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 wrote.
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
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
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
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 used weekly.
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
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.
© Mike Cox
- September 13, 2012 column
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