Contributed by Florence West
Lt. Eli Helmick served with the 10th U. S. Infantry. The following account, taken from his handwritten autobiography, tells of life aboard the transport ALAMO and the landings in Cuba.
Lt. Helmick's Account:
“Naturally the destination of the expedition had not been made known to the command. So, as we sat in groups under the ship’s awning, or strolled around deck, gazing at the ships ahead and to the rear of us, we were free to suggest ports we might be headed for and to discuss the advantages and defects of each. There were three of these ports that had their champions in this irresponsible discussion; namely, Havana, San Juan, or some other port on Porto Rico, and Santiago. As the fleet only moved from five to seven knots an hour there was ample time for these and endless other discussions concerning our great adventure. For the first day or two there were only four or five gun boats to guard the fleet, and we wondered what would be the result should a daring Spanish torpedo boat charge in on us; but in a day or two other naval crafts joined the convoy and we concluded that an attempt on the fleet might give us some relief from the monotony that was beginning to pall on us. We trusted our convoy.
The ALAMO, on which we were billeted, had a number of pontoon boats on deck; therefore we reasoned that we would be among the first to disembark and have a go at the Spaniards. I little dreamed the that these same pontoons were to be used to keep the bare feet of Garcia’s ragged soldiers from getting wet embarking for the battlefield, and that they would be instrumental in my being among the very last to get ashore.
On the 15th we turned east through the Nicholas Channel and we knew we were not going to Havana. On the 19th we rounded Cape Maysi, ending all uncertainty as to our destination. On the 20th we arrived in front of Santiago, just two months from the day we left our station. (Fort Reno, Oklahoma)
From one of my letters, dated June 20, 8 o’clock, P.M. I take the following: “We are lying in front of Santiago. The Headquarters ship Seguranca, with General Shafter aboard, visited the American fleet in front of Santiago Bay about 10 o’clock, A.M. to consult with Admiral Sampson, and has not yet returned. In the meantime, the transports have been lying off shore all day rolling about in the heavy swell of the Caribbean sea.” Again on June 21st, “We have done nothing all day but float about in front of Santiago, just within sight of land. You can imagine the growling and complaining and restlessness on board.” Then June 23rd, “Still floundering on the Caribbean swells; never the less, it has been a day of exciting incidents. I went on deck about 5 o’clock A.M. and found we were near land. Between us and the coast were several gunboats and cruisers. We soon reached the general rendezvous and all ships began to move shore – ward toward a small mining village with no harbor, but with a steel dock leading out to ore chutes for loading iron ore into steamers. The name of the village is Daiquiri (pronounced Di – ki – ree).”
The disembarkation commenced at once; the men being discharged into ship’s boats, to be towed in strings of half a dozen or so by steam launches. We hoped to be among the first to land, but were disappointed.”