Forgotten no more

THE columns of the Bartholomew County Memorial for Veterans bear the names of 178 individuals from this community who were killed or died while in the service to their country. Of that number, only one died in the 21st century. The 177 others died in the conflicts of the 20th century.

The wars in which they died are familiar to most Americans — World Wars I and II, Vietnam and Korea in the 20th century, Afghanistan in this one.

The vast majority of the names on the columns were collected in the mid-1990s from a variety of sources, including the files of The Evening Republican newspaper, which kept running lists of the local casualties. Those were the names which were first inscribed on the columns when the memorial was officially dedicated in 1997.

Other names were added in the following years, some reported by family members who took note of their omission, others through happenstance discoveries.

That so many — both from here and across the country — died in the two world wars, along with Korea and Vietnam, is no surprise. Each of those conflicts claimed thousands of American lives.

But there were also lives lost in this nation’s 24 other armed conflicts of the 20th century, some of them considered almost as footnotes in history, such as the invasions of Panama and Grenada in the 1980s. Somehow, I don’t think the families of the 47 soldiers who were killed during those actions think of their loved ones as footnotes.

I also don’t think that the descendants of U.S. Army Private Edward Hunter think of him or the conflict in which he died as footnotes.

In fact, Edward Hunter occupies a unique — but tragic — place in local history.

He was the first Bartholomew County soldier to make the ultimate sacrifice for his country in the wars of the 20th century.

I came across Edward Hunter’s story by accident. While researching another project, I happened to be combing through the 1900 files of what was then called The Columbus Republican when I came across a story headlined “Edward Hunter Dead.”

It was the subhead under that which really got my attention: “Bartholomew County soldier Dies in the Philippines of Pneumonia.”

Edward Hunter’s name is not among those on the columns of the Memorial for Veterans. It was not among those listed in any records which were used in gathering the names that were to be inscribed in the limestone pillars. Once they were inscribed, no one had come forward to report his name missing.

I suspect the omission had more to do with the obscurity in American history of the conflict in which he died — the Philippine-American War.

It was a strange conflict tied to a revolution that was launched in the islands late in the 19th century over the terms of the Treaty of Paris, under which the U.S. took possession of the Philippines from Spain.

It began in 1899 and ended in 1902 with the Americans declaring victory.

It turned out to be a costly victory. More than 4,200 Americans were killed or died, casualties which made it the 10th most costly war in the history of the United States.

Most of the deaths were due to illnesses such as the pneumonia that claimed Edward Hunter.

There was both tragedy and irony in the story from The Republican that I had come across. The irony was in the first account of his death that appeared on a casualty list printed by the Indianapolis Journal on Nov. 18, 1900.

One of the victims on that list was described as “Edward A. Hutter, Co. A 45th Inf.”

The item was noticed in Columbus by Joseph Hunter, who was struck by a premonition that the newspaper account was in error and that Edward A. Hutter was really his son.

He put in an appeal to the local postmaster, who made an inquiry with supervisors in Washington, D.C. Days later the elder Hunter went to the post office where he was handed a cablegram.

“Cablegram from Manila Nov. 12 reports Edward Hunter, private Co. A 45th Infantry, died Oct. 27 of pneumonia. This soldier was enlisted in September 1899 at Columbus, Indiana. Nearest relative Joseph Hunter, father.”

The newspaper reported that the message “almost prostrated” Joseph Hunter.

Edward Hunter’s name appeared in The Republican a number of times, both before and after his death. In October, nine days before his death, his father received a letter from Edward in which he described life in the Philippines and referred to a number of skirmishes with the Philippine rebels.

He also professed belief in the cause for which he was fighting, writing, “These islands belong to Uncle Sam and are paid for, not only in cash, but by the lives of the American soldiers.”

There also was mention of other Bartholomew County soldiers serving in the Philippines, Frank Carr and Will Morrison.

After getting confirmation of his son’s death, Joseph Hunter received letters from soldiers who served with him in the Philippines, including one from his fellow Bartholomew County product Frank Carr.

He wrote, “He was a soldier in every respect, always ready for duty be it ever so hard. Console yourselves by knowing that he was a son to be proud of and that while you loved him as a son, others loved him as a brother soldier and deeply regret the loss.”

There also were stories about the return of his remains and his burial in Harmony Cemetery near Mineral Springs. His pallbearers were fellow soldiers who served with him in the Philippines.

Edward Hunter has been dead for more than a century. None who knew him are alive to mourn him.

He is no longer forgotten, however. Work is underway to add his name to those of the 178 other Bartholomew County service members who died in later wars.

None of them should ever be considered footnotes.

Harry McCawley is the former associate editor of The Republic. He can be reached at [email protected].