When searching for new portraiture to add to PortraitsofWar I generally tend to look for material with identifiable soldiers, uniforms, medals and other written or visual clues 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.
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:
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.
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 the Spanish 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. With over 8500 deaths, the Spanish Flu was devastating to the island. In response, 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
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.
3 thoughts on “A Mormon Missionary in WWI: Battling Spanish Influenza in American Samoa”
I really enjoy your blog. I am a digital artist specializing in the restoration and accurate colourisation of antique photography. I have a keen interest on WW1 portraits and would love to chat with you about a potential collaboration.
I look forward to hearing back from you
I just found an old post from you on reddit with a picture of my hometown Wesel in Germany. I would like to get in touch about the pictures and appreciate if you could get in contact with me. Really amazing work and collection here!
Thanks and best regards
Markus – feel free to email me or find me on facebook. I love those Wesel shots! brennangauthier1986 at gmail