A Mormon Missionary in WWI: Battling Influenza in American Samoa

Byron Miller in World War One

Byron Miller in World War One

When searching for new portraiture to add to PortraitsofWar I generally tend to look for material with identifiable soldiers, uniforms, medals and other researchable information to help shed light on life during wartime.   In this post, I will be researching a photograph of a US Navy sailor who caught my eye during a recent eBay search.

Reverse Side of Postcard

Reverse Side of Postcard

The information written on the back of the postcard shows an identification of the sitter as a B.G. Miller.  He is identified as being a Pharmacist’s Mate 1st Class from Salt Lake City, Utah who was on duty at one point at a hospital in Samoa on August 1st, 1918.  Additional info added to the photo includes an anecdote about his position as a Mormon missionary in Germany during the breakout of the war between Germany and France.

With a little luck and a lot of research I was able to track down our mysterious B.G. Miller.  Byron Gardener Miller was found listed in the Utah World War 1 Military Service Questionnaire on ancestry.com.  Please see his card below:

Byron G. Miller in WWI

Byron G. Miller in WWI

It looks like Byron attended the University of Utah for a year before being shipped off for his overseas missionary work. This is likely the reason for his service as a Pharmacist’s Mate with the US NAVY as can be seen in the details of his uniform.

Navy Pharmacist's Rate Patch

Navy Pharmacist’s Mate Rate Patch

The reference to his missionary service in Germany during the outbreak of war in July of 1914 is partially confirmed through my discovery of his listing aboard a ship ledger arriving in Montreal, PQ in September of 1914.


His service in Samoa has also been confirmed through the same series of records.


Sadly, his arrival back in the US in 1919 wasn’t likely a time of joy for the Miller family; a Utah death certificate shows that he died of influenza only a few months later on February 7th, 1920.  Interestingly enough, my research into the US Hospital in Samoa shows that a MASSIVE flu outbreak in the Samoan Islands lead to the deaths of nearly 25% of the population.  The US Navy set up an epidemic commission to deal with the issue.  The results of the intervention in American Samoa were incredible.  Apparently the method of using maritime quarantine lowered mortality rates to nearly 1%.  It’s strange that Byron would die of influenza only a few months later while in the United States……

For the 1919 report please CLICK HERE

1920 Death Certificate

1920 Death Certificate

One of the main goals of this website is to help share photos and pertinent military service information with the families of the men and women depicted in the images I collect. In this case, I’m hoping a Miller family representative will discover a rare image of their ancestor who witnessed a formative time in history.

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