15 July 1891 – 25 October 1918
Louis Katzel was the second oldest and oldest surviving child of Franz and Berta (Wendt) Katzel, German immigrants who both arrived in 1881 but who did not marry each other until 1888.
Louis grew up as a comfortable, middle-class American boy in Oak Park. His father worked as a steam fitter on the railroad and apparently did quite well in the business.
There is not much else to discover about Louis in the public records, but what I infer from what’s available is that he enlisted shortly after filling out his draft card on 5 June 1917. According to the information on that draft card, he was a single young man of 26 years working at a grocers in Oak Park. The US had only just entered the war two months earlier.
Fold3.com only has his draft record and a transport record indicating he was initially meant to ship out for Europe just a week before his death. Instead, his name was scratched out in red and a note written indicating he’d been transferred to Camp Mills which was near Garden City in Nassau County, New York which is where he died.
There are no other records that come up on either Fold3.com or Ancestry.com to indicate when he enlisted, but from his headstone and his transport record, we know he was a corporal for Company G in the 124th Infantry.
It is not clear why he was transferred away from his company. As a corporal, his role would have been very important in the chain of command and one presumes he and the men he was meant to ship out with had all gone through training together up to the very moment of his transfer. A young man who lived just a block down the street from Louis in Oak Park was also a corporal for the same company but was not sent back to Camp Mills, but the red-strike notation was not unique to Louis. Several other names are similarly struck out with the same transfer info written in red.
But I believe we can deduce why Louis was sent back to Camp Mills by simply looking at the calendar. Camp Mills was being used as an embarkment camp in 1918 with those shipping out being mustered at Camp Mills before being funneled to the ships several miles away via train. Camp Mills was also, in late 1918, one of several base hospitals set up to deal with the Great Influenza epidemic which was running rampant through the army from mid-September through the end of the year.
This brutal period of the epidemic saw Camp Mills admitting 4,278 cases at their on-base hospital facility. At the peak of admissions in early October, the base hospital was experiencing a more than 10% mortality rate and while that percentage dropped in the later part of the month, the long travel times and difficult modes of travel to the hospital meant that many patients were arriving in very bad shape to begin with and those who died often did so within a day or two of admission. (Camp Mills Base Hospital Report)
This does not seem to have been the case for Louis who was struck from the transport list at least eight days before he passed away, but it does seem likely that he was a victim of the virus.
Whatever the cause, instead of heading off to war, Louis died at Camp Mills, and his body was instead sent home to his parents to bury. They honored his service with a beautiful inscription and insignia, though he never reached his intended destination or fought alongside his fellows.
Louis’s parents both died thirteen years later in 1931 just two months apart and were buried with their son. Their names are inscribed on the reverse of their son’s headstone.
RIP Corporal Katzel and family
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