To the editor:
The monument has marched in place in snow and sun, rain and fog, through all seasons for a full 100 years now. Posted like a faithful sentry at Prospect and Pleasant Streets, it honors Army and Navy volunteers of Gloucester.
The monument’s tablets depict two moments of the War of 1898. On one side Company G, which liberated prisoners of a concentration camp in Matanzas, Cuba, pass by the local Cuban hero, Generalissimo Maximo Gomez. On the other side, all guns firing, the USS Gloucester takes on and destroys two larger Spanish cruisers at the climactic Battle of Santiago Bay on July 3, 1898. In 1898, 1% of the Navy was from one city and that was our city, Gloucester, Massachusetts.
Our first woman city councilor, Martha Brooks, made the monument happen on a limited budget using Cape Ann granite and a relatively inexperienced sculptor, Federick Bagshaw. At a heated public hearing, she won for the veterans this site previously occupied by a drinking fountain for horses. At the monument’s dedication on Nov. 11, 1923, she opened the ceremony, followed by the mayor, Congressman A. Piatt Andrew of Gloucester, the head of the United Spanish War Veterans in Massachusetts, Colonel Pew, veterans themselves, and a chorus of school children who sang “America.”
For most Gloucester men, it was a bloodless war. However, the first American life lost in this war was that of Marine Pfc. William Dumphy of Gloucester, shot and killed while on guard in the perimeter outside of a hastily built temporary camp in Guantanamo in early June 1898. Also, five other Gloucester men perished stateside later that year from disease and hardship before they were to be shipped out to Matanzas. (Conditions at Camp Thomas, overcrowded by 50,000 volunteers, were the subject of congressional investigations and reform after the war. Gloucester’s monument, designed by veterans themselves, states of the 100 men of Company G, “Bravely, they endured in camp and field.”)
This generation almost forgotten now — the last man of Company G, Lt. James Centennial Nutt, born on July 4, 1876, died in 1969, now buried with his fellow vets at Beechbrook Cemetery —i s nonetheless saluted night and day in granite and bronze. Thanks to Martha Brooks’s persistence and effectiveness, we are reminded if we pause that where there had been oppression and near-slavery in Cuba, Puerto Rico, the Philippines, and Guam, the Men of ’98 brought freedom, they built roads, they vaccinated and fed people, and saved many lives. No war so short ever brought about greater reforms around the world. That is a long way of explaining why at the corner of Prospect and Pleasant streets now and forever it is 1898, where we can view Gloucester volunteers marching in the midst of their mission and fighting at sea to change the world.
To the editor: