Updated: Oct 24, 2021
I was recently at the Rush Veteran’s Memorial. It moved me to see the names of all the brave men and women from Rush who served in the military. Looking over each of the nine plaques, I was intrigued by one with only four names inscribed; The Spanish-American War of 1898. Like most people I knew very little of this conflict except for Teddy Roosevelt’s charge up San Juan Hill and the slogan “Remember the Maine!” Mr. Henry Polkow, Jr. is the name I decided to research. The Rush Town Historian, Sue Mee, was able to find a short obituary from the December 18, 1950 Democrat and Chronicle.
Henry Polchow Rush Farmer Henry Polchow, 74 of Five Points Rd., Rush, a Spanish- American War veteran died yesterday (Dec. 17, 1950). Smith Camp, United Spanish-American War Veterans. Surviving are his daughter, Mrs. Hazel Gucker; a son Frederick Polchow; a sister Mrs. Mary Lukenheimer and a granddaughter. Burial will be at Mt. Hope Cemetery.
(Note the different spelling of his name.) I was very interested to know what was his role in the war and where did he serve.
The war itself was the between the United States and Spain and was fought in two main regions, the Caribbean and the Philippines. The reasons were both military and economic. Spain had two colonies in the Caribbean, Cuba and Puerto Rico. It also had occupied the Philippines since the 1700’s. Cuba and the Philippines, both brutally repressed by Spain, had been fighting for independence for years. There was talk of US intervention in these conflicts based on economic (Sugar) and humanitarian grounds prior to 1898. In February 1898 the US sent the Battleship Maine to Havana to ensure the safety of American citizens. On February 15th a large explosion totally destroyed the ship with 355 sailors and Marines perishing. An investigation concluded that an external explosion caused the catastrophe. On April 23, 1898 Spain declared war on the United States. In the spring of 1898 the US Regular Army was just 25,000 men! The Army was hoping to recruit 50,000 new men, but received over 220,000 volunteers, one of which was Henry Polkow, Jr.
Henry Polkow was born in Brighton, NY on July 26, 1876. He subsequently lived in Rush and worked as a broom maker living on a farm. In those days it made sense for broom makers to live on farms. They would take wild rushes and bundle them together to make the brooms. Mr. Polkow’s enlistment record shows him entering the Army on June 27, 1898 at age 23. Henry was assigned to the 19th US Infantry Regiment – Company I. Henry’s basic training was in the New York City area. His unit left Tampa on the USS Florida and invaded Puerto Rico on July 25, 1898. Henry’s unit was part of the 3,300 American Soldiers that disembarked that day.
The 19th US Infantry participated in 3 key battles of the Puerto Rican Campaign including Guayama, Silvan Heights and the capture of the key City of Ponce. By the time the war ended on August 13, 1898 The American force had successfully captured over half of the island in just nineteen days! Henry Polkow and the 19th US Infantry stayed in Puerto Rico doing Provost Duty until June of 1899. The unit then returned to Ft. Meade, PA where Henry mustered out of the military returning back to Rush.
After his adventures in Puerto Rico it seem Henry Polkow lived a quiet life. Census records show that he married Louisa Dobbertin in 1905. The couple had two children Frederick born 1905 and Hazel born 1910. The family lived many years in their own home on Five Points Rd in Rush. Henry continued being a broom maker. Records show that Henry applied for an Army Pension in 1922 when he was 46 years old.
It seems that Henry was proud of his service in the Spanish-American War. He is buried in Mt Hope Cemetery in the Spanish-American War Lot BB. His tombstone reads:
Henry Polkow Died Dec 17, 1950 Age 74 Co. I, 19’ US Infantry SAW
Sources: armyhistory.org, wikipedia.com, ancestry.com