Me and Teddy Roosevelt at San Juan Hill
keywords: horse flag mango…
This was hot work. First we had to fight our way past El Caney as cavalry, and now that we are at the foot of San Juan Hill we find that it’s too steep, and we’ll have to dismount. Good lord! Cuba is hot enough at any time of year, but now, in July, it’s a furnace. My uniform is chafing me terribly and sweat is pouring down my body in small rivers. I’ll be twenty pounds lighter this evening, if I survive the coming charge.
One of our more artistic boys has made us a flag with a big mango on it. Seems we maybe ate too many of those things and got a reputation as the ‘Mango Boys’, or something like that. I hope Col. Roosevelt doesn’t mind a little gaiety in the ranks. A fair number of us won’t be going home from this campaign, so maybe some lightheartedness will be permitted.
Now that we’re dismounted, we seem to have lost what little breeze that was afforded us while we were on our horses. We’re hunkered down in the undergrowth, feeding the insects and trying to conserve our water. The water is almost too hot to drink, but we know better than to try drinking from the streams here. That doctor who talked to us really scared the boys; lots of alien parasites there, apparently.
Now here comes Col. Roosevelt, still mounted, coming at the gallop, looking like he’s having a bully time of it. He thunders up before us and jumps down, cigar clamped between his teeth, eyeglasses glinting as he bobs his head in animated discussion with the officers. I couldn’t hear what he said, but there was a lot of head-bobbing by the officers, and they all started shouting orders. “Get in line there,” followed by, “Close ranks, form up!” The sergeants are going berserk trying to bring order to this chaotic mass of men.
Finally we get things together and start moving up the slope, Col. Roosevelt right up front. Bullets are whizzing down at us from the thousand or so Spaniards at the top of the ridge, but he doesn’t flinch, just keeps shouting at us to, “Follow me!” So, we follow, and follow, slowly making progress up the steep incline. Occasionally, a fellow on my right or left lets out a mighty shout, or maybe just a surprised groan, as he absorbs the impact of a bullet and then tumbles back downhill. Hard work here, living or dying. Damned hard work.
Occasionally we’d get the chance to fire off a round if one of the Spaniards showed his head, and a chorus of wheezy cheers would go up when we got one of ’em. Up and up, losing more men, almost wishing to get a wound of some sort to give you a chance to lie down. You have crazy, horrible thoughts when you’re exhausted.
Not sure how we did it, but at the end of the day we had that ridge cleared of Spanish troops and we were looking down at the city of Santiago. Only a matter of time now, and we’d throw the boys from Spain outta there. Wish we hadn’t lost so many boys gettin’ up here. They’d have enjoyed seeing this.