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Spanish American War Recalled

The last living Jones County Iowa veteran of the war Mike Souhrada

[Source: 1998 Souhrada Family Newsletter]


Taken from:

The Cedar Rapids Gazette

Sunday March 7, 1965

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Spanish-American War Recalled

Last Jones County Veteran Had A Close Call

By Art Hough, Gazette Writer-Photographer


Oxford Junction - Mike Souhrada came within one (second) of being killed in the Spanish-American war. He was about to sit down on a hatch cover to eat supper on his Cuba-bound ship when a buddy shoved him aside and sat down himself. The trouble was the hatch cover wasn't there. The impolite soldier fell two decks into the hold of the ship and was killed. In the dark of night no one had noticed that the hatch cover was not in its proper place.

 

Last One

Souhrada, now 85, is the only one of five Jones county veterans of the Spanish-American war who still lives in the county. Jim Yanda, now of Cedar Rapids, is a patient in the Veterans hospital in Iowa City. The other three, E.E. Reed, Dwight Chapman, and George Hogan, all of Monticello, are dead.

 

Mike, son of a small farmer in Pisek, Bohemia, has lived in the United States since he was 2. There was a general migration of Souhradas and relatives from Bohemia to the U.S. for a time. One of his half sisters, Mrs. Mike Wosoba, and her husband settled 3 miles northeast of Oxford Junction. The following year, Mike's half brother came over and settled in Cresco, followed shortly by the elder Souhrada, who went into farming near Oxford Junction.

 

Mike's mother brought Mike and three half sisters a few months later, making the trip to New York on a sail ship, thence by rail to Chicago and Oxford Junction, in six weeks. The Souhradas moved into town in 1883. The father bought a lot on Main Street for $50 and, with the help of his neighbors, built a sturdy two-room house for a total cost of $300.

Mike's father became a section hand on the Milwaukee railroad and helped build the road from Marion on west.

 

Volunteer At 18

Young Mike was 18 when he volunteered for service in the Spanish-American war in July, '98. He recalls that he planned to enlist at Cedar Rapids. But when he learned that he probably would be in the horse cavalry or artillery, he changed his plans and enlisted at Dubuque in Company M, 49th Iowa regiment. The regiment was commanded by Col. William G. Dows of Cedar Rapids.

 

After four months training at Jacksonville, Fla., Pvt. Souhrada and his regiment were shipped to Cuba from Savannah, Ga., aboard the transport Minnewaska. The war was practically over, an armistice having been signed in August (the peace treaty was signed in Paris, Dec. 10), but Souhrada stood guard duty at Leventa Springs, where fresh water was carried 12 miles through a tunnel.

 

The worst enemy of the Americans was yellow fever, diabetes, and yellow "jauders" (jaundice), said Mike, although he escaped them all until he was back in the U.S. and contracted the jauders. Three of the men in Company M died over there, one from homesickness, Mike recalls.

 

Getting back to his trip to Cuba, Mike related how some of the soldiers had groused a bit because they were quartered on the third deck below, while 200 mules rode in style on the upper deck. There was a simple explanation for this. In case of any accident, the mules could be chased off the ship and saved. The men would have had to scramble for themselves.

 

Old Diary

From time to time, Mike referred to a well-worn diary he kept while he was in service, "although I was not supposed to." The diary shows Mike was in Cuba for about five months before he was returned to Savannah and mustered out on May 13, 1899, with $126 in back pay.

 

"They gave us marching pay instead of transportation," Mike said, "but instead of walking home we charted a special train at half-fare." Mike received $15.60 a month as a soldier, spending most of it on stamps, books and extra food.

 

Back in Iowa, Mike went back to railroading, a job he'd started 18 months before his enlistment. "Yes, I was a gandy dancer," he grinned, "but in 1901, at the age of 21, I was promoted to foreman of the section gang at Spragueville, Iowa. I was there for five years. In fact, I was there before the rails were there. We had the work of going ahead of the track - laying gang, clearing up weeds and rocks. Sometimes the weeds were six feet high."

 

Mike's section hands were shipped out of Chicago by the coach load, some of them to stay only a few days. "Some of them would leave before they actually ever went to work."

Mike stayed with the railroad until 1943, except for two years (1910-11) when he tried farming in "jungle town" on the Wapsi between Oxford Junction and Hale. "It's now a summer resort for a Cedar Rapids bunch," Mike said.

 

Back to Stay

Reinstated as a section foreman at Oxford Junction, Mike was sent to Sabula, transferred to Lost Nation and then to the Illinois division as foreman on the xtra gang at Davis junction. "They coaxed me to come back to Morely or Martelle. I rejected all bids except Oxford Junction. I got it in two weeks and was back here to stay in October, 1915.

 

Mike did his bit for Oxford Junction by serving on the town council for 25 years, from 1916 to 1941. "I was on the council when the sewer was put in. I made the motion and I pretty near got hanged for it." He is a charter member of the Monticello VFW chartered after World War I.

 

Mike was a widower when he and his present wife, who was a widow, were married July 25, 1944, a year after he retired at the age of 63.

 

He has two sons, Arthur and Albert, in Milwaukee, and a stepson, Mervil Powlishta of Cedar Rapids; four grandchildren, four step-grandchildren, three great-grandchildren and one step great-grandchild. Both of his sons served in the Pacific during World War II and returned as majors. Arthur had 22 years in service, including 18 in the reserves.

 

Mrs. Souhrada, like her husband, has a sparkling sense of humor, although she has been an invalid for nearly a year. "I was a cook at a fraternity house in Iowa City. The boys told me I should get married again. So I said if I can find a retired railroad man with a pension and a pass, I'll marry him."

 

Travel

Mike filled the bill. Using that lifetime railroad pass they traveled all over the country, spent 14 winters in Long Beach. One time they heard on the 10pm news broadcast that Gen. MacArthur would be in Milwaukee the next day. They caught the 3am train and went to Milwaukee to see him.

 

Mike has a lot of memories. One of them goes back to that day in 1898, when his ship left Savannah for Cuba. Tugboats were used to tow the transports out into the Atlantic, after which those who were to go ashore were transferred to the tug and returned to Savannah. "I was standing guard," Mike recalls proudly, "when the colonel's wife, Mrs. Dows, and their son, Sutherland, then about 8, went down the gang plank to get on the tugboat that took them back to port." Sutherland Dows, one of Cedar Rapids' most prominent business men, may not even recall that moment, but Mike will never forget it.