Sunday, February 19, 2017

General Frederick Funston dies.

On this date in 1917 a shock happened to the nation.  The general who Woodrow Wilson already had in mind for an American expeditionary force in Europe, should the US enter the Great War, which was becoming increasingly likely, died.

And with his death, it truly seemed that an era had really passed.

 Gen. Frederick Funston, next to driver, in 1906.

Funston was a hero and a legend.  He'd risen to high command on the strength of his military achievements without being a West Point graduate.  He was truly an exception to the rules.

Funston was born in Ohio in 1865 and in some ways did not show early promise in life.  He was a very small and slight (at first) man, standing only 5'5" and weighing only 120 lbs upon reaching adulthood.  He aspired as a youth to the military, after growing up in Kansas, but he was rejected by West Point due to his small size.  He thereafter attended the University of Kansas for three years but did not graduate.  Following that he worked for awhile for the Santa Fe Railroad before becoming a reporter in Kansas City in 1890.

Only after a year he left reporting and went to work for the Department of Agriculture as a researcher in an era when that was an adventuresome occupation.  In 1896, however, Funston left that to join the Cuban insurrection against Spain in Cuba.

  Funston as a Cuban guerilla.

As most Americans spending any time in Cuba at the time experienced, he came down with malaria while serving the Cuban revolution.  Returning to United States weighing only 95 lbs he found himself back in the United States just in time to secure a commission with the 20th Kansas Infantry as it was raised to fight in the Spanish American War.  

"Funston's Fighting Kansans" in the Philippines.

The 20th Kansas didn't fight in Cuba, it fought in the Philippines.  Funston served there heroically and received the Medal of Honor, and found himself promoted to the rank of Brigadier General in the Regular Army at age 35, a remarkable rise contrary to the usual story of military advancement and more reminiscent of the Civil War than anything thereafter.  Following his service in the Philippines, however, he fell into a period of controversy due to aggressively pro military action comments he made in the United States.

He was stationed at the Presidio in San Francisco upon his return to the United States and was there at the time of the 1906 earthquake.  He controversially declared martial law to attempt to combat the fire and looters and in fact authorized the shooting of looters.  Following that he was stationed again in the Philippines and Hawaii.  In 1914 he was placed in command of the Southern Department of the Army and was in command of the US forces in Vera Cruz and thereafter in Mexico under Pershing.

Funston and his family at the Presidio.

On this date in 1917 he was relaxing at the St. Anthony Hotel in San Antonio Texas when he suffered a massive stroke and died.  He was only 51 years of age but he had put on a tremendous amount of weight in recent years. Indeed, his weight had prevented him from active field service by the time of the Punitive Expedition, but the fact of his death in this fashion would suggest an undiagnosed high blood pressure condition, something that was commonly fatal in that era.

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