People may know there is an American Legion post on a hilltop overlooking the North Fulton Golf Course at the south end of Chastain Park in Buckhead.

Some may know it is the Waldo M. Slaton American Legion Post 140.

But few know who Waldo M. Slaton was, or why his name adorns the post.

In the time of coronavirus, his story warrants another look. He was an Army soldier from Atlanta who, on Nov. 22, 1918, died of the Spanish flu while serving his country.

Many comparisons have been made between what we are currently living through and the outbreak of 1918-19. The earlier pandemic lasted 15 months and resulted in the deaths of more than 50 million individuals worldwide. It infected one-third of the global population, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

It is interesting to look back at our history and put a little penlight on those reminders of the 1918-19 pandemic, that while in plain sight, have been obscured over time.

Slaton died at Lakeside Hospital in Chicago, but he was from Atlanta and is buried in Historic Oakland Cemetery. His father, William Martin Slaton, served as the superintendent of Atlanta Public Schools, a position his grandfather also held. His other grandfather, James Jackson, was a chief justice of the Supreme Court of Georgia.

Born in 1893, Waldo Slaton’s parents lived on Myrtle Street near Piedmont Park in Midtown. A bright student, he attended Georgia Tech and earned the Gold T, awarded to the top 10 students in each class, his junior year. He graduated with honors in 1914 with a degree in mechanical engineering.

When the United States declared war on Germany on April 2, 1917, Slaton joined the Army. He trained at Camp Lee in Virginia, and later was assigned to the engineer depot, where he joined the Inspection of Engineer Materials Division.

He received orders to go overseas with a pioneer regiment, but a higher-up determined he could better serve the cause if he stayed in the United States. The Army transferred him to Chicago. It was there he died of the Spanish flu. He was 25 years old.

The American Legion post bearing his name is a split-rail log cabin built in 1933 for the Civilian Conservation Corps. It served as a bunkhouse, where the men — they were all men — slept and ate when they weren’t clearing the land and building the picnic pavilions for Chastain Park during the Great Depression.

It became an American Legion Post in 1936. In 1950, Fulton County deeded the cabin and two acres to be used as such as long as the post existed. Congress created the American Legion in 1919 to serve veterans, service members and communities. There are more than 13,000 posts worldwide with more than 2 million members.

History doesn’t record why the post is named in Waldo Slaton’s honor.

However, there are a few hints. John Marshall Slaton, the governor of Georgia from 1911-12 and 1913-15 (two terms), was his uncle. Slaton Drive in Buckhead is so named because it is where the governor’s house was on property that today is next to the Atlanta History Center.

Waldo Slaton’s brothers – John Slaton and William F. Slaton – served in France during the Great War. John Slaton went on to become the deputy administrator in the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ Atlanta office.

Perhaps those familial connections are why the post is so named.

Or perhaps it is that he was a well-known and well-liked young man, whose life was tragically cut short by a brutal pandemic that robbed so many young people of their lives.

Either way, as we deal collectively with the stress and concern of our current pandemic, Waldo Slaton is an invaluable reminder: Service above self, and strive every day to live life to the fullest.

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Buckhead resident Thornton Kennedy is the president of PR South and a former news editor of this paper. He can be reached at tkennedy@prsouth.net.

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