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‘How Dwight D. Eisenhower Quickly Contained the Spanish Flu at Camp Colt (Gettysburg) in 1918’
The story I am about to tell has been sitting in a few books (documented for any future reader) on my bookshelves for years.
Also, it is well documented the pandemic of 1918 was known as the Spanish Flu, just as in 2020, some call it the Chinese Virus (or Wuhan Virus). As it is now clear, the obsession with racism made Coronavirus cases in Italy and New York City EXPLODE, so I find accusations of racism over the use of a flu origin to be both ridiculous, ignorant, and dangerous!
In 1969, The Washington Post would say of Eisenhower after he died (March 28,1969), “It could be argued that the General is the greatest figure in American and world history.”
In the final eight months of World War l, just as his military career was getting started, Eisenhower arrived at Camp Colt (on March 24), and turned a Gettysburg battlefield into a tank corps, where Eisenhower would command 10,605 men to train them to fight overseas in World War l.
From 1918 to 1919, over 500,000 Americans died from Spanish Flu. 50 to 100 million died, globally.
In 1918, while some say a first case of the pandemic in USA was reported in Kansas, I’m going with the Spanish Flu entered USA through a port in Boston, and made it’s way to Fort Devens, Massachusetts, where the first case was reported on Sept 8, 1918.
Soon after, 124 men (many infected) in Fort Devens were transferred to Camp Colt, where Eisenhower was in command.
As men in Camp Colt (Gettysburg) began getting ill, initially camp doctors thought the cause for the sickness was aftereffects of inoculations. It took about 24 hours to identify it was indeed the Spanish Flu.
Eisenhower and his chief surgeon Lieutenant Colonel Thomas Scott moved quick to isolate the patients into tents. No more than four men per tent.
On Eisenhower’s order, Camp Colt was quarantined. Not the town of Gettysburg. Just Camp Colt.
What Camp Colt MPs did do, was prevent any soldier that did not have a medical pass from leaving the camp. In the city (town) of Gettysburg, restaurants could not serve soldiers, and Gettysburg churches were off limits to Camp Colt soldiers.
On sunny days, tents where infected men at Camp Colt were quarantined, were opened up, and the bedding was exposed to the sun. They scrubbed the floors daily with Lysol and kerosene. All solders were given a medical examination daily.
Between Sept 15 and Oct 5, 1918 (3 weeks), 427 soldiers were hospitalized, and 175 died. By mid October 1918, the worst had come and gone at Camp Colt.
Less than 2 months after the first Spanish Flu case in USA was reported near Boston, The Gettysburg Times wrote (Oct 24, 1918), Camp Colt was “practically free of influenza”.
175 deaths, and 427 hospitalized out of 10,605 men was a pretty good outcome compared to other Army posts who got hit much harder, and in a nation where over 500,000 people would die from the Spanish Flu in 1918-1919.
The outcome of Eisenhower’s (and Surgeon Scott’s) efforts were so good, that Eisenhower’s leadership of the pandemic at Camp Colt got the attention of the War Department, who wanted to learn what measures Eisenhower took to stop the virus so soon at Camp Colt.
Tomorrow will be the 51st anniversary of Eisenhower’s death, which in 1969 was a huge deal, as is the death of most any President. But at the time, Eisenhower’s passing was a monumental loss to the nation.
On Oct 14, 1918, (Eisenhower’s Birthday) an impressed War Department promoted Eisenhower to Lieutenant Colonel, for his efforts at quickly containing the Spanish Flu at Camp Colt.
Soon after, the War Department sent their new rising star to France, just weeks before World War l ended.
As it turns out, the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic was where the legend of Eisenhower began.
Photos: Eisenhower and Camp Colt