VETERANS DAY REMEMBRANCE
Two Madisonians who bravely served the nation in wartime
Friday, November 11, 2016 3:01 PM
On Veterans Day, Americans tend to honor veterans from wars that remain in our collective memory – World War II, Korea, Vietnam and the Middle Eastern conflicts since 9/11.
James Todd Chapman served the country during the Spanish-American War. He is buried in Springdale Cemetery. (Photo courtesy of the Jefferson County Historical Society)
But the World Wars were not the country’s first foray into fighting overseas. The U.S. was involved in many foreign conflicts in the 1800s – one as far away as China.
But the best known of the 19th century is probably the Spanish-American War in 1898, though it hasn’t gotten a lot of attention in this century.
Battles were fought in Cuba and Puerto Rico, as well as in the Philippines and Guam – at the time, all colonies of the Spanish Empire. Starting as a war for Cuban independence from Spain, the U.S. government initially sent the U.S.S. Maine to Havana to monitor the situation and protect American interests as tensions grew between Cuban rebels and those who remained loyal to Spain.
The Maine sank in Havana harbor after a mysterious explosion, which, at the time, the U.S. blamed on Spanish mines. Historians now believe the explosion was internal, caused by the ignition of gases released from stored bituminous coal used to operate the Maine’s steam-powered engine.
Urged on by shipping firms and American businesses invested in Cuba’s sugar production, Congress declared war on Spain hoping to end the revolt and restore order.
While its unclear how many Jefferson County residents were sent to fight, more than 30 gravesites of veterans of that war have been identified in Springdale Cemetery, according to Karen Phillips’ “virtual cemetery” at www.findagrave.com.
One Madison resident, James Todd Chapman, enlisted in the 1st Kentucky Volunteer Infantry, which mustered into service in June 1898 in Lexington, Ky.
As part of that regiment, Chapman was sent to Puerto Rico, however the 1st Kentucky reached its destination on Aug. 10 and Aug. 19, just days after the fighting ended Aug. 12, when Spain and the U.S. Agreed to an armistice.
Chapman and his regiment remained in active service through Feb. 24, 1899, when it mustered out in Louisville.
According to a history of the unit at www.spanamwar.com, the regiment lost 27 men to disease, one man in an accident and reported three deserters.
According to his obituary, posted by Phillips on his FindAGrave memorial page, Chapman became a nurse, working in soldiers’ homes in Dayton, Ohio, and in California.
The son of Henry C. And Postanne Fisher Chapman, James was born in 1871 and had four siblings – Charles M., Harry C., Katherine H. And George B.
He was a member of the United Spanish War Veterans and a charter member of Weber-Warren-Lewis Post 1969 of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He returned to Madison and was living at the Broadway Hotel when he died April 25, 1952.
Also in Springdale Cemetery is a stone marker memorializing another Madison native who served her country.
Though she was not in the military, Emily Harper Rea served in England and France, where she worked at “rest centers” as a member of the American Red Cross during World War II. The centers provided recreation and entertainment for Air Corps men who were given time to rest after completing a certain number of missions, according to her obituary.
Before enlisting with the Red Cross in January 1943, the Madison High School and Hanover College graduate had moved to Frankfort, Ky., where she worked as a secretary for former Gov. A.B. “Happy” Chandler and Gov. Keen Johnson.
The daughter of Robert Right and Laura Harper Rea, Emily was on leave from her post in liberated Paris and spending time with friends at the Bedford, England, center when she was invited to fly to Ireland with members of the 367th Squadron of the 306th Bomb Group, nicknamed The Clay Pigeons.
Rea and four other passengers, who were heading to Langford Lodge in Ireland for some “R&R” – rest and relaxation – boarded a plane called “Combined Operations.” According to a history of that flight, there was a ceiling of clouds and the pilot was advised to fly at low altitude just above the cloud cover. The pilot also had been instructed to avoid the Isle of Man, located in the Irish Sea between England and Ireland.
Somehow, though, the plane did fly over the Isle of Man and crashed into the side of a hill there on April 14, 1945 – two days after the death of President Franklin D. Roosevelt and just three weeks before the war in Europe would end. All aboard the plane were killed in the fiery crash.
The dead were buried in a cemetery in Madingly, Cambridge, England.
“She was buried this afternoon with full military honors,” according to a letter written to Rea’s parents from one of her British friends. The letter is part of a collection held in the archives at the Jefferson County Historical Society’s History Center. “Practically the whole of the airforce attended it. ... Her nature was always to give and give with never a thought for herself and I do not expect anyone has left a greater mark or has been more greatly loved.”
Another letter, written by Laura Rea to Harper family members in June 1945, described actions of the Franklin County War Mothers. Members of that organization had planted trees at the Darnell Hospital in Danville, Ky., now known as Kentucky State Hospital, where soldiers were treated for war-related psychiatric illnesses.
In the letter, Rea said the organization was planning to plant a pin oak tree on the hospital grounds in Emily Rea’s honor, with other trees that had been planted in honor of servicemen from the county who died in the war.