The 1918 Spanish Flu at West Point
More than 100 years ago, West Point faced a pandemic, the 1918-19 Spanish Flu, which reportedly infected one third of the world’s population. Estimates place the death toll for the Spanish Flu as high as 100 million people. No part of the globe seemed spared, not even the United States Military Academy.
The West Point Garrison took several measures to mitigate the effects of influenza on post back in 1918. West Point’s elementary school was closed from October 7 until November 4, 1918, and the children’s Christmas celebration (to be held in the Cadet Chapel) was indefinitely postponed that year. Also, according to the December 28, 1918 edition of the Army and Navy Register, the Garrison even ordered a partial quarantine of residents during the latter part of the year.
The Academy side of West Point, however, did not implement the above measures and, according to the 1919 Annual Report of the Superintendent, experienced two separate phases of the Spanish Flu, one during October 1918 and the “recurrence” several weeks later (determined to be around December 1918). “Table I” in the Superintendent’s report shows that virtually all cadets contracted the flu during one of these phases. Unfortunately, one cadet died from the Spanish Flu in October 1918, and two others died during the second phase. The Superintendent’s report called the low fatality rate among the Corps of Cadets, “remarkable.” “This result was entirely due to the untiring devotion of the medical staff, both officers and enlisted men, who never failed in their efforts to relieve the sick,” wrote Lieutenant Colonel W.H. Haskin, Head of the Department of Military Hygiene. Full story.