"I'm coming, I'm coming For my head is bending low I hear those gentle voices calling Old Black Joe"
As World War I rages in Europe, fresh U.S. Army soldiers pass the time on a train ride to to Camp Forrest, Georgia. "The boys are just starting to sing," Martin Aloysius Culhane wrote on September 6, 1918, to his friend back home. "They've gotten back to 'Old Black Joe' so far."
Stephen Foster's classic song from the Civil War is about the death of slaves who had become his friends. But Culhane, known as "Al," and the soldiers who sang along could not know how much death would hunt the recruits on that train, most of whom never made it to Europe to fight in the Great War.
They would find themselves in the deadliest influenza pandemic in history.
Culhane's letters to his older brother Frank and his long-time "chum" Clif Pinter are a young soldier's firsthand account of life as a draftee private and how he coped with a disease that would haunt Army camps around the United States and eventually infect people around the world. Some estimates say as many as 50 million people were killed by what's called the Spanish influenza in 1918 and 1919, far more than the number killed in combat during the war. Read full article »