Post-224: My Great-Grandfather’s Piece of World War I

Note: This post was updated Nov. 11th, 2014 (including a recollection posted as a comment), along with post-242

A century ago this week, somewhere in Connecticut, a 17-year-old named Earle Hazen on summer break from high school heard the news: The great powers of Europe were declaring war on one other! It was August 1914.

Earle probably read this news in a newspaper, as this was before even radio. He’d not have been able to predict that a century later, his great-grandson (me) would be typing these words about him, wondering how he learned of the war.

Of course, what we now call “World War I” didn’t immediately affect him, nor many other Americans. The USA insisted on staying out of that irrational and deeply cynical war in its first few years. President Wilson famously ran for his second term in 1916 under the slogan “He Kept Us Out of the War”.

In time, the war came for us, too. Spring 1917. The very week that the USA declared war on the German Empire in April 1917, my great-grandfather, Earle Hazen, turned 20. As this is prime conscription age, he ended up in the army.

Earlier this year, my cousin N.D. and I found a picture of Earle Hazen in the attic of the old house in Connecticut. The girl in the picture is our grandmother (born in 1921). Judging by her age here, this picture seems to be from around 1930. My cousin N.D., upon seeing this photo, insisted that Earle Hazen at that time looked a lot like N.D. does today.


My great-grandfather Earle Hazen (right, with glasses)
with his wife and daughter (my mother’s mother). Circa 1930.

(This circa 1930 photograph is from about the same time as the Civil War veterans video in post-41.)

What do I know about Earle Hazen? I know the following:

Earle Hazen’s parents were born in Vermont and moved to Connecticut, where he was born in 1897. His father was listed as a farmer in the 1910 census. The Hazens seem to be of “Colonial Yankee” ancestry. His conscription card lists him as having had blue eyes, dark hair, and being of average height. Earle was a baseball fan, I think the Red Sox. On the 1920 Census, his job was listed as “shipping clerk” at a hardware factory. He probably met his wife there, as the Census man listed his wife’s job in 1920 as a “packer” at a hardware factory. We can suppose it was the same factory. The 1930 census records Earle’s job as, much more interestingly, “pool room manager”.

Not long after finishing up with his bit in defeating the Kaiser, Earle decided that the logical next step was to marry a German (what else?). (She’d come to the USA in 1907 at age 8 with her older sister.) Their daughter is my grandmother.

Few still living today can testify much to Earle’s personality as he died so long ago. Those who know handwriting analysis (not me) might be able to glean something from this:

Signature of Earle Hazen, from my grandparents’ wedding guest book

As for his “piece of World War I”:

Earle Hazen is the only one of my four great-grandfathers who served in that war. (Another great-grandfather, in Iowa, was of prime service age in 1917 but was exempted for being a farmer, I think. His cousin of the same name served.)
Earle Hazen was in the U.S. Army’s “151st Depot Brigade” (3rd Company) which was stationed at Camp Devens in Massachusetts.
Here is a photograph somebody is selling of another of the 151st’s companies in 1918:

The depot brigades were designed to administer the new army camps. This Earle Hazen did not go to Europe.

Purpose of U.S. Army Depot Brigades in WWI
The role of the Depot Brigades was to receive and organize recruits, provide them with uniforms, equipment and initial military training, and then send them to France to fight on the front lines. The Depot Brigades also received soldiers returning home at the end of the war and completed their processing and discharges. [Wiki]

Camp Devens During World War I
Camp Devens [was] established on September 5, 1917 as a temporary cantonment for training soldiers during World War I. It was a reception center for war selectees and became a demobilization center after the war. Two divisions (the 76th and the 12th) were activated and trained at Devens during the war. [Wiki]

Camp Devens processed and trained more than 100,000 soldiers [in 1917 and 1918] [Fort Devens Museum]


Camp Devens Barracks, 1917 [From here]


Camp Devens happens to have been the first U.S. Army camp affected by the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919. You know, the one that killed millions across the world. The Army didn’t see it coming, so no precautions had been taken when it hit Devens. The influenza ravaged the Devens men.

Influenza Pandemic Kills Many at Camp Devens
From September through November 1918, influenza and pneumonia sickened 20% to 40% of U.S. Army and Navy personnel. […] Braisted pinpointed the arrival of the epidemic in the United States to Tuesday, August 27, 1918, at Commonwealth Pier in Boston. Influenza reached civilians in Boston and on September 8 [1918], arrived “completely unheralded” at the Army’s Camp Devens, outside of the city. Within 10 days, the base hospital and regimental infirmaries were overwhelmed with thousands of sick trainees. [From here]

As Earle Hazen was probably there in September 1918, maybe he came down with it, too. Extra doctors were sent to Camp Devens to deal with the crisis. Here is a letter one doctor wrote to a friend, dated September 29th, 1918:

My dear Burt,
It is more than likely that you would be interested in the news of this place […]

Camp Devens is near Boston, and has about 50,000 men, or did have before this epidemic broke loose. It also has the base hospital for the Division of the Northeast. This epidemic started about four weeks ago, and has developed so rapidly that the camp is demoralized and all ordinary work is held up till it has passed. All assemblages of soldiers taboo. These men start with what appears to be an attack of la grippe or influenza, and when brought to the hospital they very rapidly develop the most viscous type of pneumonia that has ever been seen. Two hours after admission they have the mahogany spots over the cheek bones, and a few hours later you can begin to see the cyanosis [bluish skin coloring] extending from their ears and spreading all over the face, until it is hard to distinguish the coloured men from the white. It is only a matter of a few hours then until death comes, and it is simply a struggle for air until they suffocate. It is horrible. One can stand it to see one, two or twenty men die, but to see these poor devils dropping like flies sort of gets on your nerves. We have been averaging about 100 deaths per day. [From here]

The Influenza Pandemic killed over 50,000 U.S. soldiers, a similar number as died in combat. Thirty six percent of the soldiers stationed at U.S. camps were hospitalized with the influenza and even more no doubt caught it but were not sent to the hospital because of only mild symptoms (everyone reacts differently to a virus).

Whether or not Earle Hazen caught the influenza at Camp Devens in fall 1918, he served out the war, was discharged in early 1919, I suppose. He lived 41 more years and is buried in New Britain, Connecticut. I visited earlier this year:

World War
Earle Hazen
3d CO 151st D.B.
Died July 31, 1959
Age 62

He is buried in the enormous Fairview cemetery in New Britain, Connecticut. Here is a part of that cemetery:



Earle Hazen Obituary, July 31, 1959





  1. Recollections of Earle Hazen from my mother. She sent me this in August after reading:
    “Nice remembrance of Earle Hazen. He WAS a Red Sox fan–very devoted. He drove from Plainville to Boston many times to see games. He took me along twice as I was the only granddaughter to show an interest in baseball. He even showed me how to play, teach me the rules, and would pitch balls to me clumsily holding my bat in our back yard. After my grandmother (Catharine Hazen) died, Earle’s sister Mildred moved in with him in the Plainville house. They went to the Red Sox games together. They visited the house several times a month and we all sat around the kitchen table playing gin rummy for pennies or nickels, as I recall. I remember visiting him at work when he worked at the bowling alley in New Britain, which was near St John’s Lutheran Church where my family were members. I remember him as a quiet, reserved guy. One summer he and Mildred took me to Lebanon, NH, to visit my mother’s cousin Louie. I was about 11 or 12 years old. The house was at the top of a steep hill; at the bottom was the Connecticut River. The only thing I didn’t like was he smoked cigars and that made the trip a bit unbearable. [….] [Y]ou may remember that I gave you the medal that he received for serving in the war; a photo of that may be a good addition [to this post]. My mother had given it to me and I wanted to pass it to you. My parents and sisters were on a trip to D.C. (for fun and history) and Ohio (to see relatives–my father’s cousin Dorothy Ramser’s family). In Ohio we got word that Earle had had a stroke and was in the hospital. We cut the trip short and rushed back to Connecticut. BTW and fyi, the New Britain cemetery is Fairview Cemetery.”

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