Friday, July 5, 2013

Sepia Saturday: A Story Told in Bronze


Sepia Saturday challenges bloggers to share family history through old photographs.




This week’s Sepia Saturday photo is a commemorative plaque honoring Louis Pasteur, specifically his successful treatment of a little boy with a rabies vaccine. 

Like most commemorative plaques, bronze medals also tell a story.  My great grandfather John Fleming Walsh served in the Marines during the Spanish American War.  When he died abruptly in 1918, just a short twelve years after meeting and marrying my great grandmother Mary Theresa Sheehan Killeen Walsh, he left behind the only real story I know of him in the form of bronze medals. 


John Fleming Walsh
The only known picture of my great grandfather
John Fleming Walsh

Military awards recognize service and personal accomplishments during a service member’s career.   In his two years as a Marine, John Walsh, who for some unknown reason used the alias “John W. Fleming,” took part in some significant battles.

SAMPSON MEDAL: This decoration was given to those who served in the fleet of Rear Admiral William T. Sampson during the Spanish-American War.  While I don’t know what ship he was on, the medal indicates John Walsh was in combat in the waters of Cuba and the West Indies. 

William T. Sampson Medal front and back belonging to John Fleming Walsh

The obverse of the medal is a bust of William T. Sampson; the reverse depicts a Navy officer, Sailor, and Marine along with the action for which the medal was awarded, in this case Guantanamo.  The date June 11, 12, 13 indicates that John Walsh was among the first troops ashore in Cuba sent to secure the newly formed naval base at Guantanamo. 

What a battle that must have been.  The Spanish were short on food, so they waited several days for the Americans to unload the ship’s stores.   The Marines were not expecting an attack, so they constructed no trenches.  On June 11, they were caught by surprise when Spanish guerillas opened fire leading to what became known as “100 hours of fighting” because they didn’t sleep for 100 hours. 

M 1895 Colt-Browning Machine Gun
M 1895 Colt-Browning Machine Gun
image from http://military.wikia.com/

As a private in Company F Artillery, John Walsh probably answered fire behind the M 1895 Colt-Browning machine gun, the first successful gas-powered machine gun used in service.










Spanish Campaign Medal belonging to John Fleming Walsh
Such medals were attached to a campaign clasp with a ribbon.
The original ribbon was red and yellow
but later the ribbon was changed to blue and yellow
at Spain's request not to use the colors of Spain. 
SPANISH CAMPAIGN MEDAL:   This medal was awarded to any member of the Navy or Marine Corps who served in the Philippine Theater of the Spanish-American War between May 1 and August 16, 1898.  The obverse shows Moro Castle and lighthouse which overlooked Havana Harbor, Cuba.  Beneath the fortress is a stack of cannon balls, denoting arms of war.  The words “Spanish Campaign” and “1898” encircle the scene.



PHILIPPINE CAMPAIGN MEDAL:  This medal was issued to members of the Navy or Marine Corps who performed service in the Philippines between February 4, 1899 and December 1, 1904.  John Walsh might have served ashore in support of the Army or onboard ship.

The obverse depicts the gate leading into Manila.  

Philippine Campaign Medal belonging to John Fleming Walsh



The reverse of both the Spanish and Philippine medals is the same:  the American bald eagle with wings spread is perched on an anchor with draped chain over the words “For Service.”  The wreath at the base of the medal is oak on the left to denote strength and laurel on the right to denote victory.




Campaign clasps belonging to John Fleming Walsh

Recipients of such medals often wore a campaign clasp showing the various battles and the ship name.  The only one with a name is “Manzanillo,” but from my cursory research it was not a ship name.  Rather it was the scene of a battle in Cuba between June 30 and August 12, 1898.  In fact, “August 12” is inscribed on the back of the pin.  That was the day the First Marine Battalion launched the bombardment of Manzanillo in anticipation of a full invasion.  However, President McKinley declared an armistice with Spain on that day.






Spanish War Veterans Medal belonging to John Fleming Walsh

SPANISH WAR VETERANS MEDAL:  There would have been a ribbon that looked like the American flag connecting the two parts of this medal which was given to anyone who served in the armed forces during the Spanish American War or Philippine American War.  At the top is the American bald eagle within a laurel wreath and victory shield.   The bottom of the ribbon would have attached to the cavalry saber, infantry rifle, and naval anchor representing the various branches of the military.  That part attaches to the War cross with the four arms reading “Porto [sic.] Rico,” “Cuba,” “Philippines” and “USA.”   The dates 1898-1902 denote the range of the two wars which the military views as really the same war.  The reverse of the cross reads like a compass with “North,” “South,” “East,” and “West” on the arms and “United” in the center.

Whether my great-grandfather was a war hero or simply a Marine who was lucky to avoid injury and Yellow Fever, John Fleming Walsh left more stories in bronze than in any words my family ever told.


For more stories in bronze or in sepia, please visit my friends at Sepia Saturday.

55 comments:

  1. As you once said to me..."It is an amazing thing to place an ancestor in a particular place and time in history". Well done, Wendy!!! The history behind the medals is so interesting and you have given your great grandfather a personal history and legacy that should make his descendants proud. You are so lucky to have he pictures and the medals....I can see them and your story framed. Great post.

    Sue CollectInTexasGal~Today's Post~
    My Name Is America

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    1. Why thank-you, Sue. I didn't know this history until the Sepia Saturday prompt was posted and I thought about the medals. I feel like I know more about my great-grandfather than I ever knew before.

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  2. John was a Brave Man.Yes,most of us rarely leave such solid (and beautiful) traces.Thank You for this post.T.

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    1. Thanks, Tony. That gun didn't look like anything to mess with.

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  3. I agree with what Sue wrote. Your research is remarkable. You've created a more complete picture of your great grandfather than any portrait could have told.

    Have a wonderful weekend.

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    1. Now if I can only find his parents. I have names on a marriage record at the church, but those names don't match anything I've found on Ancestry.

      Happy Weekend!

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  4. Wonderful picture and medals to help tell your story. Thanks for sharing.

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  5. The Spanish and Philippine medals look like coins my grandmother used to have in her collection of mementos.

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    1. Oh, how interesting. But I guess I shouldn't be surprised.

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  6. You have done a great job of putting your great-grandfather in a place and time as stated above. Because there are apparently so few stories of him, the picture and medals are all the more valuable treasures. Your pictures of the medals turned out nicely too!

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    1. Prior to the SS prompt, I knew I had a box of medals but never gave a thought as to whose they were until I started researching and found John Walsh's service record. Stuff like this is why I just love Sepia Saturday - it makes me work on something I wouldn't have thought of on my own.

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    2. Me too! I need to get back on board!

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  7. 100 hours of fighting! You think that would be enough to make both sides just give up!

    Great post- I loved seeing the medals and learning more about history :)

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    1. Yeah, I had to do the math to figure out how many days that was. Incredible.

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  8. Was the use of an alias a common practice in those days? Your great grandfather certainly did his part. Great post.

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    1. I have no idea about that alias. My dad always told that John Walsh had a falling out with his family which might have accounted for the alias although I don't know how. The Marines knew the name was an alias because it's on his record. I sometimes wonder if it was just a minor mistake, like writing his name in the wrong blank. When we bought a house, the loan and deed list all my aliases. It was weird learning I have aliases, most due to sometimes using a nickname (Wendy) and misspellings by other people.

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  9. Oh, I love this post -- I'm such a blubberer over stuff like this -- they had only 12 years together? And there's only that one photo? Those medals are lovely, indeed.

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    1. That's the only photo I know of.

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  10. What happened to your ancestral photos? It looks like someone once had an urge to expunge history, I saw other torn photos online from your collection. In a strange way the damage makes them even more special.

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    1. I'm not sure what happened to the pictures. This one was given to my aunt by someone not in our immediate family. I need to remember to ask who gave it to her. It's a puzzle why my grandmother didn't have pictures of her father, but she and her sisters were very young when he died, so there might not have been many to begin with. You'd think they would be preserved better but alas, no.

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  11. Isn't it great the way Sepia Saturday prompts us to not only show our collections but to delve more deeply into the people involved!?
    What a great collection of medals you have - they really do tell his story.

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    1. Yes, I'm grateful to Sepia Saturday for giving me direction. So often I feel like I'm wandering.

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  12. Thissite gives the names of the ships, the battles they were in and some lists of crew members http://www.loc.gov/rr/hispanic/1898/usships.html

    I found my great uncle in the 1900 census on board his ship so I got the name from there.

    Good luck finding more information.

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    1. Thanks for the link. I'll check it out.

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  13. You've written a fine presentation about a now forgotten military history, Wendy. The later world wars of the 20th century have taken the main stage of our collective memory, but in 1898 the Spanish-American War was a very big deal. For many men whose heritage was still divided by the Civil War, this conflict was an opportunity to reunite Americans behind a common patriotism. Your great-grandfather earned them, and would be proud that you put them on display.

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    1. Good observation about the war. It's not one that gets much attention in the history books anymore.

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  14. I wonder if his service records might be available somewhere, perhaps even in a pension record?

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    1. I have not tried to get his records. My great-grandmother applied for a widow's pension, so right now that's all I have. This is a good reminder to dig further.

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  15. The Spanish War Veterans Medal is beautiful. Too bad the ribbon is missing, but the two pieces are exquisite. The medals & war records are wonderful things to have - especially now that you've researched them enabling you to create a story of sorts to go with them, thus giving your great grandfather more dimension in your eyes.

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    1. That is true - John Walsh seems more real now, not just a name.

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  16. Wow, Wendy! He was super busy during WWI, wasn't he? I'm sorry that he died so young, and am glad that all of his medals were kept safely all together for you to show us. This was an excellent and informative post, thank you.

    Kathy M.

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    1. Thank-ya, ma'am. The medals are wrapped in a paper towel and tucked into a box that once held an ashtray. Odd preservation system.

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  17. It's nice that the medals have stayed together and in the family. The photo is intriguing. I wonder why it ended up in pieces.

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    1. I wonder what happened to the rest of the photo, but if only 2 pieces could be saved, I'm glad it's these.

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  18. A fascinating post and a wonderful piece of family history, particularly as I knew very little about the Spanish-American War

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    1. Even Americans know little of the S-A War. When I was in high school, I remember getting to the chapter in history class and the teacher announcing we would be skipping it since it wasn't all that important anyway so we could hurry along to WWI and II.

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  19. I'm so glad the prompt led you down this path.We have learned something about your great-grandfather, which could so easily have stayed buried. The medals, and the stories behind them, are wonderful.

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    1. When I first saw the prompt, I was disheartened because I just couldn't write one more post about the Battle of Gettysburg and all the monuments there. I'm glad I thought about the medals because I did enjoy learning about their significance.

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  20. Loved the picture. Quite and engaging man. But the medals --WOW -- your research on the medals gave him character, depth and a bit of pizazz. BTW, sorry you dinna have money in your freezer. My sis and I cracked up about your comment on Barney.

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    1. I'm sorry I don't have money in the freezer too.

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  21. I always like seeing that one photo you have of your grandfather. He was so handsome! I enjoyed your weaving for this week's theme, and following all your research as well. What a treasure you have!

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    1. Thanks. I don't understand the workings of the military, but I did like learning what I learned.

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  22. Quite a story those medals tell, Wendy! You are so fortunate to have these mementos. What harrowing experiences they are tokens of--perhaps experiences to difficult to put into words.

    And yet, don't you wish you could uncover the reason for his use of that alias?!

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    1. Yes, the alias thing is very interesting, but there is no one living who would know.

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  23. An absorbing story about a brave man. I knew nothing about the American - Spanish war, You have given me a good start if finding out more.

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    1. That makes two of us - the only thing I remembered about the S-A War was Teddy Roosevelt and the Rough Riders, but don't ask me what they did.

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  24. Sad to have such a small and damaged photo, but so much metal.

    I once showed a child a medal of my father's and she said, "Oh, I wish my dad would go to war so he'd get a medal."

    My father used to refer to all the different ribbons he wore on his uniform each day as Tootsie Roll medals. I still don't know what they were for.

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    1. I have heard that many who served in the military don't value service medals. Medals for valor - now that's another story.

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  25. Such an interesting post. I wonder if he could have died of the flu since 1918 was the big year of that awful flu epidemic.

    Nancy

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    1. Yes, I'm wondering about flu too.

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  26. Along with most other people from this side of the ocean, I knew little about the Spanish-American War and therefore your post was doubly fascinating. That small, torn photograph manages to carry so much history.

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    1. Reading back over my own post, I probably should have at least mentioned the point of the war.

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  27. Pity the ribbons are now gone,
    because, otherwise, these are fine medals.
    Thanx 4 sharing these with us!!
    :)~
    HUGZ

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    1. After reading about the ribbons, I then understood how all these parts fit together and what they meant.

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