On December 5, 1941, the Miami Student ran a lead story with
a three-column headline: "Don Bestor's Orchestra to Play for Hop
Tonight." College life was in full swing, a successful football season
had just ended, and a name band was coming to play for the first
class dance of the year. A pleasant weekend was
But the week end brought a somber day. On Sunday afternoon a startling word passed from person to person, from house to house, from hall to hall. There was a touch of winter in the air. Faculty members in their homes, students in their halls stared out at the thin snow while radio voices described the disaster that had struck Pearl Harbor.
On Monday December 8th, an extra edition of the Student carried a black headline: "War Declared." There were no references to the Sophomore Hop, to the football season just ended or the basketball season beginning. The front page was all war--President Roosevelt's address to the joint session of Congress; a message to Miami students from Professor French, former congressman from Idaho; and a word of counsel from President Upham. A student poll predicted the length of the war with Japan, estimates ranging from three weeks to ten years. There was also a cartoon of a campus-dressed student--checked jacket, pegged trousers, saddle shoes--seeing himself in a mirror. The reflection showed a man in battle-dress--steel helmet, khaki field clothes, a rifle riding on his shoulder. Humorously, realistically, Miami saw what was coming.
The University administration and faculties went into action. A week later the Student announced a list of war emergency courses to be offered in the second semester. The offerings, including production management, personnel management, meteorology, navigation, map-making and reading, and signaling and communications, were designed to prepare students for service in war industries and the armed forces. President Upham declared: "College is not an escape from the responsibilities of patriotic citizens. . . . College is not an alternative to service; it is actually a preparation for better service."
With the swiftness of military events in Europe, Africa and Asia, and the many currents of speculation and opinion in the United States, there appeared in this quiet college town a need for discussion of the problems of a nation at war on two continents. Student forum groups met locally and went to neighboring communities to discuss means of defense, the conduct of war, the changed role of America in the world.
Before the semester was over students began to enlist in the armed forces, the first five thousand Miami men and women in uniform. At the end of the term two faculty members left the classroom for military service and one to enter war industry. They were the first of seventy staff members who eventually served in Europe, Africa and Asia, and of fifteen who assumed duties in government and industry. Meanwhile in Oxford the Student-Faculty Council sponsored an immediate financial drive for the Red Cross and a drive for the sale of War Savings Stamps and Bonds; the senior class voted to invest the proceeds of the Senior Ball in War Savings Bonds to be added to the fund for a Memorial Union Building.
The first winter of war, maps of the Pacific Islands were posted on bulletin boards and people became familiar with names like Tulagi and Guadalcanal. Fireside groups in residence halls and houses guessed: What and Who Shall Be Drafted? What Contribution Can a College Student Make to the War Program? Should Students Marry in Face of War Conditions? How Can Nations Solve the Problem of Economic Relations in the Post-War World? How Can Permanent Peace Be Organized in the Post-War World?
The War Emergency Courses were well supported by the student body. Faculty members teaching new courses on short notice were heartened by the enrollment of hundreds of students. Meanwhile a committee studied the entire University program in the light of the war effort of the nation. In the first week of May all students registered for war ration books, and Lt. G. L. Dosland arrived in Oxford to organize the Naval Training School (Radio) which Miami University had contracted to operate for the U.S. Navy.
The first training class of the Naval Training School marched to barracks in Fisher Hall on the last day of May. They were one hundred fifty-one men from forty-one states, having received their boot training at San Diego and Great Lakes. Soon the old Oxford Retreat laundry was fitted up as a code room for radio instruction, a mess hall was built on the west side of Fisher Hall, and sentry boxes guarded entrances to the Naval Reservation. That summer new classes of trainees moved in. They had a monotonous, concentrated course, going from code to typing and back to code again. On Wednesday nights they marched uptown to see a motion picture, and they roamed High Street "at liberty" after their Saturday noon parade on Cook Field. Oxford had become a Navy town.
In September, 1942, a second class seaman stationed at The Pines grinned and said: "The fleet has landed and the situation is well in hand." Returning college students found six hundred uniformed men quartered at The Pines and Fisher Hall. University officials waited uneasily for clashes between civilian students and Navy trainees, but the two groups decided to tolerate each other.
That fall a group of faculty men organized a Miami Volunteer Training Corps. Within two weeks four hundred fifty students were enrolled. They paid their own fees for equipment and materials and began a series of night-time meetings which included close-order drill, demonstrations of small arms, lectures on chemical warfare and military organization. At the same time University women were enlisted in first aid classes, in hospital training, drafting courses, and as hostesses at the local USO clubroom.
Students carried on War Bond drives, with weekly goals to meet. A War Stamp desk in the rotunda of the Library was a daily reminder of this effort. In a new war style at the Junior Prom women wore corsages of War Savings Stamps. In the women's hall physical fitness committees emphasized rounded diet, regular sleep, vigorous exercise.
In April of 1943 Oxford saw its first women in uniform when a company of WAVES alighted from a special train. Bystanders noticed that under their cocked Navy hats all the girls had red hair. Later came an explanation: the Navy command office had meant to send to Miami WAVES who already had a knowledge of stenography; but, according to the story, someone mistakenly pressed the IBM button for red hair instead of for typing. On arrival the red-haired company marched down Spring Street, past McGuffey Hall, and took up quarters in East Hall. There they found that the displaced college girls had left messages in the rooms: "Washed out by the WAVES." In June a second detachment of WAVES, with various-colored hair, took over West Hall.
The WAVES were a part of the Radio Training School, with their own equipment set up in the Reserve Book Room of the University library. Bare plank tables were wired with transmitters and the da-dit sounded from eight in the morning till ten at night. The girls came in shifts, marching to cadence, with classes alternating all day long. Sometimes girls fainted at the long table, but they learned faster than men. They were all volunteers, averaging two years older than the men, and they had had more previous education. Later in the year a company of Navy nurses and a company of women Marines were added to the women's enlisted corps at Miami.
With weekly Naval reviews on Cook Field and Navy blue swarming up High Street when liberty began, Navy slang became a new language in this college town. "Scuttlebutt" was as familiar in college halls as in Navy quarters; the washroom became the "head"; a lonesome person had the "mokes"; and instead of "Hey, Joe. Time to get up. Calisthenics in fifteen minutes,"--the word was "Hey, Mac. The windjammer's blowing his head off. Roll out and hit the deck. Monkey drill in fifteen minutes."
In 1943 with two thousand Naval trainees and a large civilian Summer Session enrollment, Miami saw a busier summer than any in its history. Navy shows were produced in Benton Hall, a Shore Patrol policed High Street, busses shuttled Navy classes to and from the swimming pool, platoons marched on all the campus paths.
That summer there were weekly discussions of "Freedoms We Are Fighting For." On humid nights faculty members sat late over new manuals and textbooks: most of them had undertaken new courses in the war-time curriculum. Classics men were teaching mathematics, foreign language men were teaching radio code, fine arts men were teaching meteorology.
By September, 1943, the civilian student body was largely women, and the Miami Student began the year with a woman business manager and a women's business staff as well as a women's editorial staff. A new feature of the paper was a column "Our Men in Service." Within two weeks it took the brisker form "G.I. Flashes," a lively, readable column reporting activities of former students in training camps across the country and in theaters of war on three continents.
The Student War Activities Council (SWAC) undertook the organizing of social events for the men in uniform, the recruiting of USO hostesses, the leading of drives for Red Cross classes, blood donors, and war bond sales. One of its tedious and significant tasks was the mailing of every week of the Miami Student to three thousand men and women in the armed forces. There were times when a letter might come back after being forwarded vainly from station to station, camp to camp, at home and abroad. It was a formidable task merely to keep service addresses up-to-date.
In an attempt to include transient trainees in the college life, University affairs were kept open to all. On a crisp autumn evening in Benton Hall, Robert Frost lectured to ten solid rows of blue uniforms, with civilian students jamming the rest of the hall; the WAVES had marched in early. Throughout the summer "tennis court" dances on Saturday nights attracted both students and trainees. SWAC organized women's serenades for the sailors at Fisher Hall, an attention wryky appreciated by the men who had to be in quaters while the girls were at large. At the conclusion of each four-months training term the Radio classes were given a "Commencement." In dress blues they marched into Benton Hall, facing their officers and petty officers on the stage. Before receiving their ratings they were addressed by President Upham who wanted them to regard themselves Miami men, "to have the high traditions of Miami walking beside those of the Navy." After graduation the class marched to Fisher Hall. They packed their sea bags and said farewells. While the band played "Anchors Aweigh!" they marched past the familiar campus to the train. Soon they were at battle stations with the scattered fleets.
Autumn of 1943 saw the students dressed in checked shirts (tails out) and blue jeans rolled to the knees. When some women members of the faculty questioned the decorum of that dress, the women students conducted a poll which supported the garb as an expression of rough-and-ready spirit of a nation at war. Blue jeans, the girls insisted, were appropriate wear for classroom, campus, and dining hall.
By January, 1944, forty-five Miami men were dead from military action, and many more were wounded. In Oxford bandage-making groups worked at long tables, hearing radio new of war while their hands were busy rolling, trimming, packing pads of gauze for shipment to battle areas thousands of miles away. At the same time the College of Liberal Arts adopted a three-year pre-professional curriculum for nurses.
In the snowy winter of 1944 groups of Miami teachers set out for classrooms in Dayton. At midnight they returned, talking in low voices in the cold. They were the staff of a program of Engineering, Science and Management War Training Courses. Their teaching was being put into practice in the offices, laboratories and conference rooms of Dayton's wide-spreading war plants.
A tradition in the Miami Student had particular point in the spring of 1944. In recognition of the University Charter Day the paper had repeatedly published features of the life of the college in bygone years. The issue of March 24, 1944, given entirely to the theme "Old Miami--New Miami," found quaint practices in the University's past, and a photograph of the five Student editors of 1872-73 (three of them mustached) was in pointed contrast to the all-woman staff of 1944.
On the hot Sunday of May 28, 1944, was held the first combined Baccalaureate and Commencement ceremony, and the first Sunday Commencement, in Miami history. Scripture was read by Naval Chaplain Merlin Ditmer, Miami '40, on leave from the fleet. President Upham read a tribute to Miami men who had lost their lives in military service. The Commencement address was given by Carl J. Hambro, president of the Norwegian parliament, who was living in the United States and conducting a government in exile since his country's occupation by the German army.
The final contingent of WAVES had arrived in Oxford in the fall of 1944, and it was announced that the final class would be graduated from the Radio Training School in the coming February. This was the first sign of the turning tide, when college facilities would be turned back to civilian students. Meanwhile Miami girls came back from summer employment in factory, farm and camp. Immediately one hundred fourteen of them enrolled in bandage-making groups organized by the Student War Activities Council.
In September, 1944, the college year began with twenty-five medically discharged veterans enrolled in academic courses. They came to college, the first of a great number, from experience in Africa, Europe, and the islands of the Pacific. Most of them had spent months in military hospitals before being discharged to civilian life. In a guest editorial in the Miami Student one of them spoke for all: "It is a long way from bullets to books . . . a long way. The soldier in combat has seen how cheap human life can be. He knows how precious it is. . . . The returned student veteran believes in the future of America. He has had a part in shaping that future. He knows that his new role of student is not only the greatest of all privileges but is also an obligation born of the blood of the men he has known who have perished in battle."
During the winter of 1944-45, in an effort to understand the problems of adjustment to a peaceful economy at the war's end, a series of panel discussions was held in Benton Hall. Visiting specialists and local student and faculty representatives, sitting at a table together, grappled with some of the hard questions of the time--censorship, the rehabilitation of returned veterans, the problems of organizing the nations for world peace. By this time nearly ten thousand Navy men had been trained in Oxford, including six thousand radio technicians, and the Navy Department ranked the Miami training school as one of the top radio schools in the country. With this program on the campus civilian students were constantly aware of the war and of the fast-changing world. Oxford was less isolated in the 1940's than at any other time in its history.
In the spring of 1945 war-time travel restrictions led to the selection of Oxford as the "southern" training camp for two professional baseball clubs. In mid-March the Columbus Red Birds, under Manager Charlie Root, and the Rochester Red Wings, under Burleigh Grimes, arrived for a month of spring training. The two clubs were quartered on separate floors at The Pines. Every day they worked out on Miami Field, to the delight of all the village. On the twelfth day of April at four o'clock, while they were in the midst of their final practice game, word came of a press report from Warm Springs, Georgia. President Roosevelt had died. The game was called. The players walked slowly to their locker rooms and the fans went home in silence.
That month the news from abroad brought a prospect of war's end in Europe. In high spirits the Miami students planned a Spring Day which would be enjoyed by its participants and beneficial to the college grounds. On a sunny April morning the college bell rang at seven-thirty. Hundreds of students, armed with rakes, spades and shovels, launched upon an all-campus clean-up, to make up for the lack of care in a time of shortage of man-power in the University's maintenance staff. All day students and faculty members worked, played baseball, tennis and tug-of-war, and ate picnic meals in the open air. The day ended with a carnival and dance in Withrow Court.
As the end of the war drew near and a United Nations Organization was under way in San Francisco, Les Politiques sponsored a mock conference on international organization. It was a colorful affair with costumes of many nations, an idealistic keynote address, and a crowded session of committee reports and proposals. The post-war world began to take shape and color in people's minds.
On May 8th Benton Hall was jammed with a convocation giving thanks for the end of the war in Europe, and it seemed that a few more months might bring the end of the war with Japan. That convocation was a brief and quiet service. From it students filed out under the big service flag symbolizing five thousand Miami men and women in uniform and one hundred fifty dead on the fields and seas of battle.