Looking Back: A splendid little war?

    USS Maine is from the Library of Congress
    USS Maine, from the Library of Congress .

    Being a member of the board of the Edmonds Memorial Cemetery has been a learning experience for me. I have found that no matter our age, we can always continue to learn, and even to relearn.

    Working on some of the cemetery board’s projects, has reminded me of lessons taught by the wonderful teachers we had during my own years of schooling in the Edmonds School District.  As I write about history, I especially remember George Hatch, my history teacher at Edmonds High School over 70 years ago.

    Each year in July, the Edmonds Memorial Cemetery board hosts a Walk Back in Time program at the cemetery.  When researching for these programs, I often come across a bit of history once learned by me during my high school years. In 2017, the Spanish-American War veterans were featured during the Walk Back in Time and it was with this program, I revisited a lesson regarding this short war. It was probably one taught by my former EHS history teacher, Mr. Hatch.

    For our country, the catalyst for our involvement in the Spanish-American War came on Feb. 15, 1898 when an explosion sank the American battleship USS Maine in the harbor at Havana, Cuba, killing 266 men.  Rumor was that the blast was either a Spanish bomb, a Cuban mine or a boiler blast in the hull of the vessel. The battle cry around the country became Remember the Maine. Congress declared war against Spain, overriding peace advocate President William McKinley’s objections.

    In order to help pay the expenses of the war, Congress imposed a one-percent excise tax on long-distance phone calls—mainly a luxury only the rich could afford. This levy was supposed to end with the war—instead, as I learned many years after my high school years, the imposed levy lasted for almost 109 years.  Actually, by 2006 when the Treasury Department finally announced it would stop collecting this federal excise tax on long-distance telephone service which  Americans had been paying since 1898, it had risen to three-percent.

    One hundred and twenty years ago the country had been in the midst of an economic depression for five years. Perhaps the war appeared glorious to the many unemployed young men and the chance for earning some money, plus three meals a day, a place to sleep, and some new clothes in the form of uniforms was no doubt a great incentive for many of them to enlist in the military.

    One of men who enlisted to serve was young Clifton Reuben Wieder. He later became a resident of Edmonds and Alderwood Manor. Mr. Wieder was one of those featured during the cemetery’s Spanish American War program last year. The regiment Clifton Wieder served with found no glory, in fact, it has a somewhat superfluous and gloomy history.

    Clifton Reuben Wieder was born in 1877 in Carthage, Illinois, the son of Alonzo and Sarah (Scott) Wieder. He enlisted as a private in Co. A, 22nd Regiment, Kansas Infantry and served from April 16, 1898 through November 3, 1898. The official records indicate that this was an extremely ill-fated and disorganized infantry regiment.

    The 22nd Kansas Volunteer Regiment was made up of about 2000 men from across the state. They were mustered together at Camp Leedy in Topeka, Kansas on May 17, 1898. Most of them reported for duty in old and tattered clothing, probably expecting to be issued uniforms in Topeka. However, for many of them, these may have been all they had. When the regiment left by rail for training in Virginia, the men were still wearing their old clothes.

    First, in order to prepare them for service in the tropics, they were vaccinated and a large number of the men became sick. By July 1, some of the other American troops were already in Cuba at El Caney and San Juan Hill where battles were being won.  However, the Kansas Regiment was at Camp Alger in Virginia—still preparing for war. The training continued through the hot Virginia summer. In July, typhoid hit the regiment and 15 men died. They were marched to Manassas, Virginia, reaching there Aug. 9. Two brothers died Aug. 25 and Sept. 11.

    The once-eager men of the 22nd Regiment seemed to be forgotten by the Army, and they were starving. On their marches from camp to camp, they were forced to forage for their own food from the local farms.

    The men had lost all hope that they would ever be part of the actual war. They were right. Eventually, they were sent to a camp in Pennsylvania and then Leavenworth, Kansas, to be mustered out of service. When they arrived back in Kansas, they were given a 30-day furlough and then mustered out on Nov. 3, 1898. The Kansas Regiment never got to Cuba or Puerto Rico. In four months of some very confusing duty, 17 men died of disease without seeing any battle. Nothing was said as to whether or not the men were ever issued uniforms to replace their tattered clothing.

    In a letter to Theodore Roosevelt, John Hay, the Secretary of State, called the Spanish-American War, A splendid little war. However, I imagine young Clifton Wieder and the other men of the 22nd Kansas Infantry Regiment and the loved ones of the 5,462 Americans who died from disease and battle wounds, had a far different description for the war. As a result of this conflict, Cuba was freed from Spain, and the United States acquired Guam, Puerto Rico and the Philippines. Historically, the United States took its first step into global involvement.

    After the war, Clifton Weider moved west to Washington; he married, and worked as a carpet and drapery salesman. His 37-year-old wife died in Tacoma in 1917 and he and his daughters lived in Chicago during the 1920s. From 1930 until 1948, he lived with his mother at her home on Fir Street in Edmonds. He then moved to Alderwood Manor and from 1948 to 1956 lived there with his brother Scott.  With his health failing, Clifton Wieder was admitted to the Washington Veterans Home in Retsil (near Bremerton). He died at the Veterans Home just before Christmas of 1957, at the age of 80, as the result of a heart attack. He is buried next to his mother Sarah Wieder at Edmonds Memorial Cemetery. Clifton Wieder was survived by his four daughters, nine grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.

    The cemetery board has already started preparing for the next Walk Back in Time program in July of next year, and for the first time, we will be telling the stories of some of the teachers who are interred in our historic cemetery. One of those will be Mae Delamater, my own second-grade teacher from the former Alderwood Manor Grade School. Through all the long years since that time, I have never forgotten her and what she taught me about enjoying the small wonders of life.  I wish that long-time Edmonds High School history teacher George Hatch could be one we will meet, but Mr. Hatch went to his rest at another location.

    — By Betty Lou Gaeng

    Betty Gaeng is a long-time resident of Lynnwood and Edmonds, coming to the area in 1933. She researches and writes about the history and the people of South Snohomish County. She is also on the Edmonds Cemetery Board.


    2 Replies to “Looking Back: A splendid little war?”

    1. Thank you Betty. I have “memorabilia” related to the Spanish American war that I can share with you personally via Email or “over coffee” at the Walnut!!


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