Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Second Oregon Returns from the Spanish American War

Veterans Day didn't exist in 1899 when the Oregon Volunteers came home from the Spanish-American War.

Here's Charles A. Murphy. (Image from the Oregon State Library.) He was born in Salem, survived the war, was warden of the Penitentiary during World War I, and died in 1945. He is buried in the Pioneer Cemetery. When he died, one of his nephews was a POW held by the Japanese.

The Second Oregon was the first regiment to return to the US, in July of 1899. From San Francisco on August 9th they took the train north. Here are two images of their return to Salem, on August 10th. The images must be taken from what is now the Tokyo International University. They are of course from before the 1918 Beaux Arts depot, and may show the old wood freight depot.

(Second Oregon, returning from Spanish American War, August 10th, 1899.
Salem Public Library Historic Photograph Collections

(Second Oregod, returning from Spanish American War, August 10th, 1899.
Salem Public Library Historic Photograph Collections

Here's the area around the depot in a 1905 birdseye map. You can see the field where the camera must have been located. Mill street doesn't go through. The woolen mill is to the left, and there are canneries where the Willamette soccer field is now. 14th Street no longer aligns with the railroad, but has been realigned to meet what is here 15th. Yew Park School is at Mission and 14th - and Mission Street has been very much changed.

The returning veterans even had a song, "Hail to the Second Oregon."

Salem basically shut down for the train.
It Proves to be a Pleasant and Patriotic Occasion
Crowds Are Large, Good Natured, and Joyous Over the Second Oregon's Return

Showers laid the dust. The clouds cooled off the day. The sun burst out at last. Old nature made the greeting perfect.

All day people rolled and rode in to the city from all directions. Early the streets and walks were crowded. Thousands of bicycles were on the streets. It was indeed a public holiday. Carriages fluttered with flags and many business places were decorated. At 10:30 the Salem Military band, heading a procession of the Grand Army marched up State street to the depot, playing military airs and the column took a position east of the track.

THE FIRST SECTION pulled into the station at 10:40 and immediately the gun-powder began to boom. The Southern Pacific train gave the double toot and all the whistles and bells in town began to blow. There were eight coaches and out of each window stuck a flag. The depot grounds from the water tank to the bridge was a solid mass of rejoicing people. The train had not stopped when the boys in brown uniforms began to pile out and greet friends.

At 11 a.m. the Salem National Guard company with roses stuck in their muskets countermarched past the first section and joined the Salem Grand Army escort that headed by the Salem military band formed the special escort of honor for the occasion.

At 11:30 the guard of honor of Union veterans led off with their corps flag, the Relief Corps banner of silk and the tattered battle flag of the Second Oregon at the front, followed by the first battalion of the regiment.

The second seciton pulled in at 11:20 and was soon followed by the third, containing the Salem company when the cheering was renewed with further explosions of bombs and fire works. This was the climax of the whole occaions.

The Second Oregon are a fine appearing body of men physically, but few showing the effects of their hard campaign. Their only careworn look was occasioned by the loss of sleep and continual feasting since landing in Oregon.

[The story continues with the usual kisses between soldiers and sweethearts, with swooning "Salem belles," and with politicians and pageantry.]
For a different take on return, here's Captain Timothy Kudo, writing as part of an ongoing series in the New York Times, Home Fires, which features "the writing of men and women who have returned from wartime service in the United States military."
Only the dead have seen the end of war. This is a maxim that has been used to illuminate humanity’s propensity for war, but it is also an accurate reflection of many veterans’ experiences. The war not only came back with us, it was here the entire time, experienced by orphans and widows. It was experienced by the widows from my unit who were unable to cook a single meal for their kids since their husband’s death. During a memorial a few weeks after our return, families of the dead collapsed grief-stricken in front of their loved ones’ pictures as a thousand Marines solemnly bore witness. When an officer went to the house to check on one family, the littlest one told him matter-of-factly, “My daddy is dead.”
After coming home, our commanders told us we earned glory for our unit, but I know it’s more complicated than that. War has little to do with glory and everything to do with hard work and survival. It’s about keeping your goodness amid the evil. But no matter what happens, you never work hard enough, people die and evil touches everyone. Our lives will go on but the war will never go away. That’s why it’s not simply good to be back. I thought my war was over, but it followed me. It followed all of us. We returned only to find that it was waiting here the entire time and will always be with us.
Here are the Official Records of the Second Oregon and an oral history from 1939. For more, see the PBS Series "Crucible of Empire," Wikipedia on the Spanish-American War and the Philippine-American War, and the Library of Congress on the Spanish-American War. The headlines from the war in the Philippine Islands (going to 1902) sometimes seem an awful lot like the headlines from the past decade.

1 comment:

  1. Over at Poetry and Popular Culture, the Good Professor has an excellent reading of the way the Canadian government used "In Flanders Fields" - you know,

    In Flanders fields the poppies blow
    Between the crosses, row on row,
    That mark our place; and in the sky
    The larks, still bravely singing, fly.
    Scarce heard amid the guns below.

    - to sell Victory Bonds.