The genial treatment accorded the German officers and crew of the Kronprinzessin Cecilie at the outset of World War I (“The Sway of the Grand Saloon,” October, 1971) was not altogether unusual in American military annals. There are some of us today who remember how well German prisoners of war were treated in detention camps in this country during the logo’s. But nothing can quite match the gratitude expressed by a Spanish infantryman who was captured when the American Army won the battle for Cuba in the summer of 1898. On the eve of being returned home to Spain that August, Private Pedro Lopez de Castillo wrote the following letter:
Soldiers of the American Army:
We would not be fulfilling our duty as well-born men, in whose breasts there lives gratitude and courtesy, should we embark for our beloved Spain without sending to you our most cordial and sincere good wishes and farewell. We fought you with ardor, with all our strength, endeavoring to gain the victory, but without the slightest rancor or hate toward the American nation. We have been vanquished by you (so our generals and chiefs judged in signing the capitulation), but our surrender and the bloody battles preceding it have left in our souls no place for resentment against the men who fought us nobly and valiantly. You fought and acted in compliance with the same call of duty as we, for we all but represent the power of our respective States. You fought us as men, face to face, and with great courage, as before stated, a quality which we had not met with during the three years we have carried on this war against a people without religion, without morals, without conscience, and of doubtful origin, who could not confront the enemy, but, hidden, spot their noble victims from ambush and then immediately fled. This was the kind of warfare we had to sustain in this unfortunate land. You have complied exactly with all the laws and usages of war as recognized by the armies of the most civilized nations of the world, have given honorable burial to the dead of the vanquished, have cured their wounded with great humanity, have respected and cared for your prisoners and their comfort, and, lastly, to us whose condition was terrible, you have given freely of food, of your stock of medicines, and you have honored us with distinction and courtesy, for after the fighting the two armies mingled with the utmost harmony. With this high sentiment of appreciation from us all, there remains but to express our farewell, and with the greatest sincerity we wish you all happiness and health in this land which will no longer belong to our dear Spain, but will be yours, who have conquered it by force and watered it with your blood, as your conscience called for, under the demand of civilization and humanity, but the descendants of the Congo and of Guinea, mingled with the blood of unscrupulous Spaniards and of traitors and adventurers, these people are not able to exercise or enjoy their liberty, for they will find it a burden to comply with the laws which govern civilized communities.
From 11,000 Spanish soldiers.
It is not likely that a similar letter, from a prisoner of either side, will be written after the Vietnam war is finally ended.