Branch: U. S. Army
Status: Died of disease
Date of Service: WWI
Home Town: Bagley
Julius Johnson, Camp Grant barracks and mess hall in 1918.
Julius Johnson of Bagley became a citizen of the United States only two months before he gave the ultimate sacrifice to his new country. Julius was born on February 15, 1890 in the village of Bjurberget in Södra Finnskoga Parish, Värmland, Sweden where his father, John Johansen farmed. Little is known of his family other than Julius listed his father as his next of kin when he boarded the S. S. Hellig Olav on May 6, 1910 in Christiana, Denmark to set out for a new life in America. Julius was 20 years old, a stout man of medium height, with hazel eyes and dark hair with no dependents. He listed his occupation as laborer and his final destination as the tiny Polk County town of Lengby, Minnesota.
The Hellig Olav was a large two-masted passenger ship from the Scandinavian-American line and it made the trip in only 12 days. It landed in New York City on May 18, 1910.
When the U.S. entered World War I and instituted the draft, Julius was working for P. A. Olson in Bagley as a shoemaker. Peder Olson had immigrated from Norway in 1885 and with his wife Aletta he now owned a harness/shoe shop of Main Street of Bagley. He maintained a residence in Lengby, which may be why Julius listed Lengby as his destination. Julius registered for the draft in Bagley on June 5th, 1917.
Within a year Julius was on his way to Camp Grant, a hastily-constructed U. S. Army facility spanning 5,600 acres located near Rockford, Illinois which was named in honor of General Ulysses S. Grant. The camp had reached its peak population in July of 1918 when there were more than 50,000 officers and men stationed there. Julius became a private in Company B of the 343rd Infantry. For Pvt. Johnson, “Life at camp was a serious, even grim business. Many hours each day were spent at drilling, in bayonet practice, and in mimic battles fought in Camp Grant’s twelve miles of trenches. The trench system, laid out under the supervision of French and English officers, covered 100 acres and included dug-outs, bombproof shelters and a “Y” recreation hut which was ten feet underground.
In what was known as “Martin’s Garden,” a secondary trench system on the rifle range, recruits learned to explode hand grenades and occupied trenches while machine gun bullets whistled overhead. There was instruction in the use of gas masks, including periods spent in chambers filled with tear gas. Lectures by French and English officers, fresh from the war zone, gave a fillip to military instruction.” “Camp Grant”, Genealogy Trails History Group, Winnebago County, Illinois. http://genealogytrails.com/ill/winnebago/campgrantdays.html
Julius became an American citizen while at Camp Grant. He filed a petition for naturalization on July 25, 1918 and was sworn on July 29. Witnesses were his First and Second Lieutenants, Henry Webster and Edward B. Howes. Julius’s declaration stated, “I am attached to the principles of the Constitution of the US and it is my intention to become a citizen of the US and to renounce absolutely and forever all allegiance and fidelity to any foreign, prince, potentate, state or sovereignty, and particularly to Gustav V, King of Sweden of whom at this time I am a subject, and it is my intention to reside permanently in the US.”
Unfortunately, that residency would last only two more months. The Spanish Influenza virus arrived at Camp Grant on Saturday, September 21, 1918 and there were immediately 70 hospital admissions. Hospital admissions rose to 194, then 370, then 492, to a high of 788 admissions on September 29. According to a Public Health Report titled “The U.S. Military and the Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919” written by Carol R. Byerly, PhD, “Hospital officials summoned all officers on leave, converted barracks to hospital wards, and by “extreme effort” expanded the hospital capacity from 10 occupied beds to a capacity of 4,102 beds in six days. Influenza still overwhelmed every department. The hospital laboratory resorted to local civilian facilities to perform specimen tests. Camp ophthalmologists saw patients with conjunctivitis, an influenza complication, and ear, nose, and throat specialists saw those with other dangerous secondary infections. As individuals became seriously ill, camp officials sent out “danger” or “death” telegrams to families and loved ones, but soon they received so many return calls, telegrams, and visitors, they had to set up a separate hospital tent as an information bureau.”
“Ten days after the epidemic struck, hospital admissions began to fall but pneumonia took hold, and Camp Grant’s daily death toll began to climb. It reached double digits on October 1 with 14 deaths, then 30 the next day, 46 the next, and 76 on October 4. The mortuary was designed to handle only four deaths a day. On Friday, October 4, with more than 100 bodies in the mortuary camp, officials negotiated with local undertakers to take the bodies at $50 each, but when someone produced a flatbed truck to remove the dead, the Army quickly provided more dignified closed trucks. The number of dead broke 100 on October 5 and reached a horrifying high of 117 deaths on October 6.
The last day the Camp Grant death toll exceeded 100 was October 9, but the decline was too late for its commander. Col. Charles B. Hagadorn, a West Point graduate and career officer who had served in Russia and the Panama Canal Zone, was acting camp commander when influenza struck. Although Camp Grant’s sickness and death rates were no worse than other camps and better than some, fellow officers later told reporters that Hagadorn had been showing the strain of the epidemic. Troubled as more than 500 soldiers died of pneumonia under his command, on October 7th he committed suicide with a pistol shot to his head. In the end, Camp Grant suffered 10,713 influenza victims, including 1,060 deaths in a population of 40,000.” https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2862337/
Among those deaths was that of Pvt. Julius Johnson, who succumbed to influenza on October 8, 1918. It is not known where his body was sent, since there was no relative in the United States to claim it. It is doubtful it was sent all the way to his family in Sweden. A search of cemeteries in Clearwater and Polk Counties of Minnesota did not reveal his resting place.