Accounts of War

Frank Ezra Litchard

“But the Golden Age of Peace and Disarmament is still an era of the future. The cherished policy of the ruling nations is still to be prepared for war, believing that in the present state of society the arbitrament of the sword is thus abbreviated, or often entirely averted. The greed and selfishness of man still presents the world from being at Peace. It was the unremitting cruelty, tyranny and avarice of the Spaniards that compelled the United States to recognize the independence of the people of Cuba—April 18, 1898—and, as President McKinley said in his respectful reply to the friendly communication of the European powers, obliged us ‘to fulfill a duty to humanity by ending a situation the indefinite prolongation of which has become insufferable.’ It was in a spirit of unselfish and generous patriotism to serve in the cause of oppressed humanity, therefore, that our kinsman, Frank Ezra Litchard, son of John B., enlisted on the 16th day of November, 1898, for three years, in the Hospital Corps of the Army of the United States. He did not enlist to participate in the merciless clash of arms, but to perform the tender and equally patriotic and important service of which there is at times exposure to the calamities of war, as liability to be killed in action or to death from disease. He was first sent to Camp McKenzie, Augusta, Ga., where he was on duty until March 1, 1899, when he was stricken down and came near death’s door with typhoid fever. When sufficiently recovered, April 28, he received a furlough to go home. He there improved rapidly, and when his leave of absence expired, June 15, reported to Fort Porter, at Buffalo, N. Y. On the 16th of August he was sent in charge of a number of Hospital Corps recruits to Fort Columbus, N. Y. Harbor, where they were given a befitting course of instruction. On the 27th of September he boarded the hospital ship Missouri with a detachment of the Corps, bound for the Philippine Islands, via the Suez Canal, and arrived at Manila November 28, after a tiresome voyage of 59 days.

“The routine of hospital work was occasionally diversified in a way that afforded the boys both salutary relaxation and merriment. One of Frank’s amusing recollections was a midnight raid on a negro’s watermelon patch, in which he participated with about a dozen of the Corps boys, while still at Camp McKenzie. The moon was shining brightly as the pillagers quietly moved through the pine woods and came to the clearing in which the luscious fruit lay partly hidden among the vines. A menacing barbed wire fence enclosed the ground, the well-stretched strands of which were only about twelve inches apart, so that it required some circumspection to press through without being lacerated. All managed to get through without special derangement except Roly-poly, a short, chubby, good-natured youth whose circumference was almost equal to his longitude, and whose weight, 180 pounds, was altogether disproportionate to his height. He managed to wiggle through, however, but not without embarrassing contact with the sharp barbs, and not until he had entertained his companions by the free use of some very unrefined language. Each of the boys soon secured a good-sized melon, and started for the fence on the return march. They had not noticed the small hut standing in the shadow of the trees on the opposite border of the patch. They had just reached the fence when they heard the now alarmed negro proprietor shout, ‘Sic ’em, Tiger! Sick ’em! Ketch ’em! Bite ’em, Tiger,’ and as he clapped his hands the big dog rushed forward to execute the command. The boys all got through the fence in good time, and in fairly good shape, except Roly-poly, and as he could not at once adjust himself to the perilous situation, he had to suffer from the lively onset of Tiger. The rotund youth had got fast among the clutching barbs, and the next thing that happened the dog had him by the broadest part of his trousers and commenced pulling him along the wires, now to the right and then to the left, he all the while kicking vigorously and yelling vociferously, but still staunchly holding on to the melon under his arm, while his undaunted comrades stood a few rods away in the shadow of the forest trying hard not to laugh and discover themselves. Roly-poly, after several extraordinary efforts, finally squired through, however, but not until he had suffered considerable damage, and had lost a very valuable part of his habiliment. When the boys arrived in camp they feasted on melons. The next day they nearly all had melon-colic, brought on by irregularity, excessive laughing, excitement and exertion, and—too much melon. Thus was rendered to them their desert.

“The men in the hospital service all have their interesting reminiscences, pathetic and amusing, as well as the men who carried the guns and accoutrements and fought. Frank recalls that among the 153 Hospital Corps men who left New York on the Missouri there was a bright and handsome young Georgian who, on account of his exceptional vivacity and light-heartedness, while the detachment was receiving the required course of instruction in hospital work at Fort Columbus, had become a general favorite. As the vessel was moving out on the deep the young man who had been so gay stood silently and sadly gazing at the fast receding shore line, when one of the Corps approached him, and calling him by name, kindly asked what made him so down-hearted. Hesitating a moment, he frankly and gravely answered, ‘I will tell you boys. I have left a good home, affectionate parents, loving brothers and sisters, all because I was a little bit wayward, and perhaps I have taken leave of that happy home forever.’ And this blithe young man was the first one of the detachment to die in the Phillipine Islands. Did the youth have a presentiment of his impending doom?

“The Missouri entered the harbor of Gibraltar very early on a bright November morning, and was slowly steaming to a place of anchorage near the city, when she was suddenly found to be almost surrounded by a number of row boats containing Spanish fishermen. The loving subjects of the young sovereign, Alfonso XIII, and the Regent Queen, Maria Christina, stared intently at the big white vessel, over the stern of which the Stars and Stripes fluttered gently in the light breeze, and all of a sudden they began to shout, ‘Bad Americans! Bad Americans,’ in their mother tongue and defiantly shook their fists at Old Glory. This was more than the plucky American boys could stand. The cooks had pared three bushels or more of potatoes for breakfast, so handy, one of the boys called out, ‘Hurrah, boys! let's give ’em cold potatoes.’ With one accord about 80 of the Corps made a rush for the tubs and filled their pockets and hands with the pared tubers, and then ran back to the railing and commenced a general fusillade at the haughty Spaniards. For a few moments, as Frank tells it, ‘the air was white with the “Irish lemons,” ’ and it is safe to say that three out of every five potatoes hit either the Spaniards or the boats. The chief cook complained to Major A., their commander, and soon the ringleaders, or as many of them as could be found—and Frank confesses that he was one of them—were marched before the Major for trial and to receive sentence. One of the boys who was especially blessed with the gift of gab was chosen to act as spokesman and plead the cause of the insulted Americans. The Major asked what they meant by thus wantonly wasting their breakfast. The prolocutor responded in his most persuasive and urbane manner, and concluded his clever vindication by saying, ‘we thought that we were inspired by the spirit of patriotism to defend our Flag, even though we had to fire potatoes to do it.’ The Major did not visibly concur with the eloquent advocate, and said with seeming sternness that if anything of the kind occurred again, he would order every man down in the hold, and keep them there indefinitely on bread and water. The boys fancied that they observed a faintly visible twinkle in his eyes while he made their appalling threat (and perhaps the Major just then thought of the inhuman treachery by which the U. S. battleship Maine was blown up in Havana harbor, and 266 of our brave boys killed), and as they were not punished they concluded that they did not mistake. But all they had that morning for breakfast was dry bread and strong black coffee.

“All who have read and properly appreciated that felicitous, heart-touching poem, ‘Bingen on the Rhine,’ can realize that every true soldier who dies for his country, far from home and friends, has a more or less mournful story. Frank was more than once seriously reminded of the expiring Bingen ‘Soldier of the Legion’ as he saw men die, with their thoughts riveted on their native land, and the loved ones who were hoping and waiting there. While on duty in the First Reserve Hospital at Manila, then the largest hospital in the Philippines, a large, handsome soldier, about twenty-two years of age, was one Saturday afternoon brought to Frank’s ward with every symptom of typhoid fever in its very worst form. As the days passed the patient grew weaker, and the symptoms no better, and one week later the surgeon gave up all hope of saving him. All day on the second Saturday he raved in delirium, talking of home, kindred, friends, his boy days, and then suddenly his mind would revert back to his military duties. Late in the day he became so exhausted from talking and shouting that he could no longer speak above a whisper. He lay in a stupor, wildly muttering, until about 7:30 P. M., when he became calm and once more rational. Frank was standing on the opposite side of the ward, twenty feet or more from his cot, and noticed that he was being intently gazed at by him, and concluded that he probably wished to say something. Stepping to his side and bending over him, Frank asked if there was anything that he could do for him. He nodded affirmatively and whispered, ‘What State are you from?’ ‘From the State of New York.’ ‘Have you ever lived in Ohio?’ ‘No.’ ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Yes.’ ‘Well that is strange!’ he feebly whispered, and as if disappointed, but soon continued: ‘I have a sister in Ohio whom you wonderfully resemble. I want you to write to her and tell her where and how I died, and that I was not afraid to die, and give her my Good By,’ etc. Forty minutes later his lifeless body was carried over to the morgue.

“ ‘Tell my sister not to weep for me, and sob with drooping head
When the troops come marching home again with glad and gallant tread;
But to look upon them proudly, with a calm and steadfast eye,
For her brother was a soldier too, and not afraid to die.’

“After serving one year in the hospital at Manila Frank returned to the United States, and in due time arrived at the Hospital Corps School of Instruction, on Angel Island, San Francisco Bay. January 3, 1901, he reported for duty at the Camp of Recruits, at the Presidio, near San Francisco. The recruits—or ‘rookies,’ as the medicos called them—were being enlisted throughout the country as fast as possible to fill up the regiments and replace the men mustered out as their terms of enlistment expired, as well as the losses by disease and battle, and these new men arrived at the rate of 60 to 80 every day. They were examined by the Surgeon and Stewart, assisted by Frank. Frank’s special duty was to vaccinate, and he estimates that he put Uncle Sam’s ‘trade mark’ on about 6,000 recruits. His success is not merely to be measured by the following circumstance: In charge of the department for a time was a new First Lieutenant Surgeon who was not up to the ways of the rookies to escape doing duty. At the sick call each morning he marked ‘quarters’ nearly all who claimed to be ailing, and they were thus excused from all duty, and could lay at ease in their bunks the rest of the day. One morning about 50 men stood in front of the tent, expecting to be marked ‘quarters’ as soon as the bugle sounded the sick call and the Doctor appeared, but the place of the new physician was now filled by an old army surgeon who knew all about rookies. When the sick book was opened the wily recruits were ready to practice their deceit on Uncle Sam. The first man called had his arm in a sling, and a woe-be-gone expression on his face. ‘What is the trouble?’ said the Doctor kindly. ‘Oh, Doctor, I’ve been vaccinated, and my arm pains me awfully. I want to be marked “quarters.” I can only raise my arm so high’—lifting his arm not half-shoulder high as he spoke. ‘That's too bad,’ the Doctor replied in a tone of sympathy. ‘Let me see your arm.’ The rooky carefully slipped his sleeve up and disclosed a small red spot where the virus was taking effect, but was certainly not very painful. ‘Now, that is a bad-looking arm,’ and the Doctor seemed very serious. ‘How high could you raise it before vaccinated?’ ‘Oh, so high, Doctor,’ and the poor fool raised his arm straight up from his shoulder. This was too much for the Doctor, and instantly his manner changed to unmistakable sternness as he spoke so all could hear: ‘I‘ll teach you chaps a lesson. Back, all of you, to duty. Get out of here, and be lively about it too. Git.’ And git they did. Every man that morning was marked ‘Duty’ as soon as he came in, and from that time on there was little trouble with the rookies.

“November 16th Frank was honorably discharged, having been in the service just three years, and in the meantime had at Uncle Sam’s expense made a journey around the world. In closing the last letter I had from him he said: ‘I am glad to know I was not the only one in our long line of relations who participated in the Spanish-American War. If the other boys feel as I do about it they would not take a round $1,000 for what they saw, and went through, and would not go through it again for another $1,000’ ” (from Heinrich Gernhardt and His Descendants, pp. 240-246).

Back to War Accounts
Gernhardt Family Accounts of War Family Accounts Gernhardt Pictures Centralia Remembered The Family of Marie Tracing Our Family Roots fettermans.org home