I was sent back to the hospital at Toul in October, 1918, sick with the famous "flu." I was kept there two days, transferred to a hospital train and taken clear across France to the Beau Desert Hospital, a few miles from Bordeaux. There the "flu" developed into pneumonia and then empyema (pus abscesses between the lung and chest walls) and I lay there for five months between life and death.
This hospital was built of cement and had very little heat in it and sometimes the cold was intense. It was hard to be sick and cold too—but we made the best of it, and say, we had the best bunch of nurses. They did everything in their power to make us well and happy—they always had a new joke for us to laugh at. Laughing helped like thunder; it was so easy to be blue in France every time you thought how wide the ocean was.
One of our nurses was such a dear. Every morning when she reported for duty—she always greeted us with a "How are you, my dear children," and somehow, I always felt better—she was so like a mother to us.
The overseas Red Cross Nurses underwent a great many hardships too. The field hospitals were near the front, and sometimes under fire. Many times I have seen German planes bombing our field hospitals—without any excuse for the outrage, four large Red Crosses were painted on the roofs of the hospitals, plainly visible from an aeroplane.
Sometimes, too, the nurses had to live on the same kind of grub that we did—just plain "canned Willie" and hardtack, but they never grumbled. They deserve a special niche in history.
The Salvation Army, the Red Cross and the Knights of Columbus were so good to us at the front and in the hospital. While we were lying in bed, death staring us in the face, they did far more than we ever expected them to. They brought us practically everything we asked for. Uncle Sam's boys will always have a warm spot in their hearts for these institutions and no one who ever donated anything to these organizations need regret it.
After five months of terrible suffering at Beau Desert Hospital I had the choice of staying there until well or coming home. I couldn't see that there was any choice—home was dearer to me than heaven—so I took the chance. If I didn't last thru—at least I'd be buried in my own country.
We were loaded onto a hospital ship—at least, the officers called it that. It was an old English boat called the Henderson and she was supposed to make the voyage in ten to twelve days. We went by the southern route, by the Azores, hoping to avoid the storms, but we ran into one after another—each worse than the last until I thought the ship would turn turtle. The drainage tube in the abscess in my side was so long that every roll of the ship drove it farther into my side and the 19 days that it took to cross the ocean seemed like 19 years. I was sent for 11 days to the Debarkation Hospital in New York. The people of New York gave us royal treatment, took us out for long automobile rides, to the theaters, etc., and did everything they could for us. They made France and its horrors seem far away.
Flu Ward at Camp Funston, KS, Where It Is Believed the Pandemic Originated
On March 1st, 1919, I was sent to the Base Hospital at Camp Lewis, Washington. All along the route, the Red Cross Chapters of each town and city met us, and nearly killed us, giving us so much to eat, and so much to smoke. I never had any idea that there were so many kind women in the world.
At Camp Lewis, I stayed in the empyema ward until my discharge on the 29th of June, 1919. In my estimation, the hospital at this camp had the finest staff of officers in the army. I had begun to think I would never get well—but my recovery under their care was fairly rapid and thanks to them, I am well today perhaps, not as well as before my enlistment, but as a doughboy once said, "As long as we're alive, we should worry."
Camp Lewis Hospital had a great many visitors then, who brought us flowers, candies, cakes, and everything. Some came out of curiosity to hear the stories from overseas—but sick men don't like to talk—and some came to cheer us up.
There was one woman who will remain in my memory forever. She rarely missed a day in coming to our ward, and she always came with a smile—one that seemed to say, "You're all going to get well." She nursed us all in her happy, motherly way, and made us all well. She was Mrs. Hiram Tuttle of Tacoma, Washington, and she was known as the Mother of Ward 81 at the Base Hospital. The boys of 81 will never forget her.
I was in France 15 months—ten months on the firing line with the shock troops, and five months in the hospital. I spent nine months [total] in the hospital. Altogether I was in the army two years and three months, and I'd willingly do it again, if our Country needed me.
The Adventures of an American Doughboy
William Brown, 9th Infantry, 2nd Division, AEF