Over a year ago, as the world was celebrating the end of World War I, I posted about my great-uncle, Daniel Brackett Newcomer, who died on 1/31/1918 in an army hospital at Fort Sam Houston, Texas. He had enlisted less than two months earlier.
Over the years I had spoken to my grandmother numerous times about Dan, who was two years her junior. They were at Bates College in Maine together and were very close. I inherited many family papers, letters, artifacts and so forth that passed from my great-great grandparents, through the women in the family, down to me. Among these are letters between Dan and his parents, and letters regarding his death from the Army and his fellow soldiers.
What we know is that Dan died not in battle, but from disease that swept through the camps during 1917/1918. Throughout my life I’ve heard that Dan had the flu or that he had the measles, both of which reached epidemic proportions during these years. I decided that now, in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic, might be a good time to investigate his death. I am planning a series of posts as well as some photos of the original materials that I have. I am realizing now the necessity of digitizing these materials and then getting the originals to some entity—a museum probably—that will have the resources to care for them.
From reading some of his letters to his father, I see that Dan hoped to enlist in the Army and become a pilot in its aviation wing. (There was no independent air force at this time.) I also get a good sense of Dan from his letters and other documents. In addition to being a good student who was in college, he was a tall, athletic young man, active in several sports, with no lack of confidence.
In a letter dated 11/15/17 he writes to his father “You see, this branch is separate from the others. It is the men who are in this branch that are flying in France now. They took part in that bombardment that the papers gave an account of.” He explains to his father that he will travel to Washington and enlist, and then come home for three days. If he doesn’t plan it this way, he says, “I would not see home at all, without special furlough, until I come back from France.” He has no doubt that with his excellent academic transcript, his exceptional physical condition, and his many letters of recommendation, he will be selected for this elite posting.
What actually happened?