bookmark_borderPost-224: My Great-Grandfather’s Piece of World War I

Note: This post was updated Nov. 11th, 2014 (including a recollection posted as a comment), along with post-242

A century ago this week, somewhere in Connecticut, a 17-year-old named Earle Hazen on summer break from high school heard the news: The great powers of Europe were declaring war on one other! It was August 1914.

Earle probably read this news in a newspaper, as this was before even radio. He’d not have been able to predict that a century later, his great-grandson (me) would be typing these words about him, wondering how he learned of the war.

Of course, what we now call “World War I” didn’t immediately affect him, nor many other Americans. The USA insisted on staying out of that irrational and deeply cynical war in its first few years. President Wilson famously ran for his second term in 1916 under the slogan “He Kept Us Out of the War”.

In time, the war came for us, too. Spring 1917. The very week that the USA declared war on the German Empire in April 1917, my great-grandfather, Earle Hazen, turned 20. As this is prime conscription age, he ended up in the army.

Earlier this year, my cousin N.D. and I found a picture of Earle Hazen in the attic of the old house in Connecticut. The girl in the picture is our grandmother (born in 1921). Judging by her age here, this picture seems to be from around 1930. My cousin N.D., upon seeing this photo, insisted that Earle Hazen at that time looked a lot like N.D. does today.


My great-grandfather Earle Hazen (right, with glasses)
with his wife and daughter (my mother’s mother). Circa 1930.

(This circa 1930 photograph is from about the same time as the Civil War veterans video in post-41.)

What do I know about Earle Hazen? I know the following:

Earle Hazen’s parents were born in Vermont and moved to Connecticut, where he was born in 1897. His father was listed as a farmer in the 1910 census. The Hazens seem to be of “Colonial Yankee” ancestry. His conscription card lists him as having had blue eyes, dark hair, and being of average height. Earle was a baseball fan, I think the Red Sox. On the 1920 Census, his job was listed as “shipping clerk” at a hardware factory. He probably met his wife there, as the Census man listed his wife’s job in 1920 as a “packer” at a hardware factory. We can suppose it was the same factory. The 1930 census records Earle’s job as, much more interestingly, “pool room manager”.

Not long after finishing up with his bit in defeating the Kaiser, Earle decided that the logical next step was to marry a German (what else?). (She’d come to the USA in 1907 at age 8 with her older sister.) Their daughter is my grandmother.

Few still living today can testify much to Earle’s personality as he died so long ago. Those who know handwriting analysis (not me) might be able to glean something from this:

Signature of Earle Hazen, from my grandparents’ wedding guest book

As for his “piece of World War I”:

Earle Hazen is the only one of my four great-grandfathers who served in that war. (Another great-grandfather, in Iowa, was of prime service age in 1917 but was exempted for being a farmer, I think. His cousin of the same name served.)
Earle Hazen was in the U.S. Army’s “151st Depot Brigade” (3rd Company) which was stationed at Camp Devens in Massachusetts.
Here is a photograph somebody is selling of another of the 151st’s companies in 1918:

The depot brigades were designed to administer the new army camps. This Earle Hazen did not go to Europe.

Purpose of U.S. Army Depot Brigades in WWI
The role of the Depot Brigades was to receive and organize recruits, provide them with uniforms, equipment and initial military training, and then send them to France to fight on the front lines. The Depot Brigades also received soldiers returning home at the end of the war and completed their processing and discharges. [Wiki]

Camp Devens During World War I
Camp Devens [was] established on September 5, 1917 as a temporary cantonment for training soldiers during World War I. It was a reception center for war selectees and became a demobilization center after the war. Two divisions (the 76th and the 12th) were activated and trained at Devens during the war. [Wiki]

Camp Devens processed and trained more than 100,000 soldiers [in 1917 and 1918] [Fort Devens Museum]


Camp Devens Barracks, 1917 [From here]


Camp Devens happens to have been the first U.S. Army camp affected by the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918-1919. You know, the one that killed millions across the world. The Army didn’t see it coming, so no precautions had been taken when it hit Devens. The influenza ravaged the Devens men.

Influenza Pandemic Kills Many at Camp Devens
From September through November 1918, influenza and pneumonia sickened 20% to 40% of U.S. Army and Navy personnel. […] Braisted pinpointed the arrival of the epidemic in the United States to Tuesday, August 27, 1918, at Commonwealth Pier in Boston. Influenza reached civilians in Boston and on September 8 [1918], arrived “completely unheralded” at the Army’s Camp Devens, outside of the city. Within 10 days, the base hospital and regimental infirmaries were overwhelmed with thousands of sick trainees. [From here]

As Earle Hazen was probably there in September 1918, maybe he came down with it, too. Extra doctors were sent to Camp Devens to deal with the crisis. Here is a letter one doctor wrote to a friend, dated September 29th, 1918:

My dear Burt,
It is more than likely that you would be interested in the news of this place […]

Camp Devens is near Boston, and has about 50,000 men, or did have before this epidemic broke loose. It also has the base hospital for the Division of the Northeast. This epidemic started about four weeks ago, and has developed so rapidly that the camp is demoralized and all ordinary work is held up till it has passed. All assemblages of soldiers taboo. These men start with what appears to be an attack of la grippe or influenza, and when brought to the hospital they very rapidly develop the most viscous type of pneumonia that has ever been seen. Two hours after admission they have the mahogany spots over the cheek bones, and a few hours later you can begin to see the cyanosis [bluish skin coloring] extending from their ears and spreading all over the face, until it is hard to distinguish the coloured men from the white. It is only a matter of a few hours then until death comes, and it is simply a struggle for air until they suffocate. It is horrible. One can stand it to see one, two or twenty men die, but to see these poor devils dropping like flies sort of gets on your nerves. We have been averaging about 100 deaths per day. [From here]

The Influenza Pandemic killed over 50,000 U.S. soldiers, a similar number as died in combat. Thirty six percent of the soldiers stationed at U.S. camps were hospitalized with the influenza and even more no doubt caught it but were not sent to the hospital because of only mild symptoms (everyone reacts differently to a virus).

Whether or not Earle Hazen caught the influenza at Camp Devens in fall 1918, he served out the war, was discharged in early 1919, I suppose. He lived 41 more years and is buried in New Britain, Connecticut. I visited earlier this year:

World War
Earle Hazen
3d CO 151st D.B.
Died July 31, 1959
Age 62

He is buried in the enormous Fairview cemetery in New Britain, Connecticut. Here is a part of that cemetery:



Earle Hazen Obituary, July 31, 1959




bookmark_borderPost-223: Kinsfolk by the Millions (Or, My Y-Chromosome Story) (Or, What the Heck is “R1b-U106”?)


Map of frequency of my Y-chromosome (father’s father’s father’s…etc.) [From here]

My Y-chromosome line is R1b-U106, determined by a professional test my father did last year. Above is a map of its distribution in Europe today. The darker the color, the more men native to that region have this Y-chromosome.

My father had this Y-chromosome, as did his, father, and his father before him, and so on. Every man’s Y-chromsome is passed on in the same way as we pass on surnames. All those with R1b-U106 will share the same male ancestor (father’s father’s father’s father’s….etc.). Nobody really knows how long ago or where that man lived.

Whoever that Stone Age man was, he has millions of descendants alive today: 20% of Englishmen, 19% of German men, 17% of Danish men, 13% of Swiss men, and an astonishing 35% of Dutchmen. Also, 15% of White American men. This means that in the USA, about 15 million men have this Y-chromosome line; tens of millions more in Europe. (Sample sizes for these are not big [Wiki], so give or take).

Famous people known to be R1b-U106 (from here):

  • U.S. Civil War General (and later President) Ulysses S. Grant,
  • U.S. President Polk,
  • The royal Bourbon line of France, including the king they beheaded after the 1789 French Revolution (multiple descendants tested to determine this).
Because this just deals with a shared patrilineal ancestor some large number of generations ago, it actually doesn’t tell anything directly about a person’s overall ancestry. For that, another test is needed (which is not yet totally reliable).

Note on Names: T
he R1b-U106 Y chromosome variant is sometimes called R1b-S21, other times called R1b-M405, and formerly called the totally-unmemorizable “R1b1b2a1a1”. That’s what we get for the field of genetic testing being so new. From what I can tell, by 2014, R1b-U106 is now the dominant name.

bookmark_borderPost-222: Good Journalism, From Iraq/Syria

In Malaysia last year, I curiously bought and read a few of the English newspapers. Malaysians with whom I spoke generally disparaged the big papers as government mouthpieces (This despite, many of them, often reading them).

We can make plenty of criticisms of the U.S. media, too. I feel generally disappointed by U.S. journalism.

What is good journalism?
Somebody named Robert Picard gives this definition, more eloquently than I could:

[Good journalism] is…labor intensive; it involves collecting, analysing, structuring and presenting information. The best journalism comes from knowledgeable and critical individuals determining what information is significant, backgrounding and contextualizing it, and thinking about and explaining its meaning. […]

Good journalism involves engaging language and fluid prose, but it is not merely a well written and good story; it is not necessarily evident in stories that make the most popular list of stories or are most shared on social media. Good journalism involves stories that have import, impact, and elements of exclusivity and uniqueness; it wrestles with issues of the day, elucidates social conditions, facilitates society in finding solutions to challenges, and is independent of all forms of power. Good journalism is rational and critical; it is infused with scepticism, but not cynicism.

I was glad to discover Patrick Cockburn earlier this year, whom I consider a very good journalist along the lines of the above. He is an on-the-ground Middle East correspondent who writes for a British newspaper, The Independent. I learn a lot from his articles, which are archived since 2001 (when he was in Afghanistan) at The latest:

Isis Winning Its War on Two Fronts
Militants have conquered Sunni regions of Iraq and are now consolidating their hold on north-eastern Syria
By Patrick Cockburn • July 31, 2014

In the early hours of 24 July a Saudi volunteer belonging to the Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (Isis) drove a car packed with explosives towards the perimeter wall of a base manned by 300 soldiers of the 17th Division of the Syrian army near the city of Raqqa in north-east Syria.

As the Saudi raced at high speed towards the wall he was given covering fire by a barrage of artillery shells and rockets, but he did not quite make it. His car was hit by Syrian army fire and blew up with an explosion that shook buildings miles away in Raqqa city. The plan had been for 40 Isis fighters to burst through a breach in the perimeter wall made by the suicide bomber. A further 600 Isis fighters were to follow up the first assault, if it made headway.


A second Saudi suicide bomber in a truck drove towards the base, but his explosives also detonated prematurely when hit by Syrian fire. Even so, the Syrian army detachment appears to have been too small to defend the base and 50 of them were ambushed and killed as they pulled back. A Twitter account linked to Isis later showed horrific pictures of the heads of decapitated soldiers stuck on the spikes of what looks like a gate.

It turned out that the assault on the 17th Division was not even Isis’s main assault which was directed against Regiment 121, a major Syrian army stronghold outside Hasakah City in north-east Syria. The regimental commander General Mozid Salama was reported killed and pictures posted by Isis show captured T-55 tanks, artillery pieces and multiple rocket launchers. Omar al-Shishani, a Chechen rebel commander, issued a statement saying the battle had gone on for three days, during which there were “dense missile, air, artillery, tank, machine gun and sniper fire on small mujahedin assault groups”. He added that 50 guns, including a 120mm artillery piece, and two tanks had been captured by his forces.

The fighting was among the most severe between the Syrian army and the armed opposition for a year. It put an end to a conspiracy theory that President Bashar al-Assad’s army and Isis secretly collaborated and never fought each other. The victories of Isis, which has taken over much of eastern Syria in the last three weeks, have established its position as the dominant force among the Syrian rebels. It has driven the al-Qa’ida affiliate Jabhat al-Nusra out of the oil province of Deir Ezzor and other groups are disintegrating as their fighters defect to Isis, attracted by its astonishing victories in Syria and Iraq since the fall of Mosul on 10 June.

There is no sign that Isis is running out of steam in either the Syrian or Iraqi parts of the caliphate declared by Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi on 29 June. In both countries its fighting force is growing in numbers and effectiveness, if not in popularity. In Mosul its blowing up of the Sunni mosque above the Tomb of Jonah, as well as the destruction of at least 30 other Sunni and Shia shrines, has dismayed local inhabitants.

“Believe me the destruction of the ancient mosques and the persecution of the Mosul Christians have left everyone here helpless,” writes a Sunni woman living in Mosul. “We are very angry and bitter.” But the anger is mixed with helplessness and there is no sign of a counter-revolution by the Iraqi Sunni against Isis which is becoming militarily more powerful by the day. Arabic television stations like al-Arabiya and Al Jazeera, see hopeful signs of Isis being displaced by the Sunni tribes, neo-Baathists and ex-army officers as happened in 2006 during the American occupation. But this time around Isis is expecting a stab in the back and has taken counter measures by demanding that all swear allegiance to the caliphate and arresting those it suspects of disloyalty.

Its run of victories makes Isis difficult to displace and there is no sign of these ending. It is increasing its stranglehold on Baghdad and a government counter-attack to recapture Tikrit failed dismally. Shia volunteers who answered a call from Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani to help the army are streaming home disillusioned and complaining that they suffered heavy losses when they fought and were left without food, arms and ammunition. Nouri al-Maliki, whose maladministration is considered responsible for recent disasters, is still Prime Minister. For many Shia he is the beleaguered leader of their community whom they see as betrayed by the Kurds who expanded their quasi-independent zone by 40 per cent after the fall of Mosul.

Isis has seized most of the wholly Sunni parts of Iraq outside Baghdad, where there are large Sunni enclaves, and south of the capital where there are strategically placed Sunni towns. Advances into mixed or purely Shia districts will mean harder fighting and heavy casualties. Isis, which so far has made few military mistakes, may feel it is easier to take ground in Syria, particularly north of Aleppo from which it made a tactical withdrawal earlier in the year. It may want to eliminate or bring under its sway other rebel groups so, as in Iraq, there is no opposition military force around which its enemies can rally.

Isis has been lucky in that its advances in eastern Syria have taken place as international attention is absorbed by events in Ukraine and Gaza. The Shia political leadership has taken refuge in wishful thinking that the Sunni community is open to a power-sharing deal and regional autonomy. In fact, there is no evidence that Isis or its Baathist allies want to end a war that so far they are winning. Isis might not be able to storm Baghdad by a direct assault but it could reduce it to mayhem by bombs or by blockading it. “If the fall of northern Iraq was the first act of this tragedy, then I suspect there is second act still to come,” said one Iraqi observer.

(Reprinted from The Independent by permission of author or representative) [via]