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James Patrick Keely

Submitted by: Evelyn Hoffmann {first cousin twice removed|

James Keely image

James Patrick Keely born around April 3, 1892. James Keely served in World War 1 with the United States Army . The enlistment was in 1918 and the service was completed in 1918.

Story of Service


The front-page death announcement in the Brooklyn, New York, newspaper, the Chat, read, “Made the Supreme Sacrifice.”1 It was for Private James P. Keely, my grandmother’s cousin, and appeared the morning of his burial on Oct. 12, 1918. It misreported the young man’s age but stated he had contracted pneumonia at camp and “died as truly for his country as if he had met his death in battle.”

Suspecting a link to the influenza pandemic during World War 1, which Grandma never spoke about, I searched for records.
James Patrick Keely’s draft registration card, completed June 5, 1917, described him as age 25, tall, with blue-grey eyes and light brown hair, Caucasian, having no dependents, and not physically disabled. 2 He was residing in Brooklyn and employed as “undertaker assistant” at the Edward A. Ireland Mortuary, (a family business run by my grandmother’s brother-in-law.)

Pvt. Keely’s “WWI New York U.S. Army Card showed he enlisted April 27, 1918, and was first sent to Camp Upton in his home state. 3 There, he was exposed to all forms of infantry combat training and assigned to the 152nd Depot Brigade, which processed incoming and outgoing soldiers. Less than one month later, however, on May 22, Pvt. Keely was transferred to Georgia’s Camp Greenleaf. A 1927 report of the Surgeon General’s Office of the U.S. Army described this camp as mainly for training medical officers at Fort Oglethorpe.4 News of his becoming a medical officer trainee would have been happily received as Grandma recalled word of him “writing home” and welcoming this opportunity.

According to Pvt. Keely’s army card, his first assignment at Camp Greenleaf was Evacuation Hospital 152 until June 13. Casualties would have been received there, so Pvt. Keely’s undertaking skills were put to use. Training followed in the Hospital Enlisted 41st Regiment until July 8 and then in Veterinary Company 1 until July 23. He was learning to treat soldiers as well as the animals that served them, for ambulances were still horse-drawn in World War I. His last assignment, however, puzzled me. Pvt. Keely was not stationed at Camp Greenleaf, where he reportedly died, but at Fort Oglethorpe Headquarters in the Medical Service Company. In place of an end date for this assignment was just the phrase “to death.”

A 1918 report on Camp Greenleaf filed later that year by the Surgeon General’s Office for the U.S. Army made the pandemic connection.5 It said an enlisted man of the Service Company, returning ill from leave, was admitted to the Hospital on Sept. 23. He had been in influenza-plagued Massachusetts and was diagnosed with the disease. Two days later, 20 cases developed in the Service Company and 6 in the School for Cooks and Bakers. By Sept. 29, the Evacuation Group was infected. After this, all remaining groups became ill, with the Hospital Group the last to develop the flu. While containment orders were issued only one day after the disease first spread, a shortage of tents led to an insufficient isolation-camp setup.

In October, the epidemic at Camp Greenleaf peaked, with 2,353 influenza cases and 1,200 pneumonia cases admitted to the hospital.6 Most of the latter had battled influenza first. By October, 26, the epidemic inexplicably disappeared.

My last find provided not only a sense of closure but also pride and even an epiphany that those who knew him must have felt when they learned of it. It was Pvt. James P. Keely’s name on the 1922 “Roll of Honor: Citizens of the State of New York Who Died While in the Service of the United States during World War I."7 Maintained by the New York State Military Museum, it indicates he died Oct. 6, 1918, from lobar pneumonia while serving in the Hospital Enlisted 41st Regiment at Camp Greenleaf. Since this assignment was not officially his last, Pvt. Keely may have accepted a call to assist his former Regiment. If so, he served in the last hospital group to become ill after September 29th.

When his body was brought home to Brooklyn, family members connected to the mortuary at which he had worked saw to it that James Patrick Keely received a soldier’s burial at Calvary Cemetery in Queens, New York. In the course of doing his duty during the 1918 Influenza Pandemic that coincided with the final year of World War 1, he did indeed make the supreme sacrifice.


Websites in this article were viewed in November, 2020

1 “Made the Supreme Sacrifice,” Chat (Brooklyn, N.Y.), Oct. 12, 1918, p. 1, col. 3; digital image Newspapers.com (www.newspapers.com).
2 "United States World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918," database with images, FamilySearch (familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33S7-L1X9-QJG? :), N.Y.>N.Y.C. no 32; A-L> image 3155 of 3812; citing NARA microfilm pub. M1509 (Washington, D.C.).
3 “Abstracts of World War I Military Service, 1917-1919.” Ancestry (www.ancestry.com), entry for James P. Keely, citing Adj. General's Office Series B0808. N. Y. State Archives, Albany, N.Y.5
4 “The Medical Department of the United States Army in the World War, Volume VII, Training.” U.S. Army Medical Department Office of Medical History (history.amedd.army.mil/booksdocs/wwi/VolVII/ch02part1.html), citing U.S. Government Printing Office, 1927.
5 “Epidemic Influenza At Camp Greenleaf, Georgia, University of Michigan Library (quod.lib.umich.edu/f/flu/410flu.0014.614/--epidemic-influenza-at-camp-greenleaf-georgia?), citing Influenza Encyclopedia, RG 112 Records of the Office of the Surgeon General (Army) [1918],” p. 3, para. 1-2.
6 See Note 4, Admin. Sect., p. 26, para. 1.
7 “Roll of Honor: Citizens of the State of New York Who Died While in the Service of the United States during World War I,” New York State Military Museum and Veterans Research Center, Indexed from N.Y. (State) Adj. General's Office, Albany, J. B. Lyon Company, 1922.






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