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Philippines — Medals of Honor


Yesterday we discussed the 1st ND Infantry’s participation in the Spanish American War in the Philippines. After swiftly liberating Filipinos from Spanish rule in August 1898, the troops expected to go home. But, the U.S. government suddenly decided to keep the Philippines, and demoralized North Dakotans were forced to fight angry Filipino insurgents. It was a situation that quickly went from bad to worse. Nebraska’s Sgt. Arthur Vickers said, “I am not afraid, and am always ready to do my duty, but I would like some one to tell me what we are fighting for.”

Sgt. William H. Lock of Company G wrote, “I tell you the way the insurgents were killed was something awful. There was such a feeling among the boys towards them that they shot them down like they were hunting jackrabbits.” Sgt. Lock also wrote: “Most of the boys say, as the cowboys did of our North American Indian: A dead Philipino (sic) is a good Philipino.”

By April 1899, both sides were engaged in brutal guerilla warfare. In 1997, UND professor, Richard Shafer, wrote, “The volunteer units, like the regular Army units, engaged in torturing of prisoners, the looting and burning of villages, and increased harassment of civilians... John Kline described an incident where a North Dakota volunteer accidentally shot a woman through the chest as she held a baby, while his unit attacked suspected insurgents in a village.”

On the other hand, there were also amazing feats of courage. In fact, nine of the sixty-nine Congressional Medals of Honor that were awarded to army personnel went to men in the ND First. Three were awarded for what transpired on this date in 1899. Their citations read: With 11 other scouts, without waiting for the supporting battalion to aid them or to get into a position to do so, charged over a distance of about 150 yards and completely routed about 300 of the enemy who were in line and in a position that could only be carried by a frontal attack.

Medal recipients included Frank L. Anders, who was born at Ft. Lincoln and entered service at Fargo; Willis H. Downs, who was born in Connecticut and entered service at Jamestown; and Gotfred Jensen, who was born in Denmark and entered service at Devils Lake.

In his 1897 inaugural address, McKinley had said, “We want no wars of conquest; we must avoid the temptation of territorial aggression. War should never be entered upon until every agency of peace has failed; peace is preferable to war in almost every contingency.” As McKinley now back-pedaled on those statements, pro-expansionists rallied and helped reelect him in 1900.

As the fighting extended to months, and then years, it became a confusing issue in ND. Many initially supported taking over the Philippines, because they thought new grain markets would open. But, that didn’t happen and, slowly, public sentiment turned against the war.

On May 15, 1902, the Dakota Ruralist published An Appeal to the People, which read, “An army of brutalized men were sent over to the Philippine Islands, in the name of Christian civilization to subjugate the people to the United States government, by shooting them down like dogs... They often receive orders to shoot every human being that comes in sight, man, woman and child. The ‘water cure’ is the new punishment, invented for the sake of finding out secrets from people who know something about the army forces.”

By the time the war finally ended in 1902, 4,234 Americans were dead, 2,818 were wounded, and an estimated 20,000 Filipino soldiers were killed. But, as in so many wars, the true casualties were the civilians; estimates of Filipino civilian deaths range from 200,000 to 500,000.

Sources: Richard Shafer, Ph. D., The Decline of Imperialist Fervor in the American Periphery: North Dakota and Philippine Annexation Issues in the Press, 1898-1902, 1997; http://www.spanishamericanwar.com/; http://www.historyguy.com/PhilipineAmericanwar.html

Dakota Datebook written by Merry Helm