USS Maine Memorial
I arrived here late in the afternoon, as the long shadows of the night quickly developed into an unwelcome large city atmosphere. Strangers on motorcycles should be careful. After taking these shots I walked back to the parking area to remount my bike. A large homeless shelter sits at the corner of Main St, and the residents were gathering in anticipation of the nightly opening. That didn't bother me. What did make me nervous was the obvious acts of commerce transpiring between a drug dealer and many of the growing group in front of the shelter.
Rather then turn toward Main St, putting me waiting at a red light within arms lengths of the dealer... I took a left turn up the hill and made the long way around the block. Back on Main St I waved down a local rider at the light and asked directions to the VietNam memorial. "You are a tourist in this area and it's almost dark? Let's get you out of here!" Thanks, Bub, I was thinking the same dark thoughts - and thanks for leading me toward safety..
Thinking dark thoughts is what turned the accidental explosion of the USS Maine into a memorable slogan, "Remember the Maine!" A handful of powerful American media and industrial moguls used it to drag the nation into the Spanish-American war.
A master of "yellow journalism," William Randolph Hearst was the owner of the Hearst newspaper chain and he never let truth get in the way of a good story with legs. He quickly jumped into the fray when Maine exploded, stirring up the American people while promoting the premise that the government of Spain was responsible for the sinking. A century later it was proven that materials in the forward powder magazine were set alight by extremely high heat and the ship's bottom was blown out in one terrifying heartbeat.
It took a few weeks, but President McKinley, a Republican, was pushed by Hearst and his Democrat friends so strongly that he began pushing Spain to grant independence to Cuba. Spain responded with a declaration of war. America amassed its forces and sent expeditionary forces to Cuba with the expected results - America prevailed. But it put a dent in the American treasury and also took about 500 American lives, another 1,500 wounded, and nearly 3,000 died of disease, mostly yellow fever
The conflict didn't end at Cuba. The Philippines were under Spanish control and the US had engaged there too. The subsequent treaty of Paris gave the US several million dollars in cash reparations, and control of Cuba, Puerto Rico, Guam and the Philippines. We gave Cuba independence almost immediately. Guam and Puerto Rico continue as US Territories. Our involvement with the Philippines did not result in a happy ending.
The people of the Philippines wanted to be free and being under the control of yet another foreign government didn't promote that ideal. For the next two or three the USA and Philippine insurgents battled in what was ultimately entitled the Philippine-American War. It's difficult to see the lines between the end of one conflict and the start of another, but the upshot was that American forces and American business interests remained entrenched on the island for the next two generations - and that is what helped save the United States when Japan attacked in 1942.
Several of the islands, especially Corregidor, were host to US Army facilities. Ultimately the Japanese overwhelmed the Americans, but it took several months, which gave America and Australia time to regroup, strategize, and more fully defend themselves.
Bangor Victory Platoon
When Japan attacked Pearl Harbor, American boys in their sophmore or junior year of high school knew their career choices were limited from that point forward. They would be joining the fight as soon as the diploma was earned. Millions of them would eventually serve and none of them were untouched as the nation went onto war footing, bringing about a complete economic transformation.
The minimum military enlistment age, with parental consent, was 17. Tens of thousands of young men didn't bother to wait. Always looking for ways to boost morale and patriotic fervor, War Department PR types began to push military recruiting offices to gather up volunteers in easily defineable types. Some towns offered every graduating male of the senior class. Ethnic neighborhoods stepped forward as "Italian", "German", "Polish" and "Irish" volunteers. In Hawaii and California it was the Niesi Japanese boys, and native American units from Arizona and Nevada were formed to help out as code talkers.
Navy recruiters in Maine assembled a large group of 17 year old volunteers in front of the Spanish-American War memorial at Bangor on August 22, 1943. It was an inspiring scenario, 56 kids standing in front of the shield and scrolls that had decorated the bow of the great cruiser USS Maine. They recited their oath and then boarded busses to begin their journey to basic training - as a group.
The group pretty much stayed together, and their first assignment was to the aircraft carrier USS Wasp (CV-18). The ship spent some time in Boston, Hampton Roads and Trinidad before transiting the Panama Canal outbound to the Pacific.
Wasp earned 8 battle stars for the crew before the war ended. It appears that all but one of the Maine sailors survived. SN 1st Class Gilbert Soucy was killed in action on March 19, 1945, as Wasp supported the Marines on Iwo Jima.
I was able to find obituaries for at least half a dozen of the Wasp group. They returned home and lived out their lives as auto salesmen, aircraft mechanics, farmers and merchants. I wish they were still with us and that I could talk to each of them about Soucy. "He and Joe Boulier came in from Portage," I would ask. And then, hopefully, a 17 year old kid would come to life in a memory as he stood with 55 others who answered the call of their country and made the step from boys to men.