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Around Town: Forgotten soldiers, forgotten wars

May 29, 2013|By Anita S. Brenner

The Facebook messages after Memorial Day were mixed. They ranged from “Happy Memorial Day” to “Thank you, veterans, for your service” to postings of old photos of men and women killed in combat.

A Gold Star mother — her son had been killed in the Long War — complained that a cemetery memorial service started with “Happy Memorial Day!” One Blue Star Navy spouse — her husband is deployed — pointed out that we have Veterans Day to acknowledge the vets and Memorial Day is to remember the fallen. People mean well, but in an era where few Americans serve in the military, we have lost the distinction.

José María Verdugo (1751-1831) never faced these issues. Instead of holidays, Verdugo was given a land deed.

Verdugo enlisted in Baja California's version of the Spanish Army, the Royal Army of the Presidio of Loreto. In his history, California Pastoral 1769-1848, Hubert Howe Bancroft described Army life. “Each soldier had a broadsword, lance, shield, musket and pistols; six horses, a colt and a mule. One horse was kept constantly saddled and ready day and night.”

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In 1769, at the age of 18, Verdugo was part of the famous expedition to the north.

The journey from Loreto in Baja California to San Diego in Alta California was about 300 miles. Verdugo descendants have traced the footsteps. On March 24, 1769, Verdugo, along with his brother, Manuel, joined the first of two overland expeditions. This expedition was called the Rivera expedition and it included a Franciscan priest named Juan Crespi. It was followed by the group led by Gaspar de Portolà and Junípero Serra.

There were three supply ships, but when the Rivera group arrived in San Diego 52 days later, only two were anchored offshore. The third had been lost at sea. By the time Portolà and Serra arrived on July 1, half of the men were dead and most survivors were ill.

As time went on, Spanish settlers began to populate the region. By 1777, Verdugo, now a corporal, was assigned to the San Gabriel Mission as a guard and his parents had moved north from Baja California. Two years later, he married María de la Encarnación López and began his own family.

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