Saturday, April 16, 2011

Moritz & Marie Beyer: Oldest Son is Drafted

On April 6, 1917, the United States was formally entered the first World War by declaring war on Germany.  Since 1914, a brutal, grinding war had been raging between the "Triple Entente" - Great Britian, France and Russia - and the Central Powers - the German Empire, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, the Ottoman Empire, and the Kingdom of Bulgaria.  The U.S. Congress passed a selective draft law on May 18, 1917, and the first American troops arrived in France on June 26, 1917.

My grandfather, Rudolph Ernest Beyer, was drafted into the Army of the United States on August 8, 1918, at Taylor, Texas.

In 1969, Rudolph Ernest Beyer wrote:

By 1917 everybody seemed to know that a terrible War was about due. My letter from the Government came as expected. And I left with a whole train load coming through Taylor & some 30 hours later we arrived at Deming, New Mexico. The recruit training was very harsh from day break to dark. Sand storms with a burning Sun was with us daily. Our bed was a large sack filled with hay and we slept very good on these sacks after marching all day. Finally we had news that we were going to Camp Dix [note: New Jersey] and would miss some of the hot Sun & Blistering sand storms we experienced at Camp Cody, New Mexico. The so called 34th Div was loaded onto trains and we left Cody N.M. for a long ride through the northern States. The Word went around. We expect a few weeks of training with bombs and Rifle, Mustard Gas, tear Gas, etc. We had a plenty booked for full days, including long marching.

Rudolph Beyer's draft card, dated June 5, 1917 (found on
Finally we were waiting to load on ships, but the Spanish Influenza broke out & 5 or 6 men out of 10 were down with the flu. With a lot of men dying every day. It was a terrible sight seeing flag covered casket go by wagon pulled by horses.

On Oct 5th, 1918, I myself taken terrible chills about 5 p.m., and then my buddies piled blankets on me to stop chills. I woke up out of a deep sleep and a Doctor came to my cot and said we will take you to Hospital. My hearing at this time about 9 p.m. was already weak. The Doctor had to talk loud. I was carried to a wagon and the stretcher was fastened to some curved Posts on this wagon called Ambulance drawn by 4 mules. It was Lightening & raining. But they did have it covered with a wagon Sheet. They finally arrived at Base Hospital. Three and four Doctors in a group came in to my bed, examined me and would talk very little.

Mule-drawn ambulances
U.S. Army Medical Department, Office of Medical History
The next morning about 8 a.m. a nurse brought me breakfast and I motioned her I could not eat any thing. At this time they shouted in my ear but I could not hear anything any more. I was all deaf. The nurse insisted for me to drink the glass of milk and I vomited all over my pillow. At this point a Doctor stood in front of me and motioned the nurse away and nicked to the nurse that he knew what was wrong with me and they soon after that tied me up with a bed sheet and gave me my first treatment. The treatment consisted of a needle. Near like a darning needle. It was a hollow needle with a tube connected to a glass funnel. They filled it up with about a tablespoon full of red fluid and then I was bended over and bed sheet under my knees and knees pulled up under my chin with sheet strapped behind my neck. The needle forced through my back bone and the orderly held up the glass funnel and fluid sifted into my back. I guess blood vein. But, oh my, what a headache & pain as soon as the fluid got into my system. There were some more patients in my room. I think all were treated the same way.

The first 2 weeks I got this treat about 3 times a day there. The next 2 weeks twice a day, and then once a day. I taken sick Oct 5th and Got my first nourishment, I am sure it was Nov. 27th, as it was Thanksgiving Day. This Breakfast was an egg dipped in Hot water for a few moments and I ate it with a spoon. The time with out food was 53 days on water and a spoon of fluid into my back.

I got so thin, Only bone & skin was left of me and taken me several weeks practice to walk again. But, Oh my, I was happy to be alive. I could not hear a thing at all. When I was discharged I felt bad to come home and could not hear any thing any more.

Ella Beyer Hardi wrote:

Rudolph was drafted when 18-19 don’t remember the date. We all went along to Depo to see him off the morning he left. Was sent to Camp Dix for training. The boys were needed badly overseas. They didn’t have much time to get ready. Just before they were send off a lot of boys got sick. One of them was brother Rudolph. We had telegrams coming how serious he was down with Spinal Meningitis. This kept him from being send across. When he was send home from Camp Dix, we were not to meet him in Coupland. Ewald was send. The roads were bad Muddy. Mama called Pastor Krebs and he went to the Depo to meet Rudolf. Later he asked Mama, "Why didn’t you tell me that he had lost his hearing!" It was a Shock to all of us.

Grandpa was so ill, some of the letters his family sent were returned unopened.  I have seen these letters.  The Camp Dix base hospital marked the envelopes "deceased" before they were returned to the sender.  Fortunately, this was incorrect information, but imagine the anguish and confusion it must have created on the farm at Beyersville.  Following his convalescence, he was discharged from Camp Dix on February 1, 1919, and sent home - almost three months after the war had ended.

Grandpa wrote home frequently when he was able, especially to his sister, Ella.  I have photocopies of some of these letters and hope to see more of them when the occasion might be provided.  When I put together the information I have about his life, I will include some of the letters.

I want to discover more about the treatment he received - the red fluid injected into his back.  Could it have been an epidural treatment of some kind?  In my limited knowledge of medicine, the headaches and pain he experienced following the treatment suggests that this may be true.  I'm comfortable with medical information from my armchair, but I am not medically trained.  I won't speculate any further until I have better information.

Camp Dix is now known as Fort Dix.  The original Camp Dix was built in haste beginning in June 1917, to be a training and staging ground for units during World War I.  None of the original structures exist any longer.  The facility is currently part of the Joint Base McGuire-Dix-Lakehurst, a military installation that serves the U.S. Army, Air Force and Navy.

Grace and peace to you.  May Holy Week bring special blessings to you and your family.



  1. All I can say is WOW. I grew up hearing some of this but not in such detail. This is just so cool that you have as much info as you do and I, for one, am THRILLED that you are sharing it so that we can all read it!

  2. He wrote this story in his own beautiful handwriting. I also remember listening to him tell much of this story. When I read his words, I can hear his aging voice and his German accent. He was proud of his country, even as he was being prepared to fight against the German Empire his parents had left a generation before him. He always had a great respect for his fellow servicemen and veterans.

  3. The liquid sounds like it was injected directly in to the cerebrospinal fluid. The headaches that follow are common after a spinal anesthetic or tap long ago because the large bore needles that were used.

    I have no idea what it was but perhaps it was some treatment for the flu. I have never heard of that before either.

    He is lucky he survived.

  4. Hi Claudia,

    That sounds right. "Near like a darning needle" would seem to be pretty large bore, I think.

    I know that the military medical community was doing a lot of research at that time, especially at places like Camp Dix where many soldiers were getting sick. This may have been a recently developed procedure, or experimental.

    As you say, he is lucky he survived, indeed!



  5. Have you read the book "The Great Influenza"? I am not sure if it mentions anything about an injectable treatment, but it is a great book about the 1918 flu.

  6. Hi Andrea,
    I read Barry's "The Great Influenza" a few years ago when it finally occurred to me that Grandpa saw that pandemic first hand from the Camp Dix hospital. I had just watched a well done episode of the American Experience on PBS -"Influenza 1918".
    The Spanish flu affected people differently from meningitis, but the Camp Dix location was mentioned which caught my attention. Although the flu was raging, meningitis was also a medical concern at the military camps in those days, just as it is now in any high density group setting, like college dormatories, etc.