An Unusual Education for an Army Officer
August 7, 2008
- An Unusual Education for an Army Officer
One learns a lot while serving in the United States Army. Foreign places, stressful conditions, and absence from home can foster an out-of-the-classroom education that crosses the boundary of the odd and unusual. Today, tales of strange sea creatures and haunted islands seem like a bad Sci-Fi marathon. But these were realities for one U.S. Army soldier stationed overseas at the turn of the 20th century.
The arts of journal keeping, letter writing and daily diary entries are becoming extinct as methods of memory management in today's technology driven world. What once was detailed on paper with memory fresh at hand is now posted on YouTube. Today, blogs replace the diary entries. Hand-written letters to loved ones are far slower than a quick Facebook "poke" or a cell phone text message.
Historians enjoy a deep appreciation for the written word. They savor the ability to see the world through the eyes of someone who never had satellite TV, the internet or a cell phone. Where explanation was not readily at hand in the strange lands of the Philippine Islands, the environment was ripe for adventure and the unknown. Placing one's self into such situations fosters an education that cannot be duplicated in any classroom, book or blockbuster movie. A survivor of deadly and savage situations, Colonel Horace P. Hobbs recorded these well-documented experiences that lend a degree of depth to the retelling and re-imagining of Army history.
The odd education of Colonel Horace P. Hobbs is revealed in his voluminous personal papers held at the U.S. Army Military History Institute. A letter of August 16, 1918, soothes his wife while he is stationed in France during World War I. "You see it is the women who suffer most during war. Now I know you and mother are worrying about me and I am living in the most luxurious comfort and perfect safety just now." He goes to great length to explain his lush surroundings and the comfort he is experiencing, from bathing in a nearby brook, to the size of his room and the servants who provide for him, as he attempts to console a worry-sick wife. It would seem, however, that Mrs. Hobbs had been through worse as a military spouse.
Her husband was stationed in the Philippines during the insurrection from 1899 to 1901. Colonel Hobbs wrote a book from his collected journals and memoirs entitled, Kris and Krag: Adventures among the Moros of the Southern Philippine Islands. Among his many tales, the Colonel tells about a strange native custom on one of the small islands of taking their boats across a narrow strait to another island and returning before dark. They explained to him that the island was the home of the "wok-wok", a powerful ghost who must be appeased with gifts of rice so they will not harm the people. Upon further inspection the Army discovered the "wok-wok" to be large apes.
Another bizarre chapter in the Colonel's education came when he was asked by some villagers to kill a sea creature which wreaked havoc among the people whenever they slaughtered an animal for food. The blood would run into the water, and out would come the creature. The Colonel waited for the apparition to appear after a slaughter, and he was not disappointed. Upon further inspection he described the animal as being some kind of mix between an alligator and a crocodile, but one he had never seen before.
Experience in foreign places, blended with curiosity and a desire to learn, enabled Colonel Hobbs to obtain a far greater grasp of the world. These traits provided him with an education that the average person today cannot obtain from watching television or searching the web.
Editor's Note: Jason served as a summer 2008 student volunteer with the Army Heritage and Education Center. He is a Master's Candidate at Shippensburg University, Pennsylvania.