Guest Blogger: Chaplain Dave Thompson on World War I Flu and Combat Deaths, as Seen Through a Wisconsin Lens – and, a World War I Memorial

Chaplain Dave Thompson, USN, RET, has become something of a regular correspondent. Regular Readers may remember that the 1918 Influenza pandemic is one of my core interests, so when Dave sent this piece on flu and combat deaths among Wisconsin soldiers, I took notice. Now you can, too. Jim also mentions efforts to create a World War I Memorial on the National Mall in Washington,DC.
 
archives (1)
 
 
Herewith, Chaplain Dave:

I came across an interesting document yesterday demonstrating the impact of disease to combat deaths of a 50:50 ratio in WW I. The Gold Star List is quite a document and testament of the huge role disease played in WW I.  “Wisconsin’s Gold Star List: Soldiers, Sailors, Marines, and Nurse casualties for WW I”, was written in 1920 shortly after WW I and spells out in detail the cause of death of all Wisconsin service personnel in WW I (see: http://www.accessgenealogy.com/worldwarone/wisconsin/ ). The Wisconsin Gold Star list encompasses soldiers, sailors, marines and nurses who were casualties from that state by county listing in WW I (click on any county to look at the list).

The Wisconsin WW I Gold Star List takes cold national statistics of 50,280 combat deaths, 57,000 deaths to disease (with 52,199 being  American  troop deaths due to the pneumonia/influenza epidemic of 1918), and the remainder due to suicide and accidents to make up 116,000 deaths  of American Service personnel in WW I… and it personalizes these large casualty figures into cause of death and assigns real names to people who “just lived down the block” from our relatives, before going off to war and never returning. It helps us better remember all those who lost their lives in World War I due to combat action or the Great Influenza/pneumonia Pandemic of 1918.

What makes Wisconsin WW I Gold Star List so unique is, outside of North Carolina, to my knowledge, no other state did this kind of historical retrieval of information on WW I casualties and put it in one organized place like this for states to commemorate WW I (usually the names of Army personnel are buried in Army division casualty lists and are not organized by state to see the impact of World War I upon a state and counties and cities within their boundaries.

This document really brings the cost of war home to Wisconsin residents, who knew these people or their families. Many grand-children and great-grandchildren will recognize their loved on from such a list and it makes more personal for all American the cost of World War I in human lives.

Also, what makes Wisconsin a rather unique study of casualties is: It gives a much more balanced reporting of casualties at home in WW I U.S. military training camps where some  30,000 service personnel died of the flu, as well as  identifies  flu/pneumonia deaths and other diseases WW I servicemen suffered with the AEF in Europe, along with combat casualties and death from wounds and accidents.

Any objective reader of these lists can see the stark, almost equal proportions of casualties between those who lost their lives to disease (mostly to pneumonia, which  was the last stage of the influenza that raged through our armed forces in 1918 during WW I)… as well as listing those who lost their lives due to combat action with the American Expeditionary Forces in Europe WW I.

The 32nd Red Arrow Division from the Wisconsin National Guard was involved in heavy fighting in Europe involving its citizen solders in heavy combat, unlike many other states that never got their National Guard units overseas. The 32nd Division suffered the 3rd highest casualties  of AEF Army Divisions in WW I, 13,261 casualties (2,250 KIA & 11,011 WIA) in WW I. They were in the thick of the fighting  in the Meuse Argonne Offensive when the Great Influenza/Pneumonia Epidemic struck our AEF forces in Europe in 1918.

The 32nd Division was also used in post-war occupation duty in Germany and some of its subordinate units were used in an expedition to Russia to support the White Russian Army against the Red Army in 1919 (suffering casualties to disease, including the last wave of the influenza/pneumonia epidemic in 1918-1919). They came home to Wisconsin in the summer of 1919, serving much longer after World War I than many other Army units and WWI soldiers who were not part of occupation duty and were demobilized much earlier.

The Gold Star List records deaths due to combat action (killed in action or “KIA” or Died of Wounds or “DW”), accidents, suicide, murder, and death due to disease or “DD,” spelling out the specific disease that claimed their life…including many influenza and pneumonia deaths caused by the 1918 Flu Pandemic.

I have taken 10 samplings from around the State of Wisconsin to demonstrate how both disease (mostly the influenza/pneumonia epidemic in 1918) and combat contributed to this list in almost equal proportions (see: sample below):

(1)  Ashland Country (Northeastern Wisconsin): 39 casualties, with 23 dying of disease (19 by influenza/pneumonia  and 4 by other diseases)  and 16 dying from combat (14 KIA and 2 died of wounds).

(2)  Brown County (East central Wisconsin around Green Bay, WI):  46 casualties, with 28 dying of disease (23 by influenza/pneumonia and 5 by other diseases) and 18 dying from combat(12 KIA and 6 died of wounds).

(3)  Dane County (South Central Wisconsin near the State Capitol in Madison, WI) : 142 casualties, with 77 dying of disease (60 by influenza/pneumonia and 17 by other diseases)  and 65 dying from combat (52 KIA and 13 died of wounds).

(4)  Douglas County (Northern Wisconsin around Superior, WI on the border with Duluth, MN): 51 casualties, with 27 dying of disease (23 by influenza/pneumonia and 4 from other diseases) and 24 dying from combat (15 KIA and 9 died of wounds).

(5)  Eau Claire County (North Central Wisconsin near Eau Claire, WI): 50 casualties, with 29 dying of disease (27 by influenza/pneumonia and 2 from other diseases) and 21 dying from combat (19 KIA and 2 died of wounds).

(6)  Fond du Lac County (South Central Wisconsin near Fond du lac, Wisconsin): 77 casualties, with 34 dying of disease (28 by influenza/pneumonia and 6 from other diseases) and 43 dying from combat (29 KIA and 14 dying of wounds).

(7)  Kenosha County (southeast corner of Wisconsin near Kenosha, Wisconsin on the Illinois border): 43 casualties, with 23 dying of disease (21 by influenza/pneumonia and 2 from other diseases) and 20 dying from combat (13 KIA and 7 dying of wounds).

(8)  La Crosse County (southwestern Wisconsin near La Crosse, WI on the southeastern border of MN): 55 casualties, with 29 dying of disease (24 by influenza/pneumonia and 5 from other diseases) and 26 dying from combat (14 KIA and 12 dying of wounds).

(9)  Milwaukee County (south eastern Wisconsin near Milwaukee, WI): 387 casualties, with 165 dying of disease (118 by influenza/pneumonia and 47 from other diseases) and 222 dying from combat (183 KIA and 39 dying of wounds).

(10) Waukesha County near Waukesha, WI in southeastern Wisconsin, a western suburb of Milwaukee, WI): 61 casualties, with 43 dying of disease (38 from influenza/pneumonia and 5 from other diseases) and 19 dying from combat (15 KIA and 4 dying of wounds).

A fair and balanced picture of WW I casualties in this sample of 10 representative Wisconsin Counties is that 478 service personnel died of disease (381 died of the influenza/pneumonia epidemic of 1918) and 474 died of combat…almost in equal numbers,

This state sample from Wisconsin squares pretty much with national statistics of the close to 50:50 ratio between casualties to combat and those to disease in WW I.

Hopefully the newly created  WW I Centennial Commission created this year and any WW I Memorial that may be created on the Mall in Washington, DC might reflect this balanced perspective on WW I casualties and tell the story of WW I to reflect the losses both in combat and to disease in The Great War.

This is an interesting and valuable document that tells in a more balanced way the terrible cost of war and the role disease (especially The Great Flu Pandemic of 1918)… as well as combat… and how it played out in this conflict, which claimed the lives of 116,000 servicemen (many whom have yet to be properly recognized in a National WW I Monument or in our many county, state or national museums covering World War I.

I hope you find this interesting and helpful information to include in the WWI story, as we prepare for the Centennial of WW I and consider an effort to have a National WW I Monument built on the Mall in Washington DC by 2018.

Advertisements
Post a comment or leave a trackback: Trackback URL.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: