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Old Selfridge newspaper highlights sweethearts, flu, war training

  • Published
  • By Tech. Sgt. Dan Heaton
  • 127th Wing Public Affairs
The world was at war. But, for at least one soldier in Michigan, all he could think about was his sweetheart, a "fair young Mount Clementonian," and the flu bug that was preventing him from being with her.

A newly-uncovered Oct. 25, 1918, edition of "Stoppages and Jams," the official newspaper of the World War I-era School of Aerial Gunnery at Selfridge Field, includes two front-page stories about how a local flu outbreak meant that GIs at Selfridge were quarantined to the base - preventing them from going into town and spending time with "the fair daughters of the Bath City" (i.e. Mount Clemens, the city just outside Selfridge Field.) It wasn't until decades later historians pieced together the details and discovered that local flu outbreak was really part of a global pandemic - covered up by military censors in warring nations on both sides of World War I - that killed far more people than the war itself. 

The Stoppages and Jams newspaper was recently forwarded to the 127th Wing's Public Affairs office at Selfridge by a resident of Brazil, Indiana, who said the old newspaper was found among some things belonging to his late grandmother. In an odd quirk, the wife of the man who found the newspaper was born at the then-Selfridge Air Force Base in 1955, when her father was assigned to the base. It's not clear how the newspaper came to be in the grandmother's possession. 

The October 1918 newspaper was just the seventh edition of Stoppages and Jams. Selfridge had been established as a military air field in July 1917, just a couple of months after the U.S. entered World War I. The base near Mount Clemens was one of 10 military air fields opened around the nation that summer as the U.S. Army scrambled to rapidly increase in size to respond to the sudden need for a large army and supporting air force. In addition to serving as a training base for new pilots, the base was also a school for aerial gunnery. By the war's end, some 750 pilots and 1,000 gunners received training at the base and then shipped out to France for the war.

In an interesting footnote to history, the aerial gunnery school at Selfridge was founded by future Major Gen. Frank Lackland, namesake of the air base in San Antonio, Texas, where Air Force Basic Military Training is located. Also on the front page of the Oct. 25, 1918, Stoppages and Jams was a note that then-Major Lackland had just returned from a trip to Miami, Fla., but had not yet made any announcement on the speculation that the gunnery school would be re-located to Florida. (The school would remain at Selfridge through the end of the war.)

The top headlines in the paper, however, deal with the local flu epidemic. Three articles address the issue. In the first, an unidentified, but clearly lovesick, correspondent reports that though the soldiers at the air field have not been sick, there is a flu outbreak in town. Immediately, all passes to town were cancelled, except for "married men who lived off base." Throughout the article the unidentified author pines for an opportunity for himself and his fellow Air Service soldiers to be able to once again spend time with the local female residents. A late addendum to the article states that as the edition was going to press all personnel - including married men and even civilian employees - had been restricted to the base until further notice.

Two other flu-related articles on Page One note that entertainment was being arranged for the suddenly-lonely soldiers and that the quarantine made for an excellent time to expand one's mind by reading a good book, as made available by the local YMCA.

In reality, the local flu outbreak was part of a global pandemic that would kill an estimated 25-50 million people. By comparison, about 10 million people on all sides died as a result of combat operations during World War I.

The flu outbreak had significant impact on Michigan. According to a history compiled by the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services, the Michigan state health department, suspected of under-reporting such numbers, stated that 922 people died in Michigan of the flu just in the week that the Stoppages and Jams paper was printed. Some 1,000 workers per day were calling off sick from Ford Motor Company alone.

The flu outbreak may also have impacted state politics. In the Nov. 5, 1918, election, auto pioneer Henry Ford was barely defeated in a run for the U.S. Senate in Michigan. It has been suggested that since so many people were sick and dying at the time that the election may have been impacted. (Of course, many of the sick may have been just as inclined to vote for the seat's winner, Truman H. Newberry). Ford was a noted pacifist in the days ahead of the Second World War. Had he won the Senate seat and been in office prior to World War II, the "what if" questions stretch out endlessly.

The newspaper, which includes myriad details on activities in A, B, C, and D squadrons; a column titled "Ye Mess Hall Blues;" a headline about a new "enemy" (German) airplane that could carry up to eight men; scores of local advertisements; and about a dozen original poems, apparently submitted by Selfridge soldiers; has been turned over to the Selfridge Military Air Museum for safekeeping.

About the 127th Wing
Comprised of approximately 1,700 personnel and flying both the A-10 Thunderbolt II and the KC-135 Stratotanker, the Michigan Air National Guard's 127th Wing supports Air Mobility Command and Air Combat Command operations by providing highly-skilled Airmen to missions domestically and overseas. The 127th Wing is the host unit at Selfridge Air National Guard Base, which marks its 98th year of continuous military air operations in 2015.

About Selfridge Air National Guard Base
One of the oldest military air fields in continuous service, the military first took possession of Selfridge Air National Guard Base on July 1, 1917. The first military flight at the base took place on July 8 and formal flight operations began on July 16, 1917. Today the 127th Wing of the Michigan Air National Guard is the host unit at the base, which also houses units of the Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, Border Patrol and Customs and Border Protection.