Grandpa’s worst enemy in the war with Spain


Robert B. Dees in mid-1950s

Robert Burns Dees in the mid-1950s

The military service file of my wife’s grandfather came in the mail last week, nine days after I ordered it online from the National Archives in Washington, D.C. It is a reminder of the debilitating role disease can play in the armed ranks.

To my mother-in-law, 89-year-old Naomi Schleicher, her father had always been in good health. He never talked about the trouble that laid him low while he served in Texas during the Spanish-American War. She was surprised to learn that her dad, Robert Burns Dees, had been very sick for weeks in 1898.

Dees was a private in Company L, 4th Texas Volunteer Infantry, at Camp Mosby, San  Antonio – a unit that never went overseas. His file, which is 17 pages, shows that as a 21-year-old he was hospitalized in September 1898 with “malarial fever.”

The Arkansas native, who was single and listed his occupation as “farmer,” had been in the Army less than three months. He was granted three furloughs, which he spent recovering at the home of his married sister, Linda Armstrong, in Thornton, Texas, more than 200 miles northeast of San Antonio.

In his first request for a furlough, he wrote from the hospital at Camp Tom Ball, Houston, on Sept. 27: “My reasons are that I have been very sick here in the hospital for the last 19 days and am still unfit for military duty.” He signed the letter: “Your most obedient servant, Robert B. Dees.”

A civilian doctor in Thornton described Dees in a letter to his company
commander, Capt. S.W. Parish, as “very sick with bilious-intermittent fever.”

Pvt. Dees was mustered out, along with the rest of the 4th Texas, in March 1899. He worked for a Texas rancher and married his daughter. The couple moved to California and had eight children, Naomi being the seventh.

Dees lived into his mid-80s, never again becoming as sick as he had been in the service of his country. I got his file for $25 by ordering it from this National Archives eservices site:



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