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Laura with a friend
Active combat in the Philippines ended in 1913, but pacification continued.
Actually, the opening of the Spanish American War began in the Philippines. Spain eventually ceded control of the Philippines to the United States. The United States believed it was their job to police Latin American countries and President Roosevelt invoked the Monroe Doctrine as proof. By 1915, the Philippine-American War had ended and America retained its presence with forts located throughout the Philippines.
This was the Philippines Laura's son Ligie was living in. Not totally unwelcome, but certainly not loved, the American soldier was a permanent fixture at that time.
Laura gave birth to five children, three of them survived to adulthood. It wasn't an easy life, but she was a happy, religious woman. This was the life she knew and the life she loved. Her family meant everything to her.
Laura wasn't very tall, but she was attractive. She kept her shiny brown hair in a bun, it was more practical. With cooking, cleaning, and tending the garden and chickens she didn't have time for fancy hairdos. She was always helping neighbors, even acting as a midwife when she was needed.
Her father had fought in the Civil War so she knew the pain of having a family member in the fighting. Her oldest son, Ligie wanted to be a soldier. It made her heart ache to think one of her children would be in the war especially on foreign soil. Thankfully her other son was too young to even think about soldiering and she didn't have to worry about her daughter. It was a terrible time for her. Living in a rural area she wasn't affected by the hustle and bustle of city life. Things were quieter here and families closer. Friends were like family and shared in each other's joys and sorrows. Church was the glue that kept the community together. A place to pray and a place to meet. Everyone would share in her anxiety over Ligie's decision.
Ligie's first days in the service were happy ones for him. He wrote encouraging letters home. Of course she was a little startled when he said he had asked Jane to marry him! She had no idea. He asked her not to tell anyone because he really didn't want to get married. He'd rather go out with dozens more girls. Oh my boy, she thought, what have you done? Well, now he was away in the Philipines and time would dictate what would happen.
Bridge in Manila, Phillipines - 1917
Ligie Writes Home
Elijah was known by his friends and family as Ligie. Ligie wrote his letters home on a regular basis. He loved sharing things with his family, especially his mother. He even told her about his tattoos! He liked keeping his letters light so he wouldn't worry her. Truth was he liked the military life, the Army agreed with him. He told her about his buddies and what good friends they had become. Then the time to ship out came. He would take a train to California and then a thirty day ship's journey to the Philipines. That was when the transport became important, it took letters twice a month and brought them back to the states.
In the meantime he sent her letters as he rode the train across the country. He described mountains and deserts. He told her of bucolic scenes he knew Pa would like. He wondered at sites he would never have seen at home. All this in preparation for his journey to the Philipines.
When he got there he wrote home saying it was a cool place. No mosquitoes, but oh the bed bugs! Soon after he got to Manila he said he got a letter from Jane and she had found a man she truly loved. What a relief for Ligie and Laura.
He tried to cheer her with his letters because he knew she was missing him. It was awful hot, but he could stand it if the others could. He told her how he had a perfect record and even one of the meanest and strictest officers couldn't find a thing wrong with him. He told his mother he intended to keep it that way. She was so proud of him.
He wrote of long marches and mud up to his knees, after all the rainy season started in August and ended in December. He told her he just might make a career out of this life and retire in thirty years and draw a pension. He thought it was a good job with steady pay raises. Boring right now with lots of sleeping, but that's okay. The Army's a good life. Of course he'll come home to see his mother then re-enlist. No wedding bells for him either!
He talked of the sadness of fighting between white and black soldiers. He said it will be best that the black soldiers will be moving out. He writes of the men's hatred for the Germans and what they are doing. He tried to keep her informed of his day to day living. He tells her about target practice and his sharpshooter status.
In between he mentions his pay and the money he's saving for when he comes home. He is proud to tell his mother he puts money in the bank every month. He told her about how good things were with dances and movies. He told her about the soldiers and sailors fighting with the natives at the dances. Most of all, he told her he kept pleasant thoughts in his head because it didn't pay not to.
He was happy to relate he got his teeth fixed. He admitted it was painful but six teeth were filled with silver and two covered with gold in front and one gold filled in back. It wasn't cheap, but he said at least it was guaranteed. He told her not to tell the family how much it had cost.
She loved his letters. He wrote frequently and told her what he thought she wanted to hear. She often wondered if he was telling her everything or trying to shield her from the truth. He was such a long way off and apparently there was no leave in sight. He said he might not be able to come home for two or three years. Such a long time not to be able to see your son.
She smiled when she read his concern for her. It warmed her heart to know he was still the boy she knew even being in the Army and being so far away. She was surprised to learn it was so cold in the Philippines, but glad he liked the sweater she sent him for Christmas. It made him feel closer to her somehow knowing he was wearing it.
When she found out he was being shipped back to the states she was so happy. He would be stationed in California for a while. Here he met new friends and attended church and dances. He even met a girl. It seemed Isabella was the love of his life and Laura was happy for her son.
The fear of him being shipped out to France loomed large in her heart. Combat was the worst thing she could think of. When she received his letter saying the Army had decided to keep his company in California to train recruits she felt as if a weight had been lifted from her heart. He was to stay here in the states, he would be safe.
Then a letter saying he wasn't feeling well and had been in the hospital. He said he was okay now. They wrote back and forth to each other about the horrors of this Spanish Influenza and how many people were sick and dying. She assured him she was okay and was helping to care for the sick in their family.
Again, the prospect of being sent to France was brought up. He was anxious to go, to do something, after all he was a soldier. Apparently his wish was to be granted. Orders came his company was going to France.
Laura was concerned, but happy he was getting his wish. She had her community pray that the Good Lord would keep him safe.
The Spanish Influenza
The 1918 flu pandemic known as the Spanish Influenza, affected 500 million people globally and is said to have killed between 50 and 100 million. Unlike many other viruses this one seemed to have its highest impact on healthy young adults.
This pandemic was so deadly schools and theaters were closed throughout the United States in an attempt to stop the spread.
"During the flu pandemic of 1918, the New York City health commissioner tried to slow the transmission of the flu by ordering businesses to open and close on staggered shifts to avoid overcrowding on the subways." (History.com)
It is believed by some that the soldiers and their close quarters were responsible for the rapid spread of this virus.
Ligie's Trip East
Her shock would stay with her forever. It was so hard to comprehend. The telegram she received saying he had died in Reno, Nevada made no sense, how could that be? He was going to France.
As she began receiving letters from Ligie's friends, fellow soldiers and Isabella, she was able to piece together what had happened. Ligie had not recovered from the influenza, but never let on just how sick he was. Isabella explained that Ligie had a bad heart and lungs and had been in the hospital several times, not just once.
On the train he had gotten progressively worse. The Army medics on the train were not equipped to care for him so when they stopped in Reno he was taken to a local hospital where he died.
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All Photographs are property of Tillsontitan
This story is based on the true events in the life of Laura Booth and her son Elijah.