Armistice Signed & My Grandfather Died – 99 years ago
Ninety-nine years ago, on November 11, 1918, the Allies and Germany signed the Armistice to end fighting in the First World War. On that same day, my grandfather Carl died. My grandfather did not, however, die in battle.
Carl Jensen signed up for service, as all American men did when America entered the war that had already been raging for more than three years. According to his Certificate of Discharge From Military Service, Carl received a deferment because he was ‘a married man with a wife and child dependent upon his labor for support.’ The draft board may also have taken into consideration that Carl farmed, an occupation vital to the military cause.
How he greeted the news of his deferment, we don’t know. I imagine his wife Libby was relieved. They had a two-year-old daughter, and Libby was pregnant with another child.
So, war didn’t kill him. It was the other scourge sweeping the nation at the same time – the Spanish Flu – that took his life.
Both the war and the influenza pandemic took shocking tolls. Military and civilian casualties in World War I totaled more than 41 million – 18 million deaths and 23 million wounded. The 1918 flu pandemic infected 500 million people around the world – a fifth of the world’s population – causing the deaths of 50 to 100 million. Ten times as many Americans died of influenza as died in the world war. (Stanford)
The influenza struck hard at people like my grandfather, those between the ages of 20 and 40. It’s estimated that 43,000 American servicemen died of influenza. Movement of troops across the globe undoubtedly contributed to spread of the disease.
A local Iowa newspaper carried the banner front page headline, “Germany Signs Armistice.” On the bottom of the same page, is the headline, “Carl Jensen Dead.”
No wonder, the connection between these two events stuck in my head as a child. The war. The influenza. The grandfather I would never know. Together, they inspired my novel Go Away Home. While the story was inspired by my maternal grandparents, it’s entirely fiction. Though my grandmother lived until I was in my 20s, I never asked her a single question about Carl or their lives together. Pictures like this one as well as anecdotes my mother passed along, gave birth to the novel.
As we approach the centenary of the Armistice, I honor my grandfather and all who died in that great conflict and the flu pandemic that swept the world at the same time.
What are your ties to world-shaping events? Please take a moment and share a story.
NOTE: The original post was edited after a careful reader pointed out that the Armistice was signed in 1918. Showing once again how important it is to check your research. Mea culpa.