Monday, November 7, 2016

James Gimbel (1887-1918): Died of influenzu while serving in World War I

James Gimbel (Left: Gimbel Family; Right: Michael Colbruno)
The Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918-19 killed about 20 million people, far more  than the 17 million who died in the war. According to the Deseret News, an estimated 675,000 Americans died of influenza during the pandemic, ten times as many as in WWI. Of the U.S. soldiers who died in Europe, half of them fell to the influenza virus and not to the enemy. Berkeley resident James Gimbel was one of them.

The close quarters and massive troop movements of World War I hastened the pandemic and probably both increased transmission and augmented mutation. The war may also have increased the lethalness of the virus and some speculate the soldiers' immune systems were weakened by undernourishment, as well as the stresses of combat and chemical attacks.

After being drafted, Gimble ended up in France via Camp Kerney in San Diego, Arizona, Canada and eventually England. In a letter to his parents, he bemoaned the fact that he was too ill to help a fellow Berkeley soldier who was lying on the ground. He died in France on November 17 of the flu.

Sources: Gimbel family history; Berkeley Gazette; Wikipedia

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