JULY 11, 2016, NORFOLK (NNS) – Sailors from Arleigh Burke-class guided-missile destroyer USS Mitscher (DDG 57) were joined by their Spanish counterparts from lvaro de Bazan-class frigate SPS Cristobal Colon (F105), a ship in Armada Española, the Spanish navy during a wreath laying ceremony June 27.
The ceremony honored three Spanish sailors who died during the Spanish-American War and were buried in the Captain Theodore H. Conaway Memorial Naval Cemetery adjacent to Naval Medical Center Portsmouth.
During the Battle of Santiago de Cuba, the largest naval engagement in the war for Cuba’s independence, 47 Spanish prisoners of war (POWs) were taken north to Portsmouth to receive medical care — where the Spanish patients reported they were treated with kindness, despite being POWs. Two prisoners died from their wounds, and a third later died from disease. In the late 1800s, technological constraints prevented fallen sailors from being returned to their home countries, and were instead buried locally. Today, Sailors from the two navies come together periodically to honor those killed in the Spanish-American War. During the ceremony, the fallen sailors were honored with the laying of wreaths, a gun salute, and the playing of taps.
“It is a great thing when countries come together and honor their dead despite being from different countries,” said Kenneth Pugh, site director for Naval Support Activity Hampton Roads and Portsmouth.
Deputy Chief of Staff Joint Force Trainer Vice Adm. Francisco J. Gonzalez-Huix Fernandez; Cmdr. Ignacio Cuartero, commanding officer of Cristobal Colon; and Cmdr. Milciades Then, commanding officer of Mitscher each laid a wreath on the headstones. The wreaths’ red and yellow flowers represented the colors of the Spanish flag.
“In 1898 we fought at sea; today we are friends,” said Cuartero. “The Battle of Santiago is now part of our common history. My crew and I are very honored to have here today the captain and crew of USS Mitscher, to pay a combined tribute to the sailors of both countries that gave their lives fighting for our nations. The ceremony today had a very special significance for my crew. One of the sailors buried at this Memorial Cemetery was crew of the cruiser Cristobal Colon then, as we are today.”
Although the two navies’ fought more than a century ago, the Spanish and American sailors found common ground honoring brave Sailors who died serving their country.