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Remembering three WWI soldiers this Memorial Day

Found in Garrity Cemetery in Hamilton Township, World War I Veteran, Irwin Reed died of pnemonia in September, 1918.

Found in Garrity Cemetery in Hamilton Township, World War I Veteran, Irwin Reed died of pnemonia in September, 1918.

Two young men–one from Clare County and one from adjacent Gladwin County—head off to serve their country during World War I. We know little about them other than they were cousins and enlisted together on Dec. 6, 1917. One of them had not even graduated from high school. We can envision the excitement they felt; sense the pride of their fathers; the worry of their mothers; and the envy of their friends who watched them leave on what was probably a grand adventure and ticket out of a quiet (and probably boring) rural environment.

And we can imagine the sorrow felt by all when news came back that the two had died within a day of each other in January 1918 at the Great Lakes Naval Training Station in Illinois. The official cause of death for both was pneumonia.

More than likely they died of the flu. James Garrity and Arthur Looker enlisted during the great flu pandemic of 1917-18 that killed anywhere between 21 million and 100 million (a pandemic is one that affects a wide area of the world). More than 675,000 Americans died and deaths were especially high in young men– a group that included soldiers. For whatever reason, the flu triggered a very strong response from the immune system that sometimes overwhelmed the body. Those with the strongest immune systems were especially vulnerable to this particular virus.

An estimated 43,000 servicemen died of the flu, more than were killed by German bullets. Death often came quickly, sometimes even within hours of the first symptoms. Congestion brought on by the flu built up quickly in the lungs resulting in pneumonia.

Garrity is buried in Garrity Cemetery in Clare County’s Hamilton Township. Looker is interred in McClure Cemetery in Gladwin County. Markers and small flags mark their graves.

But there is one more piece to the story. Near Garrity’s grave is that of another soldier, Irwin Reed who joined the National Guard at Fort Wayne in Detroit in July 1918. One would think Reed knew of the deaths of the other two men. Perhaps he chose a different branch of the military and a different location for training as a precaution. However, in the end, it didn’t matter. Reed died in September at Fort Wayne and the cause of death was pneumonia.

These soldiers have been gone nearly a century now; however, this Memorial Day we remember them. Gone need not be forgotten.

Marty Johnson
Clare County Historical Society

Note: Marty writes a blog about Clare County history. Go to clarecountyhistory.org to learn more.

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