The great flu epidemic of 1918 illustrates the vast difference between reality and life in the abstract worlds of politics and science. As reports of troops dying in military posts including Camp Dix in Burlington County and aboard troop ships like the USS Leviathan, which had left Hoboken the end of September, a meeting was held in the White House. President Woodrow Wilson, a former New Jersey governor, was in the midst of fighting World War I, which had recently turned in favor of the Allies, and as peace overtures were being sent to him, he held a meeting with the Army’s chief of staff, Gen. Peyton March.
“General March, I have had representations made to me, by men whose ability and patriotism are unquestioned, that I should stop the shipment of men to France until the epidemic of influenza is under control.”
Dr. Martin J. Synnott from Montclair reported the situation at Camp Dix to the surgeon general.
“The influenza epidemic began at Camp Dix, September 15, and ended October 6. The number of daily admissions increased rapidly and reached the maximum, September 26, on which day 806 patients were received, making a total of 4,025 in the hospital on that date. The number then decreased daily, reaching the normal average of eighty admissions, October 7. During the twenty-two days of the epidemic, 6,500 patients were cared for. Approximately 6,000 of these men had influenza. There have been 800 deaths due to the epidemic. Four of our nurses and one dietitian died during the epidemic, contracting the disease while on duty.”
For the military, the slogan was “carry on.” The Trenton Times reported how life at the camp was returning to normal.
“CAMP DIX. Oct. 5. – Football at Dix like the situation in many of the colleges is still in the air, for, with the epidemic flourishing, it is almost impossible to get men out for the various teams, especially a Dix team, as the men who are qualified to fill the various positions have duties that prevent their getting the necessary practice, and then, too, it is almost impossible to arrange a schedule, for few of the college teams are able to book games with any degree of certainty.”
But the day after Synnott had declared the epidemic over, the Trenton Times of Oct. 7 printed, “After two weeks of hard fighting Dix medical officers now feel that they have at last checked the influenza epidemic that has gripped the camp since September 19. Although 28 more deaths were reported … the ban against the sale of ice cream, cake, pie and soft drinks in the canteens will likely be continued after the quarantine is lifted, according to Major L C. Bolton, camp sanitary inspector. It has been found that the men spent a great deal of time and money, in the canteens and thus were unable to do justice to their meals served in the barracks.”Link