Robert James Hydon was born in Canandaigua, N.Y., on January 2, 1887, the son of Robert T. and Eva McMurry Hydon. He came to Skaneateles at the age of three and went to school here. An electrician by trade, he worked here and in Auburn, and then in Detroit. When the United States entered World War I, Hydon enlisted in the U.S. Navy; after training, he was sent to Ellis Island to wait for an assignment on a ship. It was September of 1918.
Ellis Island had been turned into a way station for sick and wounded servicemen returning from Europe. The young men came by the shipload, and they brought with them a rapidly mutating strain of influenza that was going from bad to horrific, a virus that would kill more than 20 million people worldwide, more than half a million in the U.S. alone. In the words of one historian, “Death was quick, savage, and terrifying.”
Perversely, the disease was more deadly among the young and healthy, killing through an overreaction of the body’s immune system. The stronger immune system reactions of young adults ravaged their bodies, whereas the weaker immune systems of children and older adults resulted in fewer deaths.
Robert Hydon was in the worst possible place at the worst possible time in his life, at the center of a stream of returning men carrying the virus, and a prime candidate. Facing an enemy more deadly than any in uniform, he was stricken and taken to Bellevue Hospital in New York City, which handled more than 3,000 flu patients during the worst days of the epidemic. He died around midnight on Sept 27, 1918. His father was at his bedside.
Hydon was one of more than 4,000 victims in the U.S. Navy. The Skaneateles Press carried the news of his death on the front page where readers also learned of the deaths of two nurses from Skaneateles who died serving in Syracuse hospitals: Miss Fannie Louise Claxton who had just completed her training as a nurse, and Miss M. Pauline Curtin who had just begun training, and was stricken on her 18th birthday. Miss Curtin was one of four nurses to die in Syracuse hospitals that day.
Robert Hydon’s service was held in the Baptist Church and he was buried at Lake View Cemetery. He was survived by his mother and by his brother, Sgt. Frank M. Hydon, in France with the 329th Field Artillery.
The following summer, the Skaneateles Free Press reported “At a meeting of service men held at the Yacht Club last evening plans were adopted for the establishment of the local post of the American Legion and it was unanimously noted that the name shall be ‘The Robert J. Hydon Post’ in memory of the late Robert J. Hydon who died while in the service of his country.”
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Do visit Ken Wooster’s fine Web page about Robert J. Hydon Post 239 of the American Legion.