I was reading the introduction to A Fever of War and the following sentences caught my attention. “Influenza hospitalized 25 to 40 percent of the men in the U.S. Army training camps and killed almost thirty thousand of them before they could even go to France. Men carried the flu virus on board the troop ships and many soon fell ill, toxifying the ships as they crossed the Atlantic.” (1)
Clyde Pendleton was a gunner on the troop transport USS America. In mid-September 1918 they picked up soldiers in Boston, who brought the flu onboard with them. Over 1,000 of the men on board became sick with the flu during the Atlantic crossing. Fifty-five died. This is a picture of Clyde who at some point while on land caught the flu and was in the hospital.
Upon the ship’s return to Hoboken, it was decided to fumigate the ship in an attempt to prevent another outbreak. The ship was loaded with coal and supplies. The fumigation was done by 2:30 a.m. The coaling ports were left open, probably in an attempt to air out the ship from the smell of the caustic materials used for the fumigation. Two hours later, the ship began listing and sunk. Most sailors on board were able to escape, but 6 men died. The unofficial explanation for the sinking was that the ship was resting on mud at low tide, and as the tide came back in, mud suction caused one side of the ship to rise more slowly than the other side, allowing water to come in through the open coal ports. The photo at the top of this post shows the raising of the USS America on November 21, 1918.
Credit for story and photo go to Deborah Stewart, Clyde’s granddaughter.
1. A Fever of War: The Influenza Epidemic in the U.S. Army during World War I by Carol R. Byerly, page 8.