On today’s date in 1918, U.S. Army nurse wrote a letter to the bereaved mother of a soldier who died of influenza after surviving combat during the war. The kindness of the nurse’s gesture and the feeling with which she wrote have made the letter a classic of war correspondence.
Army Nurses During World War One
Over 25,000 of America’s women served in support of America’s men over seas during World War One. By 1918, there were over 12,000 nurses on active duty at some 198 stations world-wide. Most of these women served in the European theater of operations. During World War One, army nurses did not have officer’s commissions but were appointed into the Army Nurse Corps. Although I do not believe that they served in front-line areas (as with the M*A*S*H units of the Korean War and later), they were close enough to the action to come under air attack, and even occasional enemy artillery fire. While none of the nurses were killed in such action, several were wounded. And some were awarded the Distinguished Service Cross in recognition of there valiant service. This was also the time of the wold-wide influenza epidemic of 1918, which killed over 18 million people around the globe. Many of these victims were soldiers.
Maude Fisher and Richard Hogan
Such was the case with a U.S. Army private serving in France during 1918. Private Hogan had survived front-line combat unscathed. But only a few days after the Armistice was declared, like so many soldiers, he came down with influenza. One of the nurses who tended to his condition was one Maude Fisher. Private Hogan put up a brave struggle with the disease, joking and winning the affection of Miss Fisher as well as the other nurses in his ward. Sadly, within two weeks of his being admitted to the hospital, Private Richard Hogan died of influenza. Realizing that his mother would just receive a tersely-worded notification from the War Department, Nurse Maude Fisher decided to write the following beautiful letter to Hogan’s mother:
“November 29th, 1918
My dear Mrs. Hogan:
“If I could talk to you I could tell you so much better about your son’s last sickness, and all the little things that mean so much to a mother far away from her boy.
“Your son was brought to this hospital on the 13th of November very sick with what they called Influenza. This soon developed into Pneumonia. He was brave and cheerful though, and made a good fight with the disease. Several days he seemed much better, and seemed to enjoy some fruit that I brought him. He did not want you to worry about his being sick, but I told him I thought we ought to let you know, and he said all right.
“He became very weak towards the last of his sickness and slept all the time. One day while I was visiting some of the other patients he woke up and seeing me with my hat on asked the orderly if I was his sister come to see him. He was always good and patient and the nurses loved him. Everything was done to make him comfortable and I think he suffered very little, if any pain.
“He laughed and talked to the people around him as long as he was able…. The last time I saw him I carried him a cup of hot soup, but he was too weak to do anything but taste it, and went back to sleep.
“The Chaplain saw him several times and had just left him when he breathed his last on November 25th, at 2:30 in the afternoon. He was laid to rest in the little cemetery of Commercy, and sleeps under a simple white wooden cross among his comrades who, like him, have died for their country. His grave number is 22, plot 1. His aluminum identification tag is on the cross, and a similar one is around his neck, both bearing his serial number, 2793346.
“The plot of the grave in the cemetery where your son is buried was given to the Army for our boys and the people of Commercy will always tend it with loving hands and keep it fresh and clean. I enclose here a few leaves from the grass that grows near in a pretty meadow.
“A big hill overshadows the place and the sun was setting behind it just as the Chaplain said the last prayer over your boy. He prayed that the people at home might have great strength now for the battle that is before them, and we do ask that for you now. The country will always honor your boy, because he gave his life for it, and it will also love and honor you for the gift of your boy, but be assured, that the sacrifice is not in vain, and the world is better today for it.
“From the whole hospital force, accept deepest sympathy and from myself, tenderest love in your hour of sorrow.
Maude B. Fisher”
The nurses who cared for soldiers who, like Private Hogan, suffered from influenza were not in any way immune to the disease. Some 200 of them died of the disease which they contracted from caring for soldiers who had it.
“War Letters: Extraordinary Correspondence from American Wars” by Andrew Carroll, Washington Square Press, New York, 2001
The image is indeed of nurses from the W.W.I era, with the woman third from the right being identified as Maude Fisher. Whether or not she is the same Fisher of today’s posting, I don’t know.
Army Hospital =
Private Hogan’s Grave =