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West Virginia Veterans Memorial

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Earl A. Gilmore
1892-1918

"The Army and Navy medical services may have tamed typhoid and typhus, but more American soldiers, sailors, and marines would succumb to influenza and pneumonia than would die on the industrialized battlefields of the Great War."

Carol R. Byerly

Earl A. Gilmore was born June 9, 1892, to John William and Anna Cyrene Lightner Gilmore, in Buckeye, near Edray, West Virginia. Earl joined a brother, Henry, and a sister, Mandy. Their father was a farmer according to the 1900 Federal Census.

In 1910, the census taker found the family on their own farm in the Edray district of Pocahontas County. Mandy was no longer living at home. John, Henry, and Earl were farmers.

On June 5, 1917, Henry and Earl presented themselves to the draft registration board in Marlinton. Earl was a farmer, and Henry, a teamster, working for A. J. Lightner, possibly a relative from his mother’s side of the family. Henry stated that he had no dependents, while Earl wrote that his mother and father were dependent upon him. Both were single.

Gilmore Draft Registration Card

World War I draft registration for Earl A. Gilmore. National Archives and Records Administration

Marriage registration records accessed through West Virginia Vital Records show that Elsie Hull of Greenbrier County married Earl Gilmore in Edray on June 17, 1918. He was inducted into service on September 6, 1918, in Marlinton and soon was in Camp Lee. No record could be found that proves whether Henry enlisted.

The land on which Camp Lee was developed was acquired in 1917 soon after the war on Germany was declared. It was located in Prince George County, Virginia, between Hopewell and Petersburg. Camp Lee became one of the largest cities in Virginia with 1,500 buildings and 15 miles of roads. More than 60,000 troops would train in Camp Lee before departure to the European theater. The camp hospital was located on 58 acres of land. (U.S. Army, “History,” Fort Lee, Virginia, accessed 28 November 2017, http://www.lee.army.mil/about/history.aspx.)

At Camp Lee, Earl Gilmore was assigned to Headquarter Detachment 17, Battalion of Infantry Replacements and Training.

Further records show that on September 25, 1918, Earl Gilmore was being treated for influenza, according to the Virginia certificate issued at the time of his death.

The U.S. Army Medical Department, Office of Medical History, sheds some light on the problems the army was facing in light of the wide spread of the disease:

X. CAMP LEE BASE HOSPITAL REPORT

Influenza: On Friday, the 13th of September the first cases of influenza were admitted to this hospital starting the epidemic of the most extensive character that has ever visited Camp Lee. It began abruptly and in a few days reached tremendous proportions subsiding after about six weeks, during which time it had affected 12,000 men and killed about 700. A system of rapid expansion and the avoidance of overcrowding were perhaps the most important factors in successfully treating the situation. This was accomplished by cooperation with the camp surgeon, who early directed that mild cases should be treated in barracks set aside by the camp infirmaries, only the severer and complicated cases being sent to the hospital. This gave the hospital the time necessary to expand decently and in order, after having exhausted its own resources, to take over, equip, man, and operate 18 barracks of the Depot Brigade. Relief afforded by the arrival of, extra ward surgeons ordered here from Camp Greenleaf by the Surgeon General, and enlisted men from the camp supplied by the commanding general made this possible. It meant tremendous work under high pressure by the whole institution, but no patients were turned away, there was no overcrowding, and 8,000 were accommodated.

The pneumonias which developed in 2,000 of the cases were of the type made familiar by many descriptions: Marked cyanosis and respiratory distress, leukopenia, high mortality resulting from early suffocation or later exhaustion. (“Excerpts on the Influenza and Pneumonia Pandemic of 1918,” accessed 28 November 2017, http://history.amedd.army.mil/booksdocs/wwi/1918flu/ARSG1919/ARSG1919Extractsflu.htm#X.%20CAMP%20LEE%20BASE%20HOSPITAL%20REPORT.)

Camp Lee’s surgeon general’s report details the steps taken to try to prevent the spread of the disease early on, including the closure of public spaces, quarantines, and keeping the cases that were considered mild apart from the serious cases in the base hospital. Chillingly, the surgeon general wrote that “it is very doubtful, as far as the influenza itself was concerned, whether any measures taken ultimately reduced the incidence of the disease. The quarantine seemed to have no ultimate effect, but did delay the appearance of the disease in the organizations so isolated. For instance the Veterinary Training School of about 3,800 men, established a most rigid quarantine and all members of the command had their nose and throat sprayed daily with argyrol, consequently they had very few cases until October 5 when the epidemic reached the sudden peak—and then rapidly declined, they being practically free from the disease in one week thereafter.”

The best effect of the quarantine was that the number of sick did not overwhelm the medical staff. The surgeon general’s report continues: “Therefore, it would seem that the only benefit from the measures taken was that this camp was not overwhelmed at any one time by a great number of sick; the greatest number of admissions in any one day being 650 and usually much below these figures. Thus the disease was spread over five or six weeks allowing better care of the sick, as fewer cases were under treatment at any one time as would have been the case had the admissions been one to two thousand daily, as it is understood occurred in some camps.”

What happened at Camp Lee in 1918, and at other army camps, was tragic. Illnesses due to a different type of influenza began occurring in Kansas at Camp Funston. Spread of communicable disease is a common issue in the military because of close work together and common sleeping and working areas. But this was a different problem altogether. The first wave of this new flu occurred in the spring of 1918 with mostly mild impacts. The second wave, which began in the late summer of 1918, was fierce. At Camp Funston, there were 2,800-4,000 buildings for 40,000 troops, with 150 beds per sleeping room. (Kansas Historical Society, “Camp Funston,” Kansapedia, accessed 1 December 2017, https://www.kshs.org/kansapedia/camp-funston/16692.) The camp had people in it from around the world, including contract workers from China and soldiers from England and France. Five waves of the flu arose in the camp, hospitalizing 1,100 and infecting thousands of others treated in infirmaries around the camp, and at Camp Riley, five miles away. From Camp Funston, it spread to other camps and traveled to Europe on troop ships. (Peter C. Wever and Leo van Bergen, “Death from 1918 Pandemic Influenza during First World War,” Influenza and Other Respiratory Viruses, 8:5 [September 2014], 538-46, accessed 1 December 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4181817/.)

According to a public health report authored by Carol R. Byerly, 20-40 percent of Army and Navy personnel were sickened with influenza or pneumonia during that time, and the illness resulted in the deaths of 30,000 Army soldiers before they got to France. This influenza was deadly because there was not a wide segment of the population with immunity. (The U.S. Military and the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919,” Public Health Report, 2010, 3[81-91], accessed 1 December 2017, https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2862337/.) The virus picked up a strain of bird flu in its make-up, and the complication of pneumonia was not well-treated in 1918. The flu distinguished itself by the alarming numbers of deaths among young adults. Recent research into the events around the 1918 epidemic

. . . found that a human H1 virus that had been circulating among humans since around 1900 picked up genetic material from a bird flu virus just before 1918 and this became the deadly pandemic strain. Exposure to previous strains of flu virus does offer some protection to new strains. This is because the immune system reacts to proteins on the surface of the virus and makes antibodies that are summoned the next time a similar virus tries to infect the body.

But the further away the new strain is genetically from the ones the body has previously been exposed to, the more different the surface proteins, the less effective the antibodies and the more likely that infection will take hold. (Catherine Paddock, “Why Was 1918 Flu Pandemic So Deadly? Research Offers New Clue,” Medical News Today, 29 April 2014, accessed 1 December 2017, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/276060.php.)

Earl A. Gilmore was treated for the flu at the Camp Lee Base Hospital starting September 25, 1918. He died on September 30. His body was sent back to his home in West Virginia on October 4. The death registration from Virginia states that he was single, bringing into question whether the earlier marriage registration was for him or a like-named fellow, or whether the Army had a record in his change in status.

tombstone

Headstone for Pvt. Earl A Gilmore. Courtesy Cynthia Mullens

Pvt. Earl A. Gilmore is buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Marlinton, West Virginia, in a family plot in which Anna Cyrene, John William, and Henry Gilmore are also interred.

Article prepared by Cynthia Mullens
November 2017

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Earl A. Gilmore

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