Written by the
camp’s chief sanitary engineer, the piece started off by pointing out that only
20 years before, no one knew what caused malaria. Even then, however, it had been
observed that people who came down with the disease often lived near or had spent
the night near swamps or pools of standing water. What made people sick was thought
to rise from those waters in the form of a night mist. In fact, that’s how the
disease got its name since mal aria means “bad air.”
Of course, scientists
finally learned the problem was not bad air, but bad mosquitoes. Specifically,
the Anopheler mosquito.
“This variety is rather timid and feeds
mainly at night, returning before daylight to its resting place,” the Army engineer
While noting that even then malaria rarely resulted in death, the
article pointed out that it still caused serious economic loss through reduced
productivity and doctor bills for none-military sufferers. In addition, the officer
continued, the disease was “one of the main causes of the inefficiency of labor
in many of the Southern states.”
More serious from the military point
of view, a sick soldier was not a “firing line ready” soldier. “If malaria should
be allowed to work unchecked throughout the areas in which great numbers of our
soldiers were in training, it might easily render temporarily unfit for duty,
hundreds of thousands of men,” the article continued.
Stating the obvious
in declaring that the U.S. “may need these soldiers very badly,” the engineer
noted how malaria and other diseases during the Spanish American War two decades
before had “threatened to reduce our expeditionary forces to but little more than
a corporal’s guard.”
When that issue of Pass in Review hit the streets,
more than 30,000 soldiers – most of them in the 36th Infantry Division -- crowded
the 2,186-acre camp located in the Arlington Heights area three miles west of
downtown. Named for Alamo defender
James Bowie, construction of the camp had begun in July 1917.
By late that
year, the order of the day in and around Fort
Worth was to attack the mosquito population by destroying their habitat. The
Army had spent the previous winter doing a survey of areas needing attention,
and when spring came, launched an offensive.
“This is done by draining
such pools and swamps as will hold water more than a week,” the engineer wrote,
or by cleaning those areas so that minnows or other small fish could more easily
find the mosquito larvae they liked to eat. “In fact,” he continued, “fish are
among the most efficient allies in the fight against the mosquito and fish control
is often the easiest [and] at times the only way.”
Oil constituted the
third weapon in the Army’s anti-mosquito arsenal. A thin sheen of oil over a body
of water, while not so good for the rest of the environment, at least prevented
the incubation of mosquito eggs.
Work crews focused on both forks of the
Trinity River, cleaning 50 miles of river bank. They also did work around road-side
drainage ditches, along Lake Worth and the various creeks draining into the Trinity.
By that June, half the planned work had been completed with 500 gallons of oil
The article ended on a clever and what proved ironic note:
“Do your bit to make good health contagious around Camp Bowie.”
to the sanitary engineer and the 75 men he had working on the anti-mosquito project,
a much more serious health problem would soon make malaria look almost insignificant
– the outbreak of the so-called Spanish flu.
The fast-spreading virus
infected an estimated 28 percent of all Americans, killing somewhere between 675,000
to 850,000 people, a staggering mortality rate of 2.5 percent. The virus claimed
the lives of more American military men and women than German warfare. Worldwide,
an estimated 20 to 40 million people died in the worst pandemic in history.
- September 13, 2012 column
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