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Old Soldiers and November 11th

English: The veteran of the Spanish-American w...

English: The veteran of the Spanish-American war tells ’em how it ought to be done (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In the late 1950’s and early 1960’s my dad would take me to Milwaukee County Stadium to watch the Milwaukee Braves play. It was an enormously big deal for a boy who loved baseball to see the Braves, a team I might add, that never had a losing season while in Milwaukee (1953-1965)!

County Stadium was (and the new Miller Stadium is) located near to Milwaukee’s V.A. Hospital, a major facility established to meet the medical needs of Wisconsin veterans.

A veteran’s home was also located on the grounds of the hospital. It was called the Old Soldier’s Home by anyone who visited the stadium.

Old County Stadium was a typical 1950’s non-roofed stadium built specifically for the Milwaukee Braves. Depending upon where you were you seated you could easily see the V.A. hospital and the huge bleacher section the V.A. had installed on a hill over-looking the stadium. From the bleachers the veterans from the hospital and Old Soldier’s Home could watch the Braves play for free.

Since it was the late fifties and early sixties most of the veterans would have been from the WW1 and WW2 eras with a few I’m guessing from the Spanish-American War of 1898.

Even as a child I had an interest in the American Civil War and as my dad would tell me what he knew about the V.A. Hospital and Old Soldier’s Home and I’d wonder if there any Civil War veterans at the Old Soldier’s Home. In my child-like imagination I had visions of one-armed or one-legged veteran’s still in Union blue hobbling out to the bleachers to watch the Braves!

Dad would patiently explain to me, more than once, that all the Civil War veterans had long since passed.

The last Union Civil War veteran died in 1956, three years after the Boston Braves became the Milwaukee Braves. His name was Albert Woolson and he served in the 1st Minnesota Heavy Artillery as a drummer boy. He was also the last surviving member of the G.A.R. the Grand Army of the Republic, a powerful political organization of Union Army veterans. Then President Eisenhower noted Albert’s passing as the end of era:

“The American people have lost the last personal link with the Union Army … His passing brings sorrow to the hearts of all of us who cherished the memory of the brave men on both sides of the War Between the States.”

The passing of the last veteran always symbolizes the end of an era. The last surviving American veteran of the Spanish-America War was either Jones Morgan or Nathan E. Cook. Morgan died in 1993 and Cook in 1992.(The Spanish-American War was in 1898.)

Often times there is confusion about who was last and oldest and this is because boys/men often lied about their age to get into service making it difficult to ascertain their real age. Often times too documentation is lacking especially for the earlier conflicts. Such is the case with Morgan an African-American who served as a cook and horse wrangler in the 10th US Cavalry an all-black regiment called the Buffalo Soldiers by the American Indians because of their wooly hair. Morgan’s documentation was destroyed in a fire in 1912. Some authorities do not recognize Morgan as the last Spanish-American War era veteran and so instead the honor goes to Cook.

Cook was a US Navy veteran and had a rather extraordinary career.

Cook saw action in the Boxer Rebellion (1900), the Philippine-American Insurrection War (1899-1902) and in the border clashes with Mexico just prior to our entry into WW1.

During WW1 (1917-1918) Cook commanded a sub-chaser that sank two German U-boats!

Cook was still in the Navy during WW2 (1941-45) and spent the wartime years in Haiti and Panama. When Cook turned 104 in 1992 then President H.W. Bush, himself a Navy aviator during WW2 sent Cook a congratulatory message noting that Cook was a Navy man through and through. Cook died shortly thereafter.

Fred Woodruff Buckles was the last WW1 veteran to pass, passing a little more than a year ago in February, 2011. Buckles was in the US Army during WW1 serving as an ambulance and motorcycle driver. During WW2 Buckles was captured by the Japanese forces that had invaded the Philippines. Buckles was a civilian then employed in the shipping business. He spent three years in a prison camp waiting for American forces to return to the Philippines. His passing in 2011 marked the end of the WW1 era.

Today, living WW2 veterans would all be in their 80’s and 90’s. They are passing rapidly and within 10 years all will be gone.

I had the privilege of knowing at least three WW2 veterans quite well. They were my father who served as a military policeman in occupied Germany (1945-1946), my father-in-law who was a hospital medic who spent time in New Guinea where he contracted dengue fever (1944) and my mother-in-law who served as a nurse’s aide (called CNA’s now) in a stateside hospital where she cared for maimed soldiers from the Pacific Theater of Operations.

Over the years I’ve also had the privilege of talking to other WW2 veterans whenever I could although I wished I would have taken notes.

Some that I remember include a man who was in the Coast Guard and drove a landing craft in the European Theater (Normandy Invasion). Another was my dad’s friend who was a B-24 pilot who took part in the raids on the Ploesti oil fields in Rumania. Still another was an aircraft mechanic who served in North Africa and Italy.

And then there was a friend of mine who passed away from cancer in 2000. He was in an artillery battery during the Korean War. He narrowly escaped capture by the North Koreans when they invaded the south in 1950.

Sunday, November 11th is Veteran’s Day, formerly know as Armistice Day because it marked the end of WW1. It was changed in the US to Veteran’s Day to honor US veterans regardless of the time and place of service. Memorial Day on the other hand was designed to honor servicemen and women who died in war.

This Veteran’s Day, thank a veteran.


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