Any parent who has ever lost a youngster in a crowd can imagine Park City resident Bridget Donohue’s panic when she couldn’t find her thirteen-year-old son, Bobby. Believing he had gone to nearby Heber in the fall of 1898, Bridget must have been very surprised when she learned that Bobby had actually travelled all the way to the Philippine Islands in the western Pacific Ocean. In fact, when Bobby Donohue returned the following year, he wore a military uniform, and was the youngest unofficial veteran of the Spanish-American War.
The United States declared war on Spain on April 25, 1898, after the USS Maine exploded in Havana Harbor in February. Likely inspired by newspaper reports of the war and a boy’s patriotic sense of adventure, Bobby boarded a west-bound train, determined to participate in the “grand little war” before it ended. After reaching San Francisco, he stowed aboard a ship bound for the Philippines, but was found out and tossed off the steamer before it departed. Undeterred, he snuck back onboard and remained hidden until the ship set sail. Becoming hungry, Bobby emerged from hiding and was discovered by the ship’s captain.
When the ship finally reached Manila, Bobby remained locked in a cabin. Still determined to join the war, he removed the rubber tubing from his porthole, jumped into the water, and swam to shore. When he found friends from Park City among the American troops, they declared Bobby their official mascot, and he remained with his Utah comrades for the majority of the war.
Though it occurred before 24-hour news coverage, local newspapers loved the story. When the company returned to Utah in August 1899, Bobby — or “Robert” as he had matured into — received a hero’s welcome. We don’t know what happened when his mother got a hold of him, but in November, Bobby Donohue received a medal of honor from Utah’s first State Governor, Heber M. Wells.
Emily P. Beeson for Utah Humanities © 2012
Image: Bobby Donahue. Handwritten note on the back of the image says "Probably Donohue [sic] who stowed away with the Spanish American War volunteers from Park City and was adopted by troops in Phillippines." Courtesy of the Jack Gallivan Digital Collection of Park City Museum.
See Salt Lake Tribune, December 3, 9, and 25, 1898, and August 16, 1899; Park Record, September 17, 1898 and August 13, 1920; Ogden Standard, November 14, 1898; Note that several men would later claim to be the Spanish-American War’s youngest veteran. One of them was William Blackwood of New Jersey. However, if reported correctly, he fought in Mindanao in 1900, and was thus technically both older than Donohue during his wartime involvement and fought in what was known as the Philippine-American War from 1899-1902 (Sarasota Herald Tribune, Oct. 6, 1949).
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