We have seen this crisis before

Published 10:32 am Thursday, December 31, 2020

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Dear Editor,

Recent newspapers have published full-page ads, presenting facts and analogies that several of us believe are very pertinent to today’s COVID-19 crisis.

In the advertisement published in the Wednesday, Dec. 30, 2020, edition of The Daily News, if you look at the 12 recommendations made by President Woodrow Wilson’s Surgeon General in 1918 and then examine the photos encircling those recommendations, you’ll see scenes on the left from 1918 during its devastating influenza epidemic, and on the right photographs taken during our 12 months.

One cannot help but notice the similitude between the threats and sacrifices involved in 1918-19, and those we are experiencing now and which may intensify just as they did 100 years ago.

How bad did it get then? As an example, I have a copy of the memoirs of one William Spivey, who was born in Pelican on April 4, 1890, was inducted into the military service in June of 1918, and on Nov. 11 of that year was stationed in Tillamook, Oregon.

“We expected to be home by Christmas, but the flu epidemic hit. The day after Christmas I was on a troop train heading to Cheyenne, Wyoming. I spent several weeks in the Army hospital there. Men died on each side of me. I was unconscious for days … my family could not hear from me … I finally got able to write…”

Mrs. Cecile Bateman of Franklinton (whose father, incidentally, was Cecil Ellzey, administrator of the Bogalusa Medical Center for many years) recently unearthed the written recollections of Mrs. John Chandler, who was one of those very capable old teachers who kept their students in awe but also had their love. She shared her memories of standing behind the old Commissary and watching baggage cars coming through, piled full with the caskets of the doughboys brought into the Port of New Orleans, and from there being taken to their hometowns for burial. She remembered Col. Sullivan’s sending Great Southern’s mule teams and wagons to pick up bereaved families to get them over the muddy streets to the cemeteries for these burial services, and during the cold winter that followed, using those same wagons to deliver firewood to the homes of widows and others who no longer had husbands to provide the family fuel supply.

What was the result of all this in Bogalusa? I have a copy of each of our city’s censuses, and the one in 1920, a year after the epidemic ended, shows a population of 8,245, despite the growth that had been taking place previously. Mrs. Chandler remembered that the flu epidemic killed 2,000 people in this city. Those figures tell us that approximately 20 percent of our people were taken from their families and us by the Spanish flu in 1918-19.

The point of this narrative is that despite the help we’ll gradually get from the vaccines and despite the efforts of our incredible medical system, we still have a potentially devastating cloud hanging over us, just as Dr. Fauci and the governor and our medical and business leaders keep telling us. We, the public, must do our part.

John N. Gallaspy