Camp MacArthur and the Spanish Flu in 1918

There were many factors, but after the US intercepted a message from Germany to Mexico promising, among other things, to return Texas to Mexico, on April 6, 1917, Congress voted to declare war on Germany and its allies. Ten weeks later, a military installation was approved for Waco. It was called Camp MacArthur, covered 10,700 acres on the NW side of Waco, and welcomed its first 18,000 trainees from Wisconsin and Michigan in September. Eventually the camp held 28,000 soldiers, and many would form the famous 32nd Infantry Division, which accomplished great exploits in France. Some of these soldiers met and married Waco women,and their families still live here today. The Great War was over November 11, 1918 and Camp MacArthur was closed soon after, though there are some memories still discoverable here today.

While 17 million died worldwide due to WW1, 30-50 million died at the same time of the Spanish Flu that came in 3 waves through 1918. Waco was not left untouched. Records are difficult due to the war, confusion over the flu, and the government preferring little reporting. There were 930 cases of flu at Camp MacArthur, and 202 soldiers died. Many others died of flu once they got overseas. In the city, between 280 and 500 citizens died of the flu. Local and military doctors cooperated to increase sanitation and quarantine the sick. Facilities were overrun, and coffins stacked up at the roughest times. Mayor Ed McCullough closed schools, theaters, and movie houses. The efforts and education of physicians and community leaders made the flu less severe in Waco than many other places.

Randy Gardell, MD

Randy is a neurologist with Central Texas Neurological, and he arrived here in 1995. After Randy had finished medical school at UTMB in 1986, he did his internship at Portsmouth naval hospital in Internal Medicine, then went on to Navy submarine and dive school. He served as a diving medical officer at Pearl Harbor HI for three and a half years, giving him the opportunity to dive all over the world and to commute to work via kayak. I first med Randy in 1992 when I arrived at UTMB and he had returned there for his neurology residency. When he finished residency at Galveston, former classmate Bret Miller (ortho in Waco then) told him of an opening here.

While his work and schedule are full and demanding, Randy is positive about the variety and challenges of adult general neurology both in the hospital and clinic. He has served in several leadership roles in medicine, such as developing stroke programs at the hospitals, and in the community, such as the Texas Sports Hall of Fame. He and wife Barbara have also been involved in foster care for the last five years with nine different children They care for newborns and infants and usually have them 3-9 months.

How do you feel things are in Waco medicine today?
I see medicine going away from single specialty practices and more multi-specialty type or affiliation with a health care association. Unfortunately I see a trend of physicians being employees with less autonomy. I also anticipate the insurance paperwork and government hoops to become increasingly difficult.

If there is one message you’d give to today’s physician, what would it be?
I feel that we are blessed to live in such a great community of excellent physicians and hospitals .Find your passion; get involved and give back.

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