Tuesday, October 6, 2009

A Flu Epidemic, Past

On the local news tonight they announced that the H1N1 virus had arrived in the Tristate area. This wasn't exactly news, the whole Swine Flu epidemic thing has been on the news throughout most of the summer. We hear announcements about schools closing and precautionary measures, it can be pretty daunting.

This flu epidemic may pale in comparison with the Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918. It's been reported that more people died from the flu that year than in the war (World War I). The death total was so high, that the life expectancy at the beginning of 1918 was 52 years of age, by the end of 1918, it was 39 years of age.

My grandfather was a chaplain in the Army in 1918. He was on a ship on his way over to France when the flu epidemic took hold. Luckily, he had a lesser strain of the virus earlier that year, a fact that we believe saved him from contracting it on the ship to France. He wrote in his journal about this particular time in his life.

On Thursday, October 3, 1918 he wrote:

How can one describe the situation adequately? A calm sea, save for a few white caps, a troop ship with circular camouflage near a cruiser off to the rear, two destroyers off ahead. The sun shining as if the world were a palace of love. Slowly the coffin shutes draped in Old Glory and burdened with once inhabited clay brought by six pall bearers. One after another until twelve were in line. With a low subdued voice I read, "until the deep shall give up her dead", etc. Then Chaplin X "the holy martyrs receive them, the angels in heaven take them to the holy city of Jerusalem." Amen. Then one after another, a dismal splish, a dull splash- twelve souls have departed this earth.

Of the illness itself, he wrote on Saturday, October 5, 1918:

Thank the Lord these days are soon over. Yesterdays two procedures repeated. I'm seeing men die at night. I see their eyes bulge in the death struggle, I hear their groans and delirium ravings, I know their desire to hold onto life, but in vain use that cough has nailed them into death's cold sweat. Men are glad for me to speak of religion- many are Christian in spirit.

About 118 men died on that ship. Each one on their way to France to serve their country; they never got the chance.

Stay healthy!




  1. Powerful, moving stuff, Nancy. Your friend, anonymous

  2. I am lurking here, and hope you don't mind that I am adding your blog to my blog roll at fromdreams.wordpress.com. My blog is also about writing, and I think yours is great.

  3. Thanks Karen, please go ahead and add the blog!

  4. Sounds like there's a book in there somewhere!