May in the United States is witness to many happy events, proms, high school and college graduations, and Mother’s Day. This month has its solemn observances as well. Memorial Day is dedicated to all who died while serving in this country’s Armed Forces. The purpose of Memorial Day is often confused with Veteran’s Day, which honors all the living who served in the armed forces.
Originally called Decoration Day, observation started shortly after the Civil War and commemoration varied from state to state, and town to town, both North and South. After World War I, the day was expanded to include all war dead. In 1971, an act of Congress declared Memorial Day to be a national holiday.
Not all of our military actions are equally remembered in our national consciousness though their dead deserve recognition. A conflict barely remembered, the Spanish-American War, is represented in Reese Library Special Collections in 81-16, the Charles G. Benson diaries, microfilm of the Archie Butt Camp No. 5 records, a local chapter of the United Spanish War Veterans, and a Roster of Spanish American War Soldiers from Georgia.
Private Charles Benson never saw action in the Spanish-American War. Stationed at a camp in Tampa, Florida, his diary documents the training that soldiers and officers received during the conflict. This interaction with an officer was as close as Benson came to combat in this conflict:
Once on guard along a ditch between us and the 69th New York regiment, at night Captain Renkl (?) of the German guards was officer of the day. He made his rounds at night stopped at my post and asked me to let him see my gun. I obediently handed it over to him. “Now”, he said, “What would you do if I were an enemy?” In an instant, I had whipped out his sword and presented the point to him. “Oh no; don’t do that!” he said. Then he gave me a lecture on remembering my orders which were not to give my arms to anyone. But I think he got the worst of the game.
-from 81-18 Charles G. Benson “Spanish War Diaries,” p.27