After 170 years, a proper homecoming for American troops

Veterans Day acknowledges the service of all military veterans, including those who didn’t make it back from conflicts. Nearly a century and three-quarters after the end of the Mexican-American War, 13 U.S. servicemen’s remains returned to America and are now being analyzed to verify identification.

The Mexican-American War was fought over disputed territory in the southwestern part of the country. Originally a part of Mexico, Texas became independent in 1836. However, Mexico never relinquished rights to the area, and resisted U.S. efforts to take control of the territory.

In 1845, President James Polk annexed Texas, which heightened tensions along the Rio Grande. Just a year later, open war broke out between America and Mexico. The war lasted for two full years, ending with the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo in 1848.

From one vantage point, the war with Mexico was a tremendous success: the U.S. won 29 of 32 major engagements, losing only one and drawing two. The result of the war was that the U.S. gained land which would eventually comprise eight states. Being the first military foray outside of the United States, the war showed marked improvement and coordination between the Army and Navy which was not present in the War of 1812. Overall casualties suffered in battle by the United States were less than one-third those of Mexico.

However, the war with Mexico cost the U.S. both money and lives. The cost in current dollars was put at about $100 million. Most of those who died on the American side passed not from conflict, but from disease and hardship.

Though the professionalism of the military was on display in this conflict, there were nonetheless a high number of desertions among both regulars and volunteers. The war did not improve civilian-military relations, as some thought it might. Finally, the acquisition of territory following the war created another kind of conflict: deciding which areas would permit slavery and which would not.

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff

Dr. Samuel B. Hoff

Fast-forward to several years ago, when the remains of American soldiers were found in Mexico outside Monterrey, where an intense battle took place in September 1846. After several years of negotiations between the U.S. and Mexican governments, the remains were finally turned over to America and were flown to Dover Air Force Base in September, where they were afforded full military honors. Personnel from the Armed Forces Medical Examiner System at Dover AFB will now begin the painstaking process of identifying the remains.

It is likely that the remains include Tennessee militia members, who were part of a call for reinforcements at the time by the Secretary of War. Records confirm that at least 35 Tennessee troops took part in the Battle of Monterrey. Forensic experts from Middle Tennessee State University will assist Dover personnel in individualizing the remains.

Veterans Day is a time to thank all military service personnel in whatever capacity. Having a strong, permanent military is a necessity in contemporary world affairs for a country like the United States. At the same time, it is hoped that there will be no need to send our young men and women to war, and therefore, no need to pass the “Dover Test” of viewing flag-draped coffins as they return to American soil.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Samuel B. Hoff is George Washington Distinguished Professor of History and Political Science and Law Studies director at Delaware State University. He is a past recipient of a military history fellowship from the United States Military Academy at West Point. From 1993-1999, Dr. Hoff served as ROTC director at DSU. In 2015, he was elected as an honorary member of the Delaware State Society of the Cincinnati.

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