This column appeared in the Jan. 19 edition of the Prairie Post.
When soldiers come home they are often asked to tell the stories of the battles and places they’ve seen. This was probably more common back in the days before we all saw so much of the war on our TVs every time we watched the news.
Back in January of 1899 Dan Wallace of Jamestown came home from his service in the Philippines during the Spanish American War. He had been a member of Co. H of the North Dakota National Guard although he did not enlist until the outbreak of the war.
Wallace had traveled a lot. He told the press he’d spent the Fourth of July on the Pacific Ocean, Thanksgiving in Manila, Christmas in Japan and New Years back on the Pacific Ocean on his way home.
Still, Wallace and the troops of Co. H saw a lot of combat. He describes standing in trenches filled waist deep with mud and water and hearing the “musical twang” of bullets overhead.
Evidently time goes by quickly when you’re being shot at. He said during the hour they we’re under fire in the trenches went by like it was just 15 minutes. And the entire time they were under fire the nearby regimental band of a Colorado National Guard unit played “A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight.”
I don’t think a lot of people use quite so many musical references to their description of combat.
Maybe that had something to do with the perceived inability of the Filipino soldiers to shoot very well.
“They are all armed with guns but are remarkable for their poor marksmanship,” Wallace told the press. “I’d rather have one of them shoot at me any time than tackle me with a knife.”
And Wallace, in the tradition of soldiers from every army and every time period, complained about the food.
He claimed the menu, at least when the troops were in the field, was hard-tack and “canned hoss.”
Canned hoss was the soldiers slang for the army’s ready to eat canned beef of the era.
His complaints probably had some validity. Wallace said he weighed 150 pounds when he enlisted and just 103 pounds when discharged.
Which I believe makes the hard-tack and canned hoss diet the most effective of the diet plans, including all those that are being advertised on TV these days.