Nurse Fisher's Letter to the Mother of a Fallen Soldier
It wasn't just bombs and bullets that did all the damage in the First World War. In the final year of the Great War, a deadly flu pandemic wrecked havoc around the globe, infecting an estimated 500 million people worldwide between 1918 and 1919. With an estimated 20 million to 50 million deaths, the 1918 Flu Pandemic was one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history. Journalist Gina Kolata has even reported that more American soldiers died from the 1918 flu than were killed in battle during World War I.
Patients at an Influenza ward at a U.S. Army hospital in Aix-les-Baines, France, during World War I. (Photo: National Geographic)
Just two days after the signing of the armistice that ended the First World War, an American soldier named Richard Hogan was brought to an Army hospital with influenza. Hogan had survived his service on the front-line, but lost his battle to sickness. His influenza developed into pneumonia and before two weeks had passed, Hogan was dead.
Maude Fisher was one of the American Red Cross nurses that tended to Hogan. On November 29, 1918, she penned a heartfelt letter to Hogan’s mother to inform her of her son’s fate. Fisher explained to the fallen soldiers mother that, “He did not want you to worry about his being sick, but I told him I thought we ought to let you know, and he said all right.” Nurse Fisher provided a personal account of Hogan’s last days, assuring his mother that he “made a good fight with the disease,” and that he “suffered very little, if any pain.”
American Red Cross volunteers: Alice Borden, Helen Campbell, Edith McHieble, Maude Fisher, Kath Hoagland, Frances Riker, Marion Penny, Fredericka Bull, and Edith Farr. (Photo: Library of Congress)
Hogan was buried in the cemetery at Commercy in northeastern France. Nurse Fisher wrote to his mother that, “A big hill overshadows the place and the sun was setting as the Chaplain said the last prayer over your boy.” She explained that Hogan was surrounded by friends, as he “sleeps under a white wooden cross among his comrades who, like him, have died for their country.” Fisher even went so far as to enclose a few leaves in her letter from the grass that grew nearby “in a pretty meadow.”
Nurse Fisher saved Hogan’s mother from the agony of not knowing the details of her son’s final days. In one of her final lines, She passionately wrote, “The country will always honor your boy, because he gave his life for it, and it will also love and honor you for the gift of your boy, but be assured, that the sacrifice is not in vain, and the world is better today for it.”
Maude Fisher's letter to the mother of Richard Hogan.
My dear Mrs. Hogan:
If I could talk to you I could tell you so much better about your son’s last sickness, and all the little things that mean so much to a mother far away from her boy.
Your son was brought to the hospital on the 13th of November very sick with what they called Influenza. This soon developed into Pneumonia. He was brave and cheerful through, and made a good fight with the disease. Several days he seemed much better, and seemed to enjoy some fruit that I brought him. He did not want you to worry about his being sick, but I told him that I thought we ought to let you know, and he said all right.
He became very weak towards the last of his sickness and slept all the time. One day while I was visiting some of the other patients he woke up and seeing me with my hat on asked the orderly if I was his sister come to see him. He was always good and patient and the nurses loved him. Everything was done to make him comfortable and I think he suffered very little, if any pain.
He laughed and talked to the people around him as long as he was able…. The last time I saw him I carried him a cup of hot soup, but he was too weak to do anything but taste it, and went back to sleep.
The Chaplain saw him several times and had just left him when he breathed his last on November 25th, at 2:30 in the afternoon. He was laid to rest in the little cemetery of Commercy, and sleeps under a white wooden cross among his comrades who, like him, have died for their country. His grave number is 22, plot 1. His aluminum identification tag is on the cross, and a similar one is around his neck, both bearing his serial number, 2793346.
The plot of the grave in the cemetery where your son is buried was given to the Army for our boys and the people of Commercy will always tend it with loving hands and keep it fresh and clean. I enclose a few leaves from the grass that grows near in a pretty meadow.
A big hill overshadows the place and the sun was setting behind it just as the Chaplain said the last prayer over your boy. He prayed that the people at home might have great strength now for the battle that is before them, and we do ask that for you now. The country will always honor your boy, because he gave his life for it, and it will also love and honor you for the gift of your boy, but be assured, that the sacrifice is not in vain, and the world is better today for it.
From the whole hospital force, accept deepest sympathy and from myself, tenderest love in your hour of sorrow.
Maude B. Fisher