Posts Tagged ‘US Army doctors inject wrong medicine into Dale Melrose’

My brother found an interesting item when doing research on Dale. It is page 928 of an eBook: “History of Oregon” by Charles Henry Carey, pub. 1922  According to this record, Dale died of “Anaphylactic shock”. It is the only record I can find that lists that as the cause of cause of death.

What I do have is a very long letter (posted below – apologies for the length of the post). The letter is unsigned, and they didn’t keep the envelope, but it is clearly from Dale’s friend (and former teacher) J.H. Pruitt. There are more than enough clues in the body of the letter to point to the author. It is nearly 8 pages long in very fine, neat, precise cursive (five, typewritten). What follows is the letter and then the response from the Chairman from the Committee on Military Affairs, George E. Chamberlain.

361st Ambulance Co.

Camp Lewis, Wash.

Dec. 26, 1917

Dear Mr. & Mrs. Melrose;

       I received your letter yesterday. The day after Dale’s death I went to our 1st sergeant and got your address with the intention of writing to you when I got home for Xmas vacation. I felt that if I mailed the letter here and told you the whole truth about the matter that you might not get it as good deal of our mail from here is censored and is not sent on. This is done when they think the soldiers are complaining about conditions or are saying anything against the management of affairs in camp. But I am going to risk it. I shall ask you, as soon as you get this, to write to me, telling me just how many pages you receive and if any of it is blotted out. If you don’t get it at all, I’ll write again when I get home. We are still under quarantine but as this is the 8th day since Dale’s death and no new cases have developed, I think it will be lifted in two or three days.

     I met Mr. Melrose once when I was teaching in Newberg High School. I taught there three years, and Dale was in school all that time. I learned very soon to admire him very much both for his personal qualities and mental ability. he could learn anything very easily and seemed never to forget what he learned. The last year I taught there which was the year Dale graduated, I used him for my assistant in laboratory work. He was splendid in this capacity and could always be relied upon to do the work exactly as I wanted it done. I came to love the boy and we became very close friends.

      The next year he went to Whitman College as a Scholarship Student and I was very pleased to know that he kept up his splendid record there. The next year I went to school at Chicago University and lost sight of Dale. I heard after I returned to Oregon next year that he had fone to the University of Oregon and had appeared in a play at Portland. I heard nothing more of him for some time.

      I was drafted into the National Army from Forest Grove, Ore. Sept 18, 1917. I had been Principal of the High School there the year before and was to have been there again this year. When I arrived in this camp I was put into an infantry company and was there for over a month. One day I met Dale.

      I did not know that he was here. he told me where he was and asked if I would like to get into his company. As I greatly preferred to save life than to take it, I told him I would be delighted. He and I went to work at once to get my transfer. In about three weeks I obtained my release from the infantry and was sent to 361st Ambulance Company.

     Dale at once took charge of me and helped me get acquainted with the fellows. I found them a fine lot of men. The sergeant told me that I could put my bed beside Dale’s. From the first we were special friends. We took walks together, sat together during lectures, tried to be together when we marched, in fact we liked each other better than anyone else in the company. So often after the the lights were turned off for the night, we would talk for an hour or more in low tones. I always enjoyed these talks very, very much.

     I am sending you a clipping from the Eugene paper. They have things stated there as the camp doctors reported them. I have marked the places that are not correct. Here are the facts and any of the boys will tell you the same thing.

     About 8 days before his death, Dale told me he was not feeling well. The next day he looked flushed but attended drill and lectures as usual. He remarked to me, “I am not able to be out here,” when we were drilling. I asked him why he didn’t report to the sergeant that he was sick. “Would do no good,” he replied. “They won’t let a fellow off for anything as long as he can walk.” I think he reported the next morning at the 7 o’clock sick call. If not the next, it was the second morning. The sergeant tho’t he had a sore throat and told him to return to duty. That day he said to me, “I have had a fever and feel pretty bad. I really feel sorry for myself I feel so weak.” The next day (which I know was Thursday) he did not appear for lectures or drill but stayed in bed without permission from anyone. He said, “They can put me in the Guard House if they want to but I am so miserable I can hardly stand to be up.” He wore his overcoat all the time and was so hoarse he could hardly talk and his face was terribly flushed.

      I failed to mention that about two weeks before this he and about twenty others had their beds moved into a barrack across the road so that we would all have more room. I thus did not see him excepting during the day, at lectures, drill and meals and did not sleep by him as I had up to this time.

      On Friday morning the captain called us together and gave us a talk on behavior. He read a list of ten names who had violated rules recently and who were going to have their standing lowered. Dale’s name was among them. I was sitting beside him and I saw he felt greatly hurt because if the announcement. All the fellows in the company are graded, A, B, or C according to their behavior and how well they obey orders. A grade means a fellow is a splendid soldier. Dale held an A card. The Captain’s announcement meant he was to be reduced to B. I asked Dale what he had done. He said, “I stayed in bed without permission yesterday but I just couldn’t stand to be up. My fever seems to be worse all the time.” As soon as we were dismissed Dale said he was going to see the captain. The captain likely knew noting about his sickness before. I went to the office door with him, saw him go in, and thru the office door saw him salutethe saptain and in a very distressed manner say a few words to him. When he came out I asked what he said to the captain. He replied, “I told him I was all in and not able to do anything.” I wanted to know what captain said and if he spoke about being reduced from A. to B. “He did not say much of anything and I did not say anything about the reduction.”

      I don’t think they made him work that afternoon yer I am not sure. But I do know they had him out to drill again Sat. morning. He coughed all the time nearly. He said his fever seemed to be a little lower that it was. He really tho’t that he had nothing more than a very bad case or Grippe. Sat. P.M. and all day Sun. we don’t have any work so he was able to rest during that time. I didn’t see him from Sat. noon until Mon. morning. Mon. morning he reported again for sick call and our sergeant got a little alarmed about him and took him over to the base hospital for examination. they gave him their usual hurried examination which only takes about half a minute and told him to go back and work but to come over again right after noon and they would examine the lining of his throat more carefully. Before he left, however, they painted his throat with silver nitrate.

      At ten o’clock Mon. morning our Company officers gave us the usual physical examination which we all get about once every three or four weeks. The men undress and stand by their beds and the officers walk along and look us over to see that we are in good condition, are clean, that our feet are not blistered and that we have contracted no diseases. They look over our company of 120 men in about 30 or 40 minutes. On this occasion the fellows in the barracks across the road all came over to the main building, so the company would all be in a group. I told Dale to come and stand by my bed. First they called the roll. When they came to Dale’s name he answered, “Here,” as loudly as he could, but his voice was so weak I was sure they did not hear him. (That afternoon they posted his name with a few others as not being present at inspection.)

     After the roll call, we were told to undress. When Dale got his shirt off I noticed that his back was all covered as thick as could be with tiny red specks about the size of a pin head. I tho’t at once, “He looks as though he had scarlet fever,” but I did not say it to him or any one else at the time. The officer looked a moment at his back in a rather surprised manner as he came along our part of the room, yet did not seem to consider anything much wrong. After we dressed I told Dale to lie on my bed for a while and cover up if he wanted to. He said he would go back to his own bed across the road he thought.

      Afternoon he went back to the hospital and waited for nearly two hours for the doctors to come and re-examine his throat but they didn’t come, and he left, telling the attendant he would be back Tuesday morning. I sat by him during the lecture at 3:30 Mon afternoon and he told me about going to the hospital. That was the last time I saw him.

      The next morning he walked over to the hospital again. I think our sergeant went with him but I don’t know for sure about this. The doctors examined his throat again and decided that it was likely diphtheria  that ailed him.

     There is an antitoxin which is injected into the blood that greatly relieves diphtheria but which is dangerous to one whose body is weakened by some other disease. So they decided to inject the blood with some of this. They injected it and in two minutes Dale was dead. Our own Company Officers say that he had scarlet fever and was killed by the diphtheria antitoxin.

     All the above is thoroughly true and I am sure you will believe me. Any fellow in the company will tell you the same thing as far as he knows it. I likely know as much about it as any of the fellows as I was his special friend. If anything ever happens to me of this kind I want someone to write to my wife, mother and sister and tell them all about it. I felt it my duty to do the same for Dale’s folks.

    A sense of gloom settled over our compar when we heard the news. I especially felt that a true friend and brother had been taken away from me. I have felt so alone here without him. There are so many nice fellows here but none can ever take Dale’s place with me. We also feel a deep disgust with the doctors who made the awful mistake and gave him the wrong thing. If he had been allowed to stay in bed when he got sick we feel that he would be all right now. He had a very strong constitution and it was hard for a disease to get hm down. Many fellows would have been too weak to walk long before Dale’s death. If he had been given consideration when he kept telling them he was sick and given treatment I don’t think the sickness would have been very severe with him.

    Please know that you have my fullest sympathy for I believe that I feel the loss more keenly than anyone besides his parents. I’ll see that his things are sent to you. I don’t know just what he left but will speak to the officers about them and get them. If I don’t hear from you in due time I’ll take for granted that this never reached you and will repeat the whole letter when I get home for a few days.

<J. H. Pruitt’s signature has been cut off here>

The clipping states that he died at 5PM. It was 10A.M. instead. It also says he had been sick only one day. the fact is, he was sick 8 or 9 days.


The above letter was transcribed and mailed to the United States Senate Committee on Military Affairs, chaired by George E. Chamberlain (Ore. Dem.)

Mr. and Mrs. P.G. Melrose,

Caryville, Wisconsin

My dear friends:

I am in receipt of your favor of the 5th instant, with enclosed copy of a letter, from which you erase the name. I am returning it to you here-with, and beg to suggest that unless I have authority to use the name of the writer it cannot be of any assistance to me. I can readily appreciate that young men in the Service do not like to complain because it might work to their disconfiture and discredit with their Superior Officers, but I am only explaining to you that unless I can use the letter it does not help me in the situation which confronts me.

Yours very sincerely


001IMG_0448*I’d post the entire hand-written letter, but it takes up too much room!*

Photo credit for the headstone: Me. I took it in June of 2008 while visiting the cemetery in Rock Falls, WI.

Read Full Post »