Historically, more soldiers have died from insects than from bombs or bullets.
In the early 1800s, tens of thousands of French soldiers died from yellow fever — which is vectored by mosquitoes — while trying to put down a rebellion in Haiti.
“A man cannot work hard here without risking his life and it is quite impossible for me to remain here for more than six months,” General Victor-Emmanuel LeClerc wrote to Napoléon Bonaparte. “My health is so wretched that I would consider myself lucky if I could last for that time! The mortality continues and makes fearful ravages.”
During World War II, General Douglas MacArthur had similar problems with malaria, another disease vectored by mosquitoes.
“This will be a long war if for every division I have facing the enemy, I must count on a second division in hospital with malaria and a third division convalescing from this debilitating disease,” he is known to have said.
In addition to malaria and yellow fever, soldiers have faced dengue, typhus, leishmaniasis and other insect-borne diseases.
The United States has taken the threat from insects very seriously.
According to the Armed Forces Pest Management Board, “Military medical entomology began in 1900 when Major Walter Reed and his colleagues demonstrated the transmission of yellow fever by mosquitoes and were subsequently able to reduce the impact of this disease on the U.S. military. From typhus in World War I, malaria in World War II, to leishmaniasis in Operation Iraqi Freedom, military medical entomologists have been called upon to protect the military mission.”
Today the U.S. Army, Navy, and Air Force all have trained entomologists to improve the health and sanitary conditions of their personnel. They develop and evaluate novel products and application technologies to better protect deployed forces from insects that carry diseases, and they provide health protection through operational disease vector surveillance and control.
So on this day — Memorial Day — we thank our military entomologists, and all others who have served in the U.S. armed forces.
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