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Instead there was war - Hay's "splendid little war." The United States declared war at the end of April. Admiral Dewey destroyed the Spanish fleet bottled up in Manila Bay, the Philippines, on May 1, and by July the war was over. The December Peace Treaty guaranteed Cuba's long sought independence from Spain and ceded Puerto Rico, the Philippines and Guam to the United States.
It was far from being a "splendid little war," if any war can be called splendid. America's army was ill-prepared, with men sent to fight a tropical war with only woolen winter uniforms and inadequately armed and trained. Two hundred eighty-nine men died in battle, but nearly 3,800 died of disease. All too quickly those events of 1898 were lost in the slaughter and valor of the world wars and skirmishes of this century, so that those who fought and died in that last war of the Nineteenth century are all but forgotten.
Which is why we gather in places like this each Memorial Day to remember - to remember not just the famous battles and heroes, but the nearly forgotten wars and the ordinary citizens lost in the roll calls of history. We gather here, then, to do two things. We remind ourselves to judge critically the attitude that declares: "War alone brings up to its highest tension all human energy and puts the stamp of nobility upon the people who have the courage to face it." Benito Mussolini said that, and the source alone should make us cautious in celebrating war itself. Memorial Day calls us, rather, to recall General William Tecumseh Sherman's assessment of war born of his personal experience: "I am tired and sick of war. Its glory is all moonshine. It is only those who have neither fired a shot nor heard the shrieks and groans of the wounded who cry aloud for blood, more vengeance, more desolation. War is hell."
Rather, let us honor those who put aside comfort and security to serve their fellow citizens and whose own dignity, valor and character have hallowed even the most ambiguous purposes and mixed motives of war itself. We can unreservedly salute all who have served and the many who have died so unselfishly.
Even that nearly forgotten war a century ago has left transforming traces that have outlasted the battle details. It was tempting to build an American empire from the spoils of that victory; everyone expected it. But the United States amazed the world by keeping its promise to honor Philippine independence and sovereignty. And those nearly 3,800 casualties of disease: they, too, were not in vain. That brief encounter with tropical scourges led the army's Dr. Walter Reed to identify the cause and treatment of Yellow Fever. When all else has been forgotten, we can remember that.
So let us remember that nearly forgotten conflict and all their comrades of other times and wars and pledge ourselves to rise to their stature: