid a war with Spain, but pressured by business and political forces he was pushed into the conflict.
The US rejected initial compromise efforts by Spain, and instead demanded the latter surrender control of Cuba. Spain, whose prestige had been on the wane for centuries, ultimately declared war.
The US defeated the Spanish in both the Caribbean and the Pacific and the two sides signed a treaty which gave the Americans temporary control of Cuba and indefinite colonial authority over Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippine islands.
While no more than a few thousand died in the Spanish-American War, mostly from disease, the ensuing Philippine-American War cost the American more than 6,000 dead, the Filipino insurgents as many as 20,000 lives, and it’s estimated that at least 200,000 Filipino civilians died.
Cuba gained independence in 1902; the Philippines would remain under American control until 1946 and Puerto Rico and Guam remain US territories to this day.
(Top: 1st United States Volunteer Cavalry ascending San Juan Hill against Spanish forces, July 1, 1898.)