Friday, December 19, 2014

Harshbarger line: Grover Harshbarger and the Spanish Influenza

Grover Harshbarger enlisted in the US Army on February 29, 1918 and was sent to Fort Leavenworth, Kansas for his initial training. This was during the time period that troops were being rushed through training and sent overseas as quickly as possible, to fight in France and Germany primarily, in what became known as World War I.  Of course, these men didn't know that. They thought they were fighting "The Great War" or "The War to End All Wars."  Because he enlisted rather than waiting to be drafted, Grover, along with three other Whitley County men, was allowed to choose to serve in the Land Signal Corps.  We know that this included weather observers, radiotelephone operators, and other communication services, but we don't know what he was being trained to do.

After basic training at Fort Leavenworth, he was transferred to Camp Lejeune, NC. He was nearing completion of his specialized training when he was attacked by an enemy on this side of the ocean,  the Spanish influenza.  The camp suffered an epidemic and Grover was one of the soldiers who fell ill.  It was a very serious illness. Millions of people world wide died from it, and many soldiers died, too.  Many of those Army members who survived were ill too long, and weakened too much, to be returned to their units, and so they were discharged.  Grover was discharged on July 29, 1918, and we know it took several months for him to regain his strength.  Fortunately his parents were both still living, so he returned home to Whitley County, Indiana and his parents, Emmanuel  and Clara Harter Harshbarger, took care of him until he could take care of himself.

This is a hard post for me to write, because I could have written a better one if I had taken advantage of the opportunities I had. I remember talking with Grover about his military service, and I remember that he was proud of what he had done and sorry he couldn't go to the European theater with his unit.  I wish I had asked him more questions, taken notes, and had a real story to tell here.  Grover was good at telling stories so I must have been a poor listener.  

Regardless, I wanted to write what I do remember so his descendents will know at least this much.  The only documentation I have for this post is from the US Department of Veterans Affairs BIRLS Death File, 1850-2010, which gives his enlistment date and his release date, and an article in The Fort Wayne Sentinel, dated Monday, February 25, 1918.

If you have an older person in your family who served in the military, and you will see them over this holiday season, I encourage you to learn their story (record it if possible) and then write it down and let others in your family have copies.  Then you won't have to write a blog post from 35 year old memories.

The line of descent is:

Grover Harshbarger-Goldie Withers
Cleveland Harshbarger-Mary Margaret Beeks
Their descendants