As our country honors the 100th Anniversary of World War I, the City Museum is honoring those who served during the Great War, including J. Wesley Diebold, remembered here. Wesley Diebold’s story sadly tells the tale of another enemy of soldiers in 1918, the Spanish Flu.
J. Wesley Diebold, one of four West Chicagoans who died in service during World War I. Wesley was born here in what was then referred to as Turner in 1893, in his family home on Church Street. He was one of six children born to John and Anna Diebold.
Like many of his fellow citizens, Wesley answered the call to serve during World War I.
We believe this photo was taken of Wesley and three of his local buddies at the time of their enlistment.
Diebold was assigned to the 112th Air Squadron, but it is not known whether he was a pilot or mechanic.
Wesley was due to ship out from New York in the fall of 1918, but he never made it to the Front. He met another killer who targeted soldiers and civilians alike. Its name was Spanish influenza. We know it commonly as the flu.
This respiratory virus caused sore throat, cough, aches and fever, and generally took 1-2 weeks to run its course. Most deaths due to influenza were those which developed into pneumonia. In the days before sulfa or penicillin, pneumonia was quite an expected cause of death.
The flu outbreak began in the United States military camps in the spring of 1918. It was easily spread through the crowded quarters which would have 1.5 million men in them by summer.
As men left to fight the war in Europe, they carried the flu with them. Soon it circled the globe and became a worldwide pandemic. This particular strain was called Spanish influenza, due to the great publicity it received when it was rampant in Spain.
There were three waves of influenza within a year period. The first occurred in the spring of 1918, the second in fall and the third in spring of 1919. By far, the fall wave was the most devastating, and it was in this wave that Diebold died.
Usually the very young and the elderly were the hardest hit by influenza. For some reason, half the deaths in the fall were in the 20-40 year old age range. The highest number of deaths occurred in New York, where Wesley Diebold was stationed, ready to leave for the war. He died October 21, 1918, the week of the highest number of deaths nationwide.
In the U.S. 500,000 died, nearly as many as had died in World War I. Worldwide, there were an estimated 20 million who died in the flu pandemic. Nothing else, infection, war, or famine had ever killed so many in as short a time period.
Even though Wesley did not actually serve in a combat zone, his family was evidently proud of his time in the service. The emblem at the top of his tombstone has the motto of the American Expeditionary Forces, “Over the Top,” the word “Liberty,” and an infantryman.