Forgotten Wars?

Almost everyone remembers from history class the names of the major wars fought by the United States—the French and Indian War, the Revolution, the War of 1812, the Civil War,  World War I and World War II. Then there are the “forgotten wars” like the The Mexican-American, Spanish-American and Korean wars and Vietnam.  With Veteran’s Day just around the corner, I decided to take a look at what we have in the collection related to the above-named conflicts.

We abound with manuscripts related to the American Revolution (there is even a collection with that name) the War of 1812 and the Civil War. World War I and World War II are rather well represented as well. For the Spanish-American War we have much less, in fact only ten manuscript items.  One of those is the minutes of the McKinley Command No. 116 of the United Spanish War Veterans that met in Norwalk. Inside the front cover is a circular letter from the state association describing “Recent Laws Passed for the Benefit of the Veterans of the Spanish-American War” passed in 1909; the minutes begin in 1901. I am reminded of the stories we hear on the news today about soldiers from Afghanistan and Iraq having trouble getting medical care and other benefits.

Circular letter about Veterans' benefits, 1909. Ms 77000.

Circular letter about Veterans’ benefits, 1909. Ms 77000.

The Command also provided free memorials for members who died after joining or being “mustered in” to the association. Two requests for stones were for men who were only 29 years old when they died at home, not during the war. Philip Landrigan’s mother Katherine and William Donnelly’s brother Michael applied for the memorials. Both men were buried at St. Mary’s Cemetery in Norwalk, their parents were Irish immigrants, and they both served in the 3rd Regiment, Connecticut Volunteer Infantry, Co. L.

Much to my disappointment, I only find two manuscripts related to men who served in Korea. One contains the correspondence of Albin Joseph Marchant while a student at Norwich University in Northfield, Vermont, and while a member of the 7th Infantry Division in Korea.  The other is letters to Dorothy and Joan Snurkowski of New Haven from Robert Monteith and Donald Upton, respectively, who were initially in training stateside; Robert eventually did go to Korea, where he complained of the heat.

Letter from Don, based in Korea, to Joan Snurkowski. Ms 95806

Letter from Don, based in Korea, to Dorothy Snurkowski. Ms 95806

For the Vietnam War, we also have very little, namely oral history interviews with various men, and letters home from Ken Mickloskey of Plymouth, Connecticut. He was stationed in Vietnam with the 82nd Airborne Division of the U. S. Army. In his letters he described jungle warfare and the struggle with insects, including leeches.  Mickloskey was killed in action in 1969, shortly after his arrival in Vietnam; he was 21 years old.

Letter from Ken Mickloskey to his parents, while he was in Vietnam. Ms 91262

Letter from Ken Mickloskey to his parents, while he was in Vietnam. Ms 91262

Now for the really sobering part of this survey. We do not have any manuscript material related to the first or second Gulf Wars, or the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.  It could be that these are too recent for family or soldiers to consider them “history”. More sobering is the fact that many servicemen and women did not write letters but sent emails or talked by phone or by Skype. How does one collect that kind of truly ephemeral communication? That question is one archivists the world over are struggling with and have not come up with any good answers.

If nothing else, this review of our holdings reminds me that recent history is still history, and it is our responsibility to make sure it is documented and preserved in whatever way possible. How else can we tell the stories of men and women from Connecticut who served their country?

On Saturday, November 9, we are offering a “Behind the Scenes Tour” focusing on military history collections at CHS. Check our website for more information and to register for the tour. Help us honor our veterans.

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About Barbara

Barbara Austen is the Archivist at CHS and is responsible for all of the incoming manuscripts, which means she gets to read people's diaries or mail. She has a master's Degree in Library and Information Science and has been working in the museum and historical society world for 30 years.

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