War flag is Mt. Pleasant facility's centerpiece relic
Though torn, tattered and bearing brownish burns sustained in battle, an American flag, wrapped tightly around a brass pole, stands encased in a glass framed, wooden compartment in the newly dedicated “Mt. Pleasant Room.”
The banner — which represents the centerpiece item along the room's local military history wall — is a symbol of so much more, according to Rick Meason, president of the Mt. Pleasant Area Historical Society.
“My favorite part of the room is the great wall honoring Mt. Pleasant's proud military tradition,” Meason said. “Our brave townspeople have served in every major war and conflict that the United States has ever engaged in.”
The flag, donated to the society by the Bunton & Malek Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3368 in the borough, represents a milestone in that great military history, he said, as it was carried in the Philippine Islands by Mt. Pleasant's Company E of the 10th Pennsylvania National Guard during the Spanish-American War.
“This a very historical moment for us, and a very emotional moment. This is something we've done to honor our society and honor our borough,” said Joseph Zelenak, the post's commander.
Flag withstood warfare
Company E was formed in 1888 under the command of Civil War veteran Capt. James A. Loar, Meason said.
The company assisted with several domestic incidents, such as the Johnstown Flood in 1889, the Southwestern Pennsylvania coal and coke riots of 1891, and the 1892 Homestead riots, he said.
“The outbreak of the Spanish-American War in the spring of 1898 marked the first time that our local company would be called into the service of our country in a foreign land,” Meason said.
The flag now on display was with them outside the Spanish Fort Malate on July 31, 1898, when at about 10:30 p.m. a column of about 2,000 Spanish troops made an advance on the right flank of the American line, he said.
“The significance of these flags was that, before radio communication, they were held up behind front lines, so commanding generals could tell where all regiments were, and they were held up throughout battle,” Meason said.
Company E, which was being held in reserve at the time, was hastily brought to the front line to defend the flank, he said.
“Although heavily outnumbered and largely exposed to enemy fire, the boys from Mt. Pleasant repelled the attack,” Meason said. “Their efforts earned them the admiration of the nation, and earned the regiment the nickname ‘The Fighting Tenth.'”
But their valor came at a cost, he added.
Local soldiers such as William E. Bunton, Jacob Hull Jr., Jesse Noss, Robert Lee Snyder and William Stillwagon were all killed or mortally wounded in the battle, Meason said.
Alexander Newill would be killed in the Battle of Malolos on March 25, 1899, and Sylvester Bert Bobbs, who was wounded in the left shoulder during the Battle of Malate, would die of disease on the transport ship home on July 22, 1899, he said.
“The panels on the wall to the right contain the names of all of our brave soldiers who fought in this seldom-remembered war,” Meason said. “I would like to think that the bravery of these men inspired future generations of Mt. Pleasant soldiers who gallantly served in other, more celebrated, foreign wars.”
Relic discovered under dust
Former Bunton & Malek VFW Post 3368 commander and current service officer Joseph Bauer discovered the flag in its original encasement built in 1943 by late members.
“I was cleaning out the attic at the post headquarters in early 1998, and I found it covered in black dust,” Bauer said. “I put it down in the banquet hall. It was a good conversation piece when we had a function.”
When Bauer learned from Christofano of the Mt. Pleasant Room, he made a motion at a recent post meeting to donate the item to the society for display there.
“I thought it would be a place of honor to bring it and put it on display where other people could see it and know about its history,” Bauer said.
“Once I made the motion to donate the flag to the society for display in this room, everyone was behind it 100 percent.”
Society is appreciative of post's largesse
Veterans of the Spanish-American War helped officially establish the Veterans of Foreign Wars of America in 1899. Bauer said he hopes the flag on display at the room, which is accompanied by a complete roster of the men who served with U.S. Army Co. E of Mt. Pleasant, will garner local interest from the public.
“Hopefully someone with knowledge of this story will step forward if they learn they have a connection to any of the men on that roster,” he said.
Meason again thanked the post members for ensuring that possibility.
“With this great donation from our friends at the VFW, I hope that the memories of these men will be preserved for many years to come,” he said.
A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or firstname.lastname@example.org.