Sgt. Ervin Reuben Wakefield

ABOUT ME: Sgt. Ervin Reuben Wakefield - I was born on January 21, 1890 to Reuben Edson and Adaline Miles Wakefield (Frost) in Hardwick, Vermont. I was the sixth of seven children. At the age of four, I was sent to live with my maternal aunt, Ida May and her husband Willis Parker. I joined the Vermont National Guard.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

September 29, 1918

Left on the Leviathan (Vaterland) troopship to Brest, France. Over 2,000 men on this ship were sick with the Spanish Influenza and many died.

SS Leviathan was originally built as SS Vaterland to serve as an ocean liner by Germany.  In 1917, she was seized by the U.S. government and renamed Leviathan.  In 1918 it was used as a troop transport ship to Brest, France, carrying up to 14,000 persons each trip.  On one crossing she had 14,416 troops on board - more human beings than had ever before sailed on a single ship.

Alfred W. Crosby, in his book America's Forgotten Pandemic, gives a detailed account of the miserable march of the 57th Pioneer Infantry to the Leviathan, on the trip across the Atlantic, and the march after arriving in France.  Sick soldiers fell during the cold march to Alpine Landing, Camp Merritt, New Jersey to board the Leviathan.  In the close quarters of the ship, hundreds of solders fell ill.  The hospital quarters were filled and it was difficult to separate the ill from the well.  Many sick soldiers had to stay on deck, even during storms.  Officers became ill and many of the sick did not wear the indentification tags (called in dog tags in WWII) the army ordered them to wear.  The original order to save bodies in order to return them home had to be ignored so that the many dead could be buried at sea.  About 100 men died on the Leviathan. 

As the soldiers arrived in Brest, France, more died joining victims who had arrived in France earlier.  Hospitals were already full and there were at least 600 doughboys who could not attempt the four-mile march (in a storm) to the army camp at Pontanezan.  Of the 57th Pioner Infantry alone, almost 200 died on land and were buried in an American cemetery at Lembezelle.

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