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.
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.
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|
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.
|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.
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.
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: 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.