Jim and Pat McAteer were pleasantly surprised to see a recent LebTown article about “The Hiker,” a statue in Fisher Veterans’ Memorial Park honoring U.S. soldiers who served in the Spanish-American War, the Philippine Insurrection and the China Relief Expedition from 1898 to 1902.

But an important detail in the story was wrong.

The article in question notes that Lebanon city records credit Allen George Newman of New York as the artist who sculpted the original statue, but further research showed the real sculptor was Theo Alice Ruggles Kitson of Massachusetts. Both Newman and Kitson created statues called “The Hiker” to honor Spanish-American War veterans, and dozens of copies of both statues now dot the national landscape — but Kitson, not Newman, was the artist behind the lonely soldier standing watch at 521 South 9th Street.

The city’s description of the statue further notes that 108 men from Lebanon County served in those turn-of-the-century wars.

That number caught the McAteers’ attention.

Jim McAteer quickly sent LebTown an email, noting “there were over 475 veterans of the Spanish American War, the Boxer Rebellion and the Philippine Insurrection who were either born, lived, died or are buried in Lebanon County[…] That includes veterans who died at the VA hospital.”

He also noted that Pennsylvania National Guardsmen reported to Mount Gretna, which was the Guard’s staging area before moving to Fort Indiantown Gap in 1934, for reassignment into the U.S. Army.

McAteer, a 72-year-old Vietnam War veteran, has a personal interest in the era. His great-grandmother’s brother, Alexander M. Quinn — namesake of the Lebanon camp of the Sons of Spanish-American War Veterans — was a Medal of Honor recipient for his service in that war.

The incident in question occurred “where Teddy Roosevelt ran up the hill,” McAteer said. That’s the famous Battle of San Juan Hill; specifically, when Roosevelt’s Rough Riders charged up Kettle and San Juan hills as a precursor to the siege of Santiago.

According to the Hall of Valor: The Military Medals Database, Quinn was serving with the 13th U.S. Infantry when he earned the top honor.

The medal was issued on June 22, 1899, Hall of Valor reports, “for extraordinary heroism on 1 July 1898, while serving with Company A, 13th U.S. Infantry, in action at Santiago, Cuba. Sergeant Quinn gallantly assisted in the rescue of the wounded from in front of the lines and under heavy fire from the enemy.”

Quinn acted bravely to save fellow troops while “under heavy sniper fire,” McAteer said, who still has his ancestor’s medal.

“Back then the Spanish had the new German Mauser rifles, which were smokeless,” he noted. “The Americans still had black powder rifles that left a plume of smoke, so the Spanish could easily see where they were.”

A further example of heroism came on their return trip to the military base on Montauk Point, New York, when there was an outbreak of malaria among the men.

“No one wanted to go near them,” McAteer said — but Quinn did his best to care for the stricken soldiers.

Quinn — who was born in 1866 in Passaic, New Jersey, before moving to Philadelphia — continued his service during the Philippine Insurrection, where he died May 4, 1906. The Military Medals Database says Quinn was killed in action; McAteer said it actually was in a bar fight — not in a drinking establishment, he hastened to add, but in an argument over the repair of a brass bar that needed unbending.

“That’s an interesting piece of family folklore,” McAteer said. “He was killed with a bolo knife.”

‘I got curious’

McAteer, a native of Brooklyn, New York, moved from Perry County to North Cornwall Township in 1999. His wife, Pat, 71, was originally from Wellsboro; they met in college and moved to Lebanon County when she accepted a job as a secondary school principal in Annville-Cleona.

He said his interest in military history was sparked as a young boy, when his grandmother showed him Quinn’s medal.

“I got real interested,” he said. “I went to Fisher Park and saw the statue. I got curious and started research.”

The Spanish-American War, in McAteer’s opinion, was “a much more important war” than some historians give it credit for.

“We went from chasing Geronimo to becoming a world power,” he explained. “At the time, the Spanish fleet was considered the fourth most powerful in the world — behind England, Germany, and France — and we wiped it out, with the loss of just two people on our side.”

Pat McAteer’s interest in the war came through her husband, but once she got involved, she threw herself into it.

Her husband, for instance, was the founder of the Lebanon chapter of the Sons of Spanish-American War Veterans, and he’s a past national president of the group. She in turn guided the formation of the local Daughters of ’98, an auxiliary organization, with a specialized interest in the Army Nurse Corps that was founded after the military realized during the Spanish-American War that they needed help caring for sick and wounded soldiers.

“So many soldiers died from disease, and they didn’t have protocols on how to treat them,” she explained.

In any case, Jim McAteer’s interest in the era began with his own ancestor and grew after his first visit to “The Hiker” statue in Lebanon. In 2003, he decided to start looking into the local soldiers named at the memorial — those who had died in the war — and later expanded his research to any soldiers with local ties who served during that period.

A visit to Fisher Veterans’ Park on South 9th Street prompted McAteer to research the lives behind the names. (Will Trostel)

“I wanted to learn about their lives,” he said. “Then I started giving presentations, and I decided I should do the surrounding counties, too. Eventually, I extended my research to the entire commonwealth.

“My main object is to honor these veterans, give them a life, not just a name.”

Wherever possible, he has collected the name, rank, unit, birth and death dates, parents, spouses, children, place of death and gravesite of every veteran from that era with ties to Lebanon County. “I also have the same data on veterans from the other 66 counties,” he added, as well as data on Lebanon County veterans who served during the French and Indian War, Revolutionary War, War of 1812, Mexican War, Mexican Intervention and peacetime.

It’s an ongoing project, McAteer said. He is still finding names of veterans he “had no idea existed,” he said.

“I’ve got over 29,000 already, throughout the Commonwealth,” he added. “I know there are more.”

He does much of his research on computer, visiting ancestry sites and finding information on newspaper websites and looking up enlistment papers, pensions and death certificates, among other sources.

“I use a lot of different things, different venues to verify what I find,” McAteer said. “With COVID I don’t have much else to do — I found maybe 300 new names during the pandemic.”

McAteer said he has given presentations on the information he’s collected to the Lions Club, Rotary and similar organizations, as well as historical societies and “anybody who will listen to me.”

It’s important to remember veterans for their service, he said, figuring that “if I don’t pay attention to the veterans before me, no one’s going to pay attention to me.”

Historical context

The Spanish-American War was a fight between the United States and Spain in 1898 that, according to history.com, “ended Spanish colonial rule in the Americas and resulted in U.S. acquisition of territories in the western Pacific and Latin America.” The war originated in the Cuban struggle for independence from Spain and was triggered after the unexplained sinking in Havana harbor of the American battleship USS Maine on Feb. 15, 1898.

History.com notes that the claimed the lives of 3,000 Americans, but only a few hundred died in combat; the rest were killed by yellow fever and typhoid.

The Philippine Insurrection, aka the Philippine-American War, was a war between the U.S. and Filipino revolutionaries from 1899 to 1902. It was, according to britannica.com, “a continuation of the Philippine Revolution against Spanish rule” after the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Spanish-American War and “transferred Philippine sovereignty from Spain to the United States but was not recognized by Filipino leaders.”

The U.S. retained possession of the islands until 1946, but the war was costly: some 20,000 Filipino combatants were killed, “and more than 200,000 civilians perished as a result of combat, hunger, or disease,” britannica.com states. “Of the 4,300 Americans lost, some 1,500 were killed in action, while nearly twice that number succumbed to disease.”

The China Relief Expedition was a multinational effort, to which the United States contributed troops in 1900-01, to rescue U.S. citizens, Europeans and other foreign nationals during the Boxer Rebellion. According to veteranmuseum.net, 13 Americans died in the conflict.

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Tom has been a professional journalist for nearly four decades. In his spare time, he plays fiddle with the Irish band Fire in the Glen, and he reviews music, books and movies for Rambles.NET. He lives with his wife, Michelle, and has four children: Vinnie, Molly, Annabelle and Wolf.