May 4, 1998

Features

A peek at the Spanish American War

  By Oscar Roloff



   I've researched every war and written about them. Let's take a peek at a 1898 war episode of the Spanish American War. The army commandeered a tramp steamer at a Florida port to take war troops to Cuba and beat up the Spanish troops holding the island. An army captain had a tough time getting his soldiers aboard. An assistant officer didn't show up. He, himself, didn't know much about war or how to handle troops.
  
   After shoving off, troops were told the ship only had two heads (toilets). Lines were long. When one finished, he got in line again. When nearing the shore of Cuba, the army officer told a writer on board he'd have to be sworn in as an officer to replace the one who didn't show. "I never even fired a rifle. I don't know a thing about the army nor how to act as an officer. I only write articles," he complained. Made no difference. The ship's captain gave him the oath as an army officer. Totally wrong, but in war a lot of screwy things go on. I know. I've written about many of them.
  
   When near the water's edge, the writer-officer lined up his troops and had them go over the side. Only thing was, it was ten feet deep and the troops nearly drowned. When finally ashore, the writer didn't know what to do next, so he shoved off but landed in a swamp. Troops cussed. Soon the other bona fide army officer got his colleague straightened out. Wasn't easy. The writer wasn't too bright. Immediately, the writer-officer complained he'd hurt his ankle and couldn't go on.
  
   But just as quickly he grabbed his pad and pencil and began writing about the war. Amazingly his 'pained' ankle was OK. In that war there were no G.I. benefits of any sort. If they had had today's benefits, the writer could have put in for scads of benefits. The swearing-in thing would have been allowed and he would have had an officer's pension. He was injured and would have been able to get a life-time war injury pension. Also, he would have been eligible for four years of college plus any other things he could grab. If he'd been married, there would be benefits there too.
  
   No more writing about wars. He'd been in one and had received a serious injury which he could really trade on more than ever. In fact, he could write a book about his war experiences and how he'd been forced into becoming an officer and how brave he turned out to be. He could tell how he nearly won the war single-handedly and complain about the lousy toilet facilities the ship had.