James D. Phelan
From: William Beseler
Rummaging through old papers I came across this old panoramic view of Camp Cody, New Mexico, which was the training base for many of the young men who were in the army service in World War I, "the war to end all wars." Camp Cody was located about five miles west of Deming, New Mexico, in a desolate, wind-swept desert which the Spaniard, Onate, described as "remote beyond compare." And thus it is today, almost 90 years later. There is little there but a kind of gray sand, chemisa, sidewinders, and scorpions to habitate the area. It is hard to imagine the shock these men from the lush green agricultural Midwest must have felt to be deposited here; it must have reminded them of a blizzard in reverse. True, there is little humidity in this country, but nevertheless it is stifling hot, over 100 degrees much of the time; and then the wind, sweeping across this moonscape! In the book, Minnesota in the World War, it describes how the mules would fill their lungs with this dust and die!
Camp Cody was started to act as a buffer to offset the prowlings of Pancho Villa, who had raided Columbus, New Mexico, and also to thwart an attempt by Germany to get a Mexican "front" started right on our border.
The servicemen from Winona County are listed in "Winona County in The World War," which also includes an honor roll of the men who gave their lives during that war. There are a total of 54 men who made that sacrifice, and of those, about half lost their lives not to enemy action but to the influenza epidemic. One of those men was James D. Phelan, who was from Gilmore Valley; the family lived about 1/2 mile up Gilmore Creek from the old Gilmore Avenue bridge. He entered the service at the same time, the latter part of October 1918, as my uncle, Herbert Loeschke, who was also from Gilmore Avenue. While at Camp Cody, James Phelan contracted influenza and passed away in November 1918. My uncle described how men would be seemingly all right at morning assembly, some would pass out while in the ranks, and would be dead by nightfall. In his tent there was a man who announced that he had a cure for the flu, so they bought a quart of applesauce and a large bottle of epsom salts - mixed these ingredients and ate the concoction! Neither man got the flu, by lucky chance.
Camp life was one of the usual marching, drilling, the manual of arms, which Uncle Herb delighted in showing off with my BB gun. There was also a wire enclosed stockade, in which resided a disheveled, dirty, half-naked, wild-eyed man. The "Lootenant" was asked why the man was incarcerated, and the response was that the man "thought he was the second Jesus Christ, and he didn't have to fight."
After hearing these experiences from my uncle, I was always interested in seeing "Camp Cody," so on a trip to the southwest we went to Deming, N.M., where we found a druggist who had been mayor of Deming and knew the history of the place. He told us that in the 60s, the citizens of Mankato, Minn., had commissioned a bronze plaque to be erected on the site of Camp Cody to commemorate the men who had served there. When we visited the camp site the concrete pedestal was still there, but the plaque had been removed by vandals. Of the camp, nothing was left. For a few years after the war, it had been used as a TB sanitarium.
It is hard to imagine that up to 45,000 men were stationed there during World War I, and even though many never were in action overseas, in my book, they were all heroes. The unit was aptly named "The Sandstorm Division."
The photo is only a small portion of a nearly six-foot panorama of the entire encampment. Photo by Richard's Film Service, Deming, N.M. 1917.