By Steven Long
HOUSTON, (Horseback) – Around this time of year I have a particular sensitivity to things military. My mother wore a gold star. I grew up always trying to measure up to the standards set by my older brother Billy who died in a gun turret on the U.S.S. Pennsylvania in February, 1944. It was a needless loss, identical to the explosion on board the U.S.S. Iowa a few years ago (today Iowa is being towed to San Francisco to end her career as a museum). So when Memorial Day weekend rolls around, I lower my head in tribute to guys like Billy and the women who died in the service to their nation as well.
What I’ve only recently started doing (since I began running a horse magazine) is thinking about the incredible war horses that have served man in war since time immemorial. Horses such as Traveler, who carried Lee throughout the Civil War, Nelson and Blue Skin, who were Washington’s mounts during the revolution, Wellington’s 15 hh chestnut stallion Copenhagen who carried the British general to victory at Waterloo, and the great Comanche, the only survivor of the massacre at the Little Big Horn, the most honored horse in the military - these are names that have been immortalized in the pages of history.
But massive numbers of horses without names went to war. We are told that in WW I, America sent a million to battle in Europe. Only a handful came back.
Today, horses in the military serve primarily ceremonial duties such as the magnificent funeral horses used at military cemeteries around the nation. They are a symbol of another American hero who gets all too little recognition for its sacrifices.