Monday, June 2, 2008

Reminiscences of an Army Surgeon in the Spanish-American War

Philippine Magazine
December 1931

IN those days Havana was a, picturesque old-world city of stately church and government buildings, and large. open spaces laid put in attractive plazas and boulevards, contrasting with narrow, winding, and cobbled streets, grilled windows, kiosks, and other reminders of old Spain. The suburbs had great natural beauty especially Vedado, on the sea, connected with the city by a drive along the water front, where Spain's official family formerly resided, then replaced by the American Governor-General who also commanded the army,of occupation, General Brooks, and staff. The entrance to the harbor offered an exceptionally fine view of the old Morro -castle standing on a promontory at one side, the city and bay front backed by hills, on the other. But Havana was practically untouched by real progress and was years behind in everything except natural and man-made beauty. It was almost as medieval as regards sanitation as was Manila's Intramuros at the time of the American occupation.


Being on duty with the city government brought me in contact with all classes of people. Sanitary and other i'eeded reforms were being initiated which the inhabitants were avoiding whenever possible. That was the one time in my government service iwhen I "ould have made real money for, sanitary improvements being expensive, pr6perty owners were only'too willing to pay for immunity, and one df- my duties was to check the recommendations of others. The people hpproached the subject of a quid pro quoi in tuch a direct and businesslike manner that it gave 'the impression of having been an accepted custom. One story current at the time was that a would-be contractor going to General Ludlow's office to see him in that connection, placed a pile of fifty dollar bills on the desk without comment; that the General made a. spill of the top bill, set it on fire with a match, and, when it was nearly burned, it a cigarette from the vanishing fifty dollars, also without comment; whereon the contractor, grabbing the rest of the pile, made a hurried exit.

While in Havana it was my privilege to serve under or with many officers who later became national and international figures: General Ludlow, a brilliant soldier and engineer, whose career was cut short by death upon returning to the United States after a very short tour of duty in the Philippines; General Gorgas who directed the wonderfully successful sanitary measures maintained during the building of the Panama Canal and who was Surgeon-General of the Army during the. world war; Major Furbush, his personal aide-de-camp during that time; General Scott, an old Indian fighter and a recognized authority on the American indian: and his sign language, later Chief of Staff of the Army; Past-Assistant Rosenau of the Marine Hospital Service, and others. But neither the life nor the duty '88 appealed to me. It was too civilized, and, from a distance of some 10,000 miles, the Philippines appeared so attractive that at my request the General kindly got me ordered to Manila. Havana had not returned to pre-war morality, or that under the former regime belied the name. The performances in one theater were so rotten that' an order was issued prohibiting actresses from appearing there. But bad as Havana was, San Francisco was worse. Both places attracted the worst of the underworld of several countries, but while San Francisco made them welcome, the military Government of Havana waged relentless war on all of the tribe.

Cuba was 'a delightful country to live in with its speakingeyed and beautiful women, unequalled tobacco, cheap and varied products of dairy, garden, and sea, luscious fruit, and tasty game. Here in the Philippines we have a much better climate both for health and for agriculture-one 6f the'best in the world, in fact-and we have beautiful women which by the way, have improved greatly in appearance since the beginning of the century, but the Philippines are, in many respects, still far behind the Cuba of 1898. Influenced by part of the local press and by some of the politicos and professors from the enlightened rural districts, many of us have acquired highly astigmatic and myopic conceptions of local values. Some are even under the impression that Manila is the Hub of the East, at least. We point with just pride t6 our new legislative 'and postoffice buildings and to other striking governmentalundertakings, but pay scant attention to the reported unsavory condition of our city government and police force; forget that. public graft seemingly increases with education and length of tenure of office; that we import far too much of our food even to vegetables, eggs, milk, and above all fish-a sufficient number of Japanese not yet being interested in the last-named industry to keep the market supplied; that the land donated by the government to the tao, after having its valuable timber burned by him or allowed to rot, is doing its. best to produce another crop of the same kind, and little else; that the poor man in distress-financial, on account of sickness or in a controversy with the ilustrado, stands the chance of the proverbial snow-ball. All this has no direct connection with the Spanish-American war but. is a sequence thereto. To one on the side-lines it looks as if little has been accomplished during the American occupation compared to what might have been, especially along the lines of agriculture, improvement in the condition and protection of the tao, and uplift of the public moral sense. When a man convicted of sedition is elected to public office there is something wrong somewhere. Polemics on economics and five-year programs bring us no farther than did the Bagong Katipunan. But were Messrs. Quezon and Osmefia to dedicate their leadership to overcoming the prerequisites to throwing off the "foreign yoke" with anything like the energy they have expended in chasing the elusive "Independencia", these Islands would soon be, in fact as well as in name, the "Pearls of the Orient" and so acclaimed by the whole world. Unfortunately for all concerned, when the United States fell heir to the Philippines, by conquest and by treaty, it had no men in public life with any experience in colonial administration or with an understanding of the psychology of the Orient. For this reason the Government of the Islands stepped off with the wrong foot and has been out of step ever since. After the first and disastrous exportation of gubernatorial talent, the office was filled by the appointment of politicians on the ground, later by men of sufficient private means to meet the ever-increasing demands on the pocket of the executive. Wealth, political expediency, and endorsement by the local politicians except in the case of General Wood, were necessary qualifications for appointment to this high office, but even had the local representative been a life-trained man for the job, it is extremely doubtful if Washington would have heeded his recommendations. In his ignorance, and measuring things out here with the yardstick used at home, Uncle Sam made a very generous and honest gesture upon which the politician has waxed fat at the expense of Juan de la Cruz. Is it hard to place the blame for the present retarded condition of the Islands? Personally, I am in favor of "immediate, absolute and unconditional independence" or of government by the United States until such time as is considered feasible to grant independence. Present conditions are neither conducive to the self-respect of Americans nor beneficial to the Filipinos. For many years the sine qua non to employment in the civil government of the Philippines was loyalty, honesty, and service. With few exceptions all were given spontaneously, by Americans and Filipinos alike, and those faltering were usually brought back to the fold by the example of men like Secretary Worcester and Colonel Harbord who were not obliged, like the rank and file, to rough it for bread and butter and could have lived a life of comparative ease instead of undergoing the hardships and discomforts of traversing jungles and mountains. It was the same spirit that later prompted Governor-General Wood to build his own monument-an outstanding administration of patient, self-sacrificing, and constructive service to the people he ruled-when the Philippines were on the rocks.

After a short leave I reached San Francisco and was allowed to amuse myself for a couple of months until every one with political pull had been given passage to Manila. Ordered to leave on each of half a dozen transports, the order was invariably revoked, once only a few minutes before the boat sailed, and I just got my baggage ashore in time. Finally, I was shipped in the capacity of chaperon to two army nurses, and the anxieties of the trip will be appreciated by anyone having undergone the tribulations of responsibility for attractive girls on a troopship. Despairing of being able to do justice to both charges, I concentrated on one and, after warding off the attacks of some forty would-be suitors, my anxiety relaxed and the voyage became a dream from which there was a rude awakening upon entering Manila Bay and learning that she was married and, worse still, that her husband was to meet her. I then wished myself back in Sodom or Gomorrah whichever San Francisco was. The transport arrived at Manila just before General Lawton was killed at San Mateo for, from my window at the Hotel Ingles, I remember seeing the funeral cortege pass through the Escolta. The General's death cast a gloom over the entire Army and especially on those who had served under him. He was looked up to as a fine soldier and gallant leader besides which, as a man, he was very popular.

Upon reporting to the Chief Surgeon of the Eighth Army Corps, I found myself slated to take charge of the hospital at Dagupan but, asking for service wit troops, I was assigned to a cavalry regiment then in barracks on the Bay front. Several weeks later we went into the field as part of the Schwan expedition which was to cover the provinces of Cavite, Batangas, Laguna, and Tayabas. As the cavalry-parts of the fourth regular and eleventh volunteer regiments generally operated independently and in advance of the other troops, I am unable to enumerate, with any degree of accuracy, the organizations taking part in the expedition, but I recall some engineers, a mountain battery, and the thirtieth, thirty-ninth, and:forty-sixth recently-organized volunteer infantry. On two occasions only do I remember that we were at the General's headquarters. For the cavalry it was a somewhat triumphal and rather hurried excursion conducted by the colonel-a most interesting experience and giving one a good idea of country and people. Heretofore, the cavalry had been serving as infantry, except for a troop mounted on native ponies, but horses coming in on a transport, they were issued a few days before the regiment took the field. Many of these mounts were green and none in condition for field service, especially in the tropics, and as a consequence many died within a few days. The afternoon the troops left the barracks there was a fine exhibition of rough-riding, one trooper being killed and several injured before leaving the parade ground. That night we camped at San Pedro Macati, the concentration point for the troops of General Schwan's command, and by some unfortunate misunderstanding or oversight the camp was without forage and rations, which did not arrive until sometime during the night.

From this camp the cavalry entered Cavite province by a trail connecting with the Imus-Silang road. Silang and Indang were taken, and in going into the first named town after dark, due to delay caused by damaged bridges over ravines, we lost our local guide. He was not exactly what one would call a volunteer but had been "persuaded" by the regular mestizo guide to give us the benefit of his knowledge of local trails. This man knew vhen, where, and what to expect from his compatriots, andjust before rounding a curve in the trail he dove head-fist into the brush and only a moment before the Insurtents opened fire. This guide even previous to that was tie worst "scared" individual I have ever seen-not of the Americans but of his big American mount. I do not thin? he will ever forget the few hours spent on the animal's bck, his hands gripping the saddle fore and aft, his toes he stirrup leathers near the saddle. He looked as if he would much prefer-to, be shot than to be where he was.

In one of these two towns there was an Insurgent hospital. The arrival of the cavalry had been unexpected or too sudden for the evacuation of the sick with anything like the promptness of the garrison, so the surgeon and his wife remained at the hospital. Someone locating quite a little money which the doctor claimed as personal and not belonging to the Republic, the colonel left its disposition to me. As it looked as if the medico would soon be out of a job or at least without a monthly pay check and that he would need this money for the rehabilitation of himself and family, it was turned over to him.

When near Naic, General Cailles' troops provided quite a little entertainment during which there were two amusing incidents. Our colonel and staff were advancing on the road, the cavalry and infantry being deployed in the rice fields on either side. Having to cinch up my saddle caused me to fall behind, so I made a short cut but, on account of some trees cutting off the view, overshot the mark and had to ride back in order to join headquarters which, for: the moment, consisted of the colonel, two color sergeants, a trumpeter, a civilian aide, and two correspondents. When we were opposite a corn field I had passed a few minutes earlier, one of the newspaper men suddenly turned his pony out of the road and made for a large mango tree where he dismounted' and lit a cigarette. It looked as if he had a premonition of impending discomfort for, as he made the shelter of the tree, the Filipinos opened fire from the corn, some sixty yards away. It was quite lively for a time, until a man had been sent for and had brought up some mounted troops. The shelter of the mango looked so inviting and the correspondents so pleased with themselves, that I suggested to the colonel that he dismount at least, but he told me that his "dignity would not allow" him to do so. Informing him that mine did, I joined the newspaper men and from the lea of the mango, got some fine pictures of the troops coming into the zone of fire. There were quite a number of men in the corn, but they evidently did not wish to do us any physical injury but just to work on our nerves-in which they succeeded except, I believe, in the case of the colonel who apparently had none to work on. Although the bullets caused a wonderful displacement of dust, not a man or a horse was hit. The colonel was a very soldierly-looking man, quite the beau sabreur, and with his large white hat, bleached khaki blouse with the yellow cuffs, collar, and shoulder straps of those days, was an imposing and conspicuous figure-everyone else was wearing a blue shirt.

A little later, headquarters being dismounted at a point where the road was somewhat higher than the surrounding country, both my horse and the trooper holding it dropped. Investigation showed that the horse had been hit in the head by a Remington bullet but no wound could be found on the soldier, an Irishman. Although he confided in me tlat he had been hit and was dying, it was very evident that the horse had just knoced him over with its head, when hit, but I could not s convince the trooper. He had become reconciled to a les g ditence and was not to be cheated out of dying a orous death. Even ridicule had no effect. Some months later when in barracks, I went into an officer's s and saw this soldier, the striker, leave by another door. I never did get within speaking distance of that man although I wanted to hear his story of the day at Naic and how he had convinced himself that he was not dying.

The first time I ever slept on the floor without a mattress and with any degree of comfort was at Silang where I made the acquaintance of the springy floors made with strips of hard bamboo and on which one can dance almost as well as on the regulation waxed hard-wood floor. The only objection at Silang was the too free circulation of really cold air. This town is so accessible from Manila in these days of the automobile, and offers such a marked change of climate and fine scenery, that it is surprising people do not liv there and commute to business in Manila.

From Cavite we went down the Tagaytay Ridge into Batangas province. The trail was nothing to brag about and the rifle pits which had been dug on and near it, made the descent difficult for the horses. The view of the volcano, the lake, and the orange country was magnificent. To me it is one of the two most striking views in the Islands, the other being at a point on the old Villaverde trail coming down from Imugan where one first sights the lowlands. The mountain back of San Quintin limits the view to the east but the entire province of Pangasinan and the central plain are visible, the little mountain at Balungao, and the towns and hills near Lupao and Cuyapo standing out as on a relief map.

After visiting Batangas the cavalry turned north, taking the principal towns in Laguna and later those of Tayabas. Calamba put up quite a little resistance to the infantry, but the cavalry passing on the gallop caused the garrison to take to the hills. The American horse was then an unknown quantity but there were rumors of its being trained to fight with teeth and hoofs so the Insurgents were somewhat leary of close contact. I remember taking several hot baths in an enormous wooden bowl there was in a large and well furnished house in which I took up temporary residence. When visiting a friend stationed at Calamba, for duck shooting a year later, he told me the house belonged to a physician but not knowing to what use the family put my bath tub, I felt some delicacyin calling to express thanks for the temporary use of house and bowl. When we were in Santa Cruz, waiting for the infantry to come up and garrison the town, Pagsanjan was occupied by the Americans during the day, by the Filipinos at night. They just relieved each other without any unpleasantness. Tiaong and Candelaria were the most meanly hostile places we visited. At other places there was usually a fight, and, this over, there was seldom any further trouble, but in these two barrios there was no organized resistance but sniping from the distant houses and then a run for the brush. Passing through a second time we left some of their wounded in one of these places and when we were well out of the village it was seen to be burning. Some bright mind had probably been reading of Napoleon's experiences in Russia. At San Pablo, which was taken on the gallop, the colonel commanding the town was slow in getting away and was found hiding in a hollow tree. When we left the town our colonel appointed him "Presidente" and at a later visit he was doing good work. A Belgian business man had been keeping the town and the Insurgent troops in rice and, although he provided us with some excellent wine, except for this he was not in good favor. Acting as interpreter for the colonel who was somewhat angry, I found great difficulty in bringing to mind the French equivalents for "hanging from the church tower" and even stronger expressions, so had to substitute milder ones.

The nerviest Filipino soldier I saw was at San Pablo. Shot and ridden down when the town was taken, and left for dead some distance outside what became one of our outposts, he was forgotten. The third day his groans caused a patrol to be sent out when he cooly lay on his back and fired at the patrol, receiving several hits in return. Eventually, he threw away his rifle and waved his hand to signify that he had had enough. The plucky fellow was brought into town, and it was found that besides a number of other wounds both his legs were broken. It was some job getting him stretched out to somewhere near his original length and the proceeding did not appear to hurt much. Anyhow, he did not show it and when the job was finished he did more than justice to his first American meal. When we left after a few days he was getting along well and always joking about his recent experiences. The Filipino has a remarkable resistance to shock and can stand physical injury better than we do, but when ill he dies without apparent reason.

No comments: