Flu Epidemic Claims Brothers in WWI


President, White County Historical Society, 1998-2000



wo of the most unusual casualties of World War I were the Garner brothers of Beebe, who have rested side by side in the Antioch Cemetery for more than eight decades.  Although they were hundreds of miles apart, they died of influenza in the same week during the great epidemic of 1918-19.  The epidemic was global, claiming some 20 million people.


John H. “Johnnie” Garner was a corporal in the U.S. Army stationed at Camp Pike in North Little Rock.  The Beebe newspaper, reporting his death at the camp October 9, 1918, said Johnnie was “an obedient son always residing with his parents until Uncle Sam called him to camp.”  He was born March 29, 1894.  Two months earlier, Johnnie’s brother Mack E. Garner had volunteered and joined the U.S. Navy.   He was born April 3, 1896, and died in New Orleans October 15. 

What a heavy burden that week brought to Mr. and Mrs. B.B. Garner of Beebe!  According to news reports, both of their sons had Spanish influenza which developed into pneumonia.  Their funeral service at Antioch was conducted by Rev. J.M. Talkington.

  Thirty-five members of Company F, 4th Training Regiment, including commanding officer Capt. Charles E. Scott, signed a letter to Mr. and Mrs. Garner dated October 30, 1918, in which they said Johnnie was “a genuine good fellow, and was mighty well liked by all in the Company and stood in line for rapid promotion…  May you bear your double loss with fortitude – a loss of two worthy sons and patriots.  Their untimely death was not in vain, however, as they died while doing their bit and best for the Cause we all love and are willing to die for.”

Monuments on the White County Courthouse Square contain the names of those who went to war and didn’t come home.  Some died on the battlefield, defending our nation with their last breath of life.  Others like Mack and Johnnie died in lonely hospital wards or other places far removed from White County and their loved ones.  They were all heroes.  Let us remember them and their sacrifice.