By the door of the New Carlisle Library, a marker reads: “Major General Fred Funston, Nov 9, 1865 – Feb. 19, 1917.”
It was exactly 150 years ago that Funston was born to Edward H. and Ann E. (Mitchell) Funston in a building on Main Street where Rite Aid now stands.
New Carlisle had just become a town, and I cannot help but wonder if any of the current residents are related to him. When he was just a few years old, his family moved to Kansas, but some relatives might still be here.
At the turn of the century, he was known to the world as Fearless Fred Funston. He was a Medal of Honor recipient and a national hero more than once.
Reading one of the numerous biographies of Funston is like reading an action novel. The cool thing that starts them all is that he was born in New Carlisle, Ohio. Funston was the first to put New Carlisle on the map.
After his application to West Point was turned down, Funston spent nearly a decade working in America’s wildest regions like the Black Hills, Death Valley, and Alaska. Yet he still wanted to be a soldier.
At 30 he joined the Cuban army to fight for independence from Spain. Funston had 17 horses shot out from under him and, once, when he was captured, he chewed up and swallowed his identity papers to avoid execution.
This really happened. I cannot make up stuff this good.
When the Spanish-American war broke out, he became a colonel in the Kansas National Guard and was sent to in the Philippines.
In 1899 he swam the BangBang River and took a bamboo raft across the Pampanga River under heavy enemy fire to secure the crossing for U.S. Troops. At the age of 35, Funston was awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor for heroism in battle and promoted to Brigadier General of Volunteers.
In 1901 he personally led a daring expedition under cover into enemy territory to capture the opposition leader in the Philippines, Emilio Aguinaldo. This made Funston a national hero, and the president promoted him to brigadier general in the U.S. Army.
After the huge San Francisco earthquake of 1906, Funston used innovative ideas to stop the fires and got the looting under control. San Francisco residents loved him for saving their city.
After that, he was military governor of Vera Cruz, Mexico. In 1916 Funston was promoted to major general and was the highest-ranking officer in the U.S. Army, which is extra impressive since his application to West Point was turned down when he was a teenager.
Funston personally traveled to the border to coordinate the capture of Pancho Villa. Under his command during this expedition were a group of young officers who would soon impress the world; Gen. Black Jack Pershing, Capt. Douglas MacArthur, Lt. George Patton and Lt. Dwight Eisenhower.
In 1917 President Wilson was about to name Funston the commander of the American Expeditionary Force in Europe when Funston died suddenly of a heart attack at the age of 51. He was the first person honored with lying in state in the Alamo and is buried at The Presidio in San Francisco.
Funston was soon forgotten as the men he trained went on to win World War I and II. There are streets named after him in San Francisco, Fort Bragg, Hawaii and New Carlisle.
It seems to me that our schools should teach our younger generation about Funston. He should be more than a name on a rock. His drive, bravery and innovation should be used to inspire the next generation.
And I hope that someday there will be signs at the city limits of New Carlisle that say, “Birthplace of Major General Fred Funston, Medal of Honor Recipient.”
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