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Weld a hero in Philippines

July 27, 2003|by LAURA ERNDE

laurae@herald-mail.com

SANDYHOOK -The story of a career U.S. Army soldier who was awarded the Medal of Honor during the Philippine-American War begins in Sandy Hook.

George and Emily Weld ran a grocery store in the thriving southern Washington County town, which was home to two competing modes of transportation in the 19th century - the C&O Canal and the B&O Railroad.

Their sixth child, Seth Lathrop Weld, was born there on Feb. 19, 1879.

When Weld was a young boy, the family moved to Altamont, N.C.

There are differing stories of why the family moved.

A history of Avery County, N.C., compiled for its 1976 bicentennial, said George Weld "came as an organizer for the masons, as a sawmill man, to seek a better life in the reconstruction of the rebel south."

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But a relative interviewed by Washington County historian Donald E. Brown suggested the Welds went to work in the "cranberry marsh," making wine from those berries.

Whatever the reason for the family's move, it didn't cause Seth Weld to stick around.

Weld enlisted in the Army in 1899, claiming he was 21 when he was actually a year shy of being eligible for enlistment.

Serving in the 39th Company, Coast Artillery, Fort McHenry, Md., Weld reached the rank of 1st sergeant within three years.

In late 1905, Weld transferred to the 8th Infantry, which was scheduled to move to the Philippine Islands to fight the Philippine-American War, also known as the Philippine Insurrection. He requested the transfer even though it meant moving back to the rank of private.

Weld served in the Philippine Islands from April 1906 to April 1908, reaching the rank of corporal at the time of the Dec. 5, 1906, incident that earned him the medal.

Weld's Medal of Honor citation reads: "With his right arm cut open with a bolo went to the assistance of a wounded constabulary officer and a fellow soldier who were surrounded by about 40 Pulajanes, and, using his disabled rifle as a club, beat back the assailants and rescued his party."

Ten days after the battle, his commanding officer wrote a 14-page letter for the military, summarizing the event that occurred in the neighborhood of La Paz on the Philippine Island of Leyte. Weld's grandson furnished a copy of the letter.

That morning, a native reported seeing a band of pulajanes, a term used to identify the ragtag rebels. No one gave much stock to the report because the night before spies claimed the area was free of pulajanes.

But the commander organized a group of 45 soldiers to go look for them, taking a 15-minute break before they left to fuel up on coffee and bacon sandwiches.

The soldiers marched through a swamp for hours and at times were knee-deep in mud.

As the group prepared to pitch camp for the night, they sent out an advance party which was attacked by the pulajanes.

"Instantly the enemy arose from all sides and closed in. Corporal Weld, whose coolness on this occasion was simply fine, states that there was a long line of men on the right of trail, and near it, reaching almost to the house, and a similar line to the left and extending to the rear," Capt. Samuel V. Ham wrote.

Weld's gun barrel was pierced by a bullet so he used it as a club, beating attackers off two other soldiers and making his way back to the line.

"The corporal passes in front of the company in the enemy's midst, when our volley crashes into them. He finally rolls in front of the company, reaching our feet horribly cut and exhausted. How he escaped being killed by our fire may seem wonderful, but it only proves to me the excellency of our marksmanship," Ham wrote.

Ham recommended Weld receive the Medal of Honor for his heroic conduct.

Weld had a long military career, retiring as a lieutenant colonel in September 1933 on physical disability.

His first wife, Emily Miller of Baltimore, died during childbirth in 1902, two years after they married. Their daughter married in 1937 and moved to Springfield, Ill. She had no children, according to family history.

Weld married Hattie Shelton on Sept. 15, 1910, and Seth Lathrop Weld Jr. was born two years later.

After Weld retired from the military, the family settled in San Antonio, Texas.

He died at the age of 79 on Dec. 20, 1958, and was buried at Fort Sam Houston National Cemetery in San Antonio.

Weld's Medal of Honor hangs in the home of his grandson, Seth L. Weld III, in Overland Park, Kan.

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