Before The Colors Fade


In recalling the stiff-brimmed hats they wore, the veteran remembered his narrowest escape. A bullet went through the back brim of his hat as he bent to work the lock of his carbine.

If I had been standing straight, it would have hit me right in the forehead.

Incidentally [returning to Kettle Hill], there was a little ravine off to my left, and there was a Negro there, and he called to me. I went over, and he says, “This is my son,” pointing to a young man on the ground who was bleeding badly. He says, “Can you stop this blood?”

I took my first aid out and I made a knot of it, and I got his first aid and made a knot. He had been shot through an artery. I made a plug out of the first aid. I said, “I’m afraid it’s too late to do him any good,” because I could see his eyes were tipping, and he went.

So I took a minute or two there, and then I went back out, and by the time I caught up with them Teddy was sending Billy McGinty back with his horse. He says to McGinty, “I want this horse after the war.” He had come to some barbed-wire entanglements [just below the top of the hill], so he sent McGinty back with his horse.

Roosevelt went on and overran the trenches, and he was maybe seventy-five yards ahead of us—he was always ahead of us. There was two or three fellows that started over after him. I’ve forgotten who they were, but I wasn’t one of them, and he came back—he found he was alone. He looked around and came back. That was the charge as far as I’m concerned.

By late in the day, the Spaniards had been driven from San Juan and Kettle hills back toward Santiago. The Americans dug trenches and moved up reinforcements. During the night of July I, Langdon felt some pity for the enemy.

I was ashamed of myself to be killing them, because most of them were kids. It was a damned shame. When I went up to the trenches that night and walked along them and saw these boys in there dead—little boys, with men’s shoes on, manila-rope-soled canvas shoes. Some of them had three or four bullet holes in the head. They looked like children. It made me feel ashamed. A lot of the boys said the same thing.

On July 3, the Spanish fleet sailed from Santiago Bay and was sunk by the American ships. Negotiations began, and finally, on July ij, Santiago was surrendered.

In the interim, the Americans lay in trenches, and sickness spread rapidly. Langdon was a victim.

I was lying there in the trenches before I went out under yellow fever, and Roosevelt came right up and stood over me and talked to me. He said, “Hello, Langdon. How’re you getting along?” I can see him bubbling. There was nobody quite like him, I’m telling you. Men were drawn to him because they knew he was the right man. We’d have gone to hell with him.

Langdon fared well. Recovered from yellow fever, he was one of thirteen Rough Riders who toured the country in 1899 as a part of Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show. In 1900 he went to England to buy horses, and while there (his weight much reduced by sickness) fought the middleweight champion of England to a drain. Over the years he practiced as a veterinarian, and while living on a ranch in Washington state he served as an unlicensed doctor, because there was no physician within a hundred miles. He has been a builder, surveyor, machinist, and plumber; he holds 189 patents in fields as diverse as aviation and beauty aids.

In Lafayetteville he fishes, works on an economics book he is planning to publish, and writes a fair number of letters. Often he signs himself “Jesse D. Langdon, the last man—K Troop, Roosevelt’s Rough Riders.”