Look­ing back on mo­men­tous events

The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY) - - Front Page - ByHo­bieMor­ris

The Amer­i­can men and women are all dead now, in­clud­ing my fa­ther, who was an un­der­grad­u­ate at Hamil­ton Col­lege and in the stu­dent of­fi­cer’s mil­i­tary train­ing pro­gram, when the war to “make the world safe for democ­racy” ended in Novem­ber 1918.

Today’s veter­ans were minted in World War II and in the 72 years of war­fare that our Armed Forces have fought in since then. War drums con­tinue to beat!

The war sce­nario re­mains the same. Older men and now some women make war and the young fight them -- then are of­ten for­got­ten when the pa­rades and cheer­ing stop. What would hap­pen if the young re­fused to make war? Would the war mak­ers take their place?

In “The Peo­ple Yes,” Carl Sand­burg writes of a young girl see­ing her first troop parad­ing and ask­ing “What are those?” “Sol­diers.” “What are sol­diers?” “They are for war. They fight each other, try to kill as many of the other side as they can.” The girl held still and stud­ied. “Do you know… I know some­thing.” “Yes, what is it you know?” “Some­time they’ll give a war and no­body will come.”

No wars, no veter­ans! An im­pos­si­ble dream? Earth is a tiny, lonely in­signif­i­cant dot in the in­fin­ity of space. We have no life lines to save our planet — ex­cept you and me, to be­gin with. As Bill Wat­ter­son has mirth­fully ob­served, “The se­cret sign of in­tel­li­gent life in the uni­verse is that they haven’t at­tempted to con­tact us.”

My fa­ther’s stu­dent World War I uni­form and Smokey the Bear hat hung on a nail in our dusty at­tic un­til his death dur- ing the long blood bath of the Viet­nam War. Thank good­ness World War I ended when it did. My peace­ful fa­ther hated war and killing. Other fam­ily mem­bers had no choice.

Sev­eral other events hap­pened in 1918 that are vir­tu­ally un­known but had pro­found im­pacts on our world and, iron­i­cally, in this sim­ple coun­try man.

Bri­tish “Tommy” Pri­vate Henry Tandey (the most dec­o­rated pri­vate in World War I) was by all ac­counts in­cred­i­bly brave, coura­geous and of­ten wounded.

Un­der dif­fer­ent cir­cum­stances, Tandey could have eas­ily fallen through the cracks of his­tory and been ut­terly for­got­ten in the fog of time that in­evitably de­scended. It was Septem­ber 1918 at the Bat­tle of Mar­co­ing. In the af­ter­math of this bloody bat­tle, a lone Ger­man soldier sud­denly ap­peared out of the fog. In­stead of shoot­ing, Tandey waved the soldier away, telling him to go home. In a few months the war was over, Tandey went home, re­sumed civil­ian life and be­gan work­ing for the Stan­dard Mo­tor Com­pany in Coven­try, Eng­land. He mar­ried but had no chil­dren.

In 1934, the new Ger­man Chan­cel­lor Adolph Hitler be­gan talk­ing about how a Bri­tish soldier had spared his life. Pri­vate Tandey was rec­og­nized in a photo re­ceiv­ing his Vic­to­ria Cross from King Ge­orge V in Buck­ing­ham Palace. When Tandy learned who he had spared, he said he

wished he had shot him. A copy of a Bri­tish war paint­ing show­ing Tandey car­ry­ing a wounded soldier on his back to an aid sta­tion at the Septem­ber bat­tle was re­quested by the Ger­man Em­bassy in London.

In 1938, when Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Neville Cham­ber­lain was taken to Hitler’s moun­tain home, Ber­cht­es­gar­den, he was shown this paint­ing hang­ing on a wall. When the prime min­is­ter came back to London, he later told Tandey what Hitler had said.

For Tandey to spare a hated en­emy’s life was a fine and no­ble de­ci­sion. To later dis­cover whom he had spared proved to be the worst de­ci­sion he could have made. What would have the fu­ture fate of the world been if Pri­vate Tandey had aimed and pulled the trig­ger?

But for my fa­ther’s gen­er­a­tion, a greater calamity than war was un­leash­ing in Novem­ber 1918. A calamity that ranks as only a brief foot­note in his­tory.

It be­gan in Camp Fun­ston, Kansas, when on March 4, 1918, an Army cook named Al­bert Grit­shell fell ill. Within an hour there were more than 100 men sim­i­larly af­flicted and in the in­fir­mary.

It was called the Span­ish flu. In 1918-1919, it in­fected one out of ev­ery three per­sons on this planet — some 500 mil­lion. It killed any­where from 30 to 60 mil­lion or more. This plague proved to be the great­est hu­man dis­as­ter in the 20th cen­tury, ex­ceed­ing the death to­tals from both World War I and World War II.

This pan­demic rav­aged the young and healthy and was es­pe­cially high­est among peo­ple in their 20s. It also af­fected men more than women. Iso­lated com­mu­ni­ties with lit­tle built up im­mu­nity were es­pe­cially hard hit. Bris­tol Bay, Alaska had 40 per­cent of its popu- la­tion die. This rapidly spread­ing in­fec­tion was not caused by bac­te­ria, as most doc­tors thought, but was caused by a virus strain -- a strain that was only iso­lated in 2005 and is now stored in a high­se­cu­rity fa­cil­ity in At­lanta, Ga.

While global wars may be a thing of the past, global pesti­lence still hov­ers like a vul­ture over the world. We live in a mo­bile world, in a pop­u­la­tion able to spread any flu rapidly around the world. An epi­demic half as deadly as in 1918-19 would kill today an es­ti­mated 120 mil­lion peo­ple.

A Hamil­ton Col­lege stu­dent died of the Span­ish flu. What if my fa­ther had been that un­for­tu­nate stu­dent? Thank­fully, for this sim­ple coun­try man, his fa­ther was spared. Pos­si­bly for the first and only time in its his­tory, the ven­er­a­ble Brook­field/Madi­son County Fair was can­celed in 1918.

But these are only the mus­ings of a sim­ple coun­try man who lives off the grid with his beau­ti­ful wife Lois in the hills of Brook­field. We live in a dark and per­ilous world, but we have good peo­ple all around us. They are the sun­shine in our lives and we hope in yours too.


One of Adolph Hitler’s pur­ported fa­vorite paint­ings, show­ing Pri­vate Henry Tandey car­ry­ing a wounded soldier.


Pri­vate Henry Tandey


Amer­i­can sol­diers gar­gling with salt wa­ter, with a warn­ing sign about Span­ish in­fluenza.

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