DVIDS – News – The Hiker: How a Pa. Guardsman became the national symbol of the Spanish-American War

By Sergeant. 1st Class Aaron Heft

The sinking of the USS Maine in the port of Havana in Cuba on February 15, 1898 triggered the entry into the war of the United States against Spain. The Spanish–American War and subsequent conflict in the Philippines would also trigger the call of the National Guard across the country.

In April 1898, President William McKinley called for volunteers, and the Pennsylvania National Guard showed up for a federal inspection and muster for duty. Although 15 infantry regiments, three artillery batteries, and three state cavalry troops would enter active service, only a handful of units would see combat action. Among these was the 4th Regiment Infantry, NGP, which would muster as the 4th Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.

The 4th Regiment was created in 1870 from militia units from Lehigh, Dauphin and Chester counties. In 1861, these militias had been the “first defenders” to show up in Washington, D.C., to defend the city at the outbreak of the Civil War, and in 1898 the 4th Regiment would again be Pennsylvania’s first unit mobilized for war. .

After being mobilized to Camp Hastings in Mount Gretna, Pennsylvania, the unit moved to Chickamauga, Georgia, where it began drilling with other elements of First Army Corps.

In July 1898, the 4th Pennsylvania moved first to Charleston, SC, then to Puerto Rico, where it joined American forces to clear the island of Spanish troops. In September, the 4th Infantry would return home to the United States and, after a victory parade in Philadelphia, retire from service.

Leonard Sefing Jr. of Allentown, Pennsylvania, had volunteered with the 4th Infantry Regiment, NGP, in May 1898 and was drafted into federal service with the unit days later. Sefing was only 17 when war broke out, but rushed to join his local National Guard company.

When the company commander asked Sefing’s age, Sefing replied, “I will be 22 in August.

“He never asked what year, and I never told him,” Sefing later said.

Sefing saw outpost duty in Puerto Rico and later recalled seeing a patrol of Spanish soldiers crossing in front of his lines at night. After serving in Puerto Rico, Sefing returned to Allentown as a jeweler, then a salesman.

As part of a national competition to find an ideal model for a memorial statue of a Spanish American War soldier, a studio photographer in Allentown submitted a photo of Sefing. The photo was selected by sculptor Theo Alice Ruggles Hitson for the monument model and the Allentown native and Pennsylvania National Guard veteran became the symbol of remembrance of the Spanish American War in the United States.

The first of these statues was unveiled in 1906 at the University of Minnesota by Hitson, and over the next 60 years 55 examples were produced across the country, including monuments in Pottsville, Allentown, Shamokin and Lebanon in Pennsylvania.

Sefing was proud of his service in the Spanish–American War and was active in local veterans’ organizations. During World War I he re-entered the army and was assigned to the newly formed Tank Corps at Camp Colt in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania.

Sefing went on to serve as commander of his local Hispanic American Veterans chapter and even revisited the battlefields of Puerto Rico in the 1950s.

He died in 1971, the last surviving member of Spanish American war service from the 4th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry.
Today, as we pass a monument dedicated to “The Hiker,” we remember the sacrifice of Pennsylvania rangers, including a 17-year-old volunteer from Allentown who has become a national symbol of remembrance.

The line of Sefing’s unit, the 1898 4th Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteer Infantry, is continued today by elements of the 213th Regional Support Group in Allentown and Charlie Company, 1-111th Infantry in Kutztown.

(Editor’s Note: Sgt. 1st Class Aaron Heft is a former platoon sergeant with Alpha Company, 1st Battalion, 111th Infantry Regiment, 56th Stryker Brigade Combat Team in Philadelphia. He is currently the NCO in charge of the Army National Guard Leader Development Program in Arlington, Va.)

Date taken: 17.02.2022
Date posted: 17.02.2022 08:23
Story ID: 414826
Location: Pennsylvania, United States

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