I place my grandfather’s Word War I Victory Medal onto the table and set it at ease. I return to the box and see two older medals pinned to the navy velvet. They’re secure and at attention, one on top of the other. The top medal is fastened to a red ribbon that is shaped like July 4th bunting. The medal’s image is worn, but INDIAN WARS is engraved at the top in an arc. With a closer look in the light, you can see the prancing horse in the middle, and a Native American riding it bareback wearing a feathered headdress and carrying a long lance-like arrow. I have a hard time comprehending that one of my relatives fought Indians, but one did. He is my great grandfather John Fishman. An email from my uncle comforts me. In it are scanned photos like the one below along with facts regarding my great grandfather’s service that were obtained from a letter John wrote to his sister dated 1881. He tells about his trip down the Trinity and Klamath rivers to take charge of and provisions for the Army Post in Requa, California. This post defended the Hoh Indian Reservation from poaching white men, and my great grandfather was there for three months.
I am proud my great grandfather defended Native Americans, but I also know he fought them from the Indian Campaign Medal, which was retroactively awarded in 1907 to any soldiers of the U.S. Army who participated in the American Indian Wars against the Native Americans between 1865 and 1891. My great grandfather was born around 1850 and he died in 1915. I do know he left the Army in 1886, after chasing Geronimo, with a medical discharge because of malaria.
That didn’t end my great grandfather’s service in the army because there’s that second medal pinned in the box. This one’s ribbon is half red and half gold and also shaped like 4th of July bunting. There is a brass bar at the top of the ribbon that reads United Spanish War Veterans, which is an organization that formed in 1904 with the merging of Spanish War Veterans, Spanish-American War Veterans, and Servicemen of the Spanish War.
I pick up the World War I Victory Medal from the table and strategically place it in the box so the clasp will close. I now know who these medals were awarded to and their significance, They are those of a father and his son, my grandpas.