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Words of Wisdom from the Descendant of a Survivor: ‘Stay Home and Play Your Banjo’

The following is a guest blog post by Hope O’Keeffe, an attorney in the Library’s Office of General Counsel, and an ardent supporter of the Veterans History Project. To read a previous guest post about her family’s history of proud military service, go here.

A black and white photograph of a World War I era band posing in the front entrance of a building with their musical instruments.

John McLaughlin with a banjo and his band mates, U.S. Army, WWI. Image courtesy of Hope O’Keeffe.

This is my grandfather, John McLaughlin, quarantined during the 1918 flu pandemic. He had volunteered at 25 for WWI, but never made it out of the States because of the pandemic. Instead, he was quarantined at Camp Joseph E. Johnston in Jacksonville, Florida, where they trained troops and quartermasters for the Army’s Supply Corps.

Dad’s the one with the banjo, and watching him play it while I was sitting on his lap is my earliest memory. My brother, Tom, the family genealogist, reminded me today that none of the McLaughlins or O’Keeffes he has identified died in that pandemic.

Young boy playing a banjo, seated in a red reclining chair.

John McLaughlin’s great-grandson, Jeffrey, playing the veteran’s banjo. Image courtesy of Hope O’Keeffe.

Stay home and play your banjo. Your descendants will thank you.

Stories from the 1918-1919 Influenza Pandemic from Ethnographic Collections

The Library of Congress collections contain stories of the 1918-1919 influenza pandemic as told by ordinary people, documented by folklorists, linguists, and others as they collected personal histories and folklore. Several of these are available online and a selection will be presented here, with links at the end under “Resources” where more can be found. […]

Pandemic: A Woman on Duty

She had already made it five years past the century mark when she finally sat down to share her story for the Veterans History Project (VHP) in 2002. Less than six weeks later, she was gone. Alice Leona Mikel Duffield was a beater of odds. A trailblazer. A go-getter. A caring soul. I’d say that […]

From Behind the Lines to Between the Lines: War Poems and Beyond

The following is a blog post in honor of National Poetry Month. While walking the halls of the Library of Congress Thomas Jefferson Building, it is not difficult to be inspired by the Lyric Poetry Hall.  I have often wondered what artists and poets have ventured through these halls for the past 122 years. Were […]

Which One Do You Love Most?

It’s Valentine’s Day. It seems everyone has love on their minds today—at least half of us, anyway. Last year, the National Retail Federation predicted that 54.7% of the United States adult population was planning to celebrate the holiday with their significant others, friends or pets to the tune of nearly $20 billion. Yes, billion with […]

“Someday at Christmas, There’ll Be No Wars”: Winter Holidays in the Military

This is a guest post by Sam Meier, a former LC Junior Fellow who is currently working on a variety of reference-related projects for the Veterans History Project (VHP).  December 25, 1917 found William James Bean in quarantine at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn, New York. Bean had been inducted into the Army a little more […]

‘If I Could Only Get My Mind Back To Normal’: PTSD in the Aftermath of WWI

The following is a guest post by Matt McCrady, Digital Conversion Specialist. United States participation in World War I lasted a little over a year, from April 1917 to November 1918, but the cost would be deeply imprinted on the entire history of the 20th century and the lives of the individuals who fought in […]

Happy Birthday, VHP! Cheers to 18 Years

The following is a blog post about Veterans History Project (VHP)’s 18th birthday.    Do you remember your 18th birthday? Birthdays, especially milestone birthdays,are often a time of celebration paired with reflection. You consider how far you have come, and yet dream of the next chapters.  As the Veterans History Project (VHP) turns 18 we find ourselves […]