"May the music echo long"
Wartime Bowdoin College was a mixture of a small liberal arts school and military camp. At the opening of the College's wartime summer session in June, 1943 President Sills noted there were 319 men in the Army Air Corps, 183 in the Naval Unit and 150 undergraduates on the Bowdoin campus. "These figures," he said, "show what the war means to Bowdoin." Two months later he wrote:
A year ago on the campus there were 382 undergraduates and about 75 Naval officers in the Radar School. Today there are 159 in the College proper and about 500 in uniform, 180 in the Radar School and about 320 in the Army Air Corps Pre-meteorological Unit. Before the end of the summer we shall in all probability have another Army Unit of 175 to 200. Thus the ratio which last summer was about five civilians to one in the armed forces will be completely reversed. There will be five in the Army and the Navy to every one in the College itself.
Indeed, as the war began, Bowdoin's campus changed to accommodate the needs of the nation. As Sills and Dean Paul Nixon had told their undergraduates, longing to get into the fight, the Armed Forces were in need of men who could potentially become officers and thus, these boys should stay in school to finish their degrees if they were not yet called up. Despite Sills' and Nixon's pleas, many still volunteered for service. The draft also took away many Bowdoin men-in mid-career. Other groups such as Air Corps, Army, and Naval cadets took their places while the few applicants to the actual college in those war years made up only a small fraction of the campus population.
But keeping the College afloat was no easy task. While the Athletic Department complied with the Government's suggested physical education program for undergraduates-"strictly enforced reach all men in the college include real body building and conditioning exercises for a minimum of three hours a week."-many in the U.S. began to question the need for a liberal arts education in times of war. Bowdoin's faculty and administrators quickly rose to defend their position. Speaking to Prof. Thomas C. Van Cleve, Chairman of the Committee on Military Affairs at Bowdoin College, an alumnus and World War I veteran angrily declared, "This is no time for college as usual-we are at war. Why should my boy or any other college boy be deferred? Why shouldn't the faculty itself get into it? College is all right in peace time, but what right has a college such as Bowdoin to expect to go on as usual?"
Van Cleve responded via a four-page article published in the August 1942 Alumni magazine, The Bowdoin Alumnus. The professor observed that 80 percent of officers had college degrees and that this was thus not a wasteful education. To be more specific, he noted that Bowdoin had launched its accelerated program and still had much to offer the nation in this crisis. "Students who possess unusual aptitude for languages are needed for special training in the little known languages of the far flung regions into which our armed forces have penetrated, or into which they may be compelled to go as the war progresses." Furthermore:
the Army and Navy have become aware of the fact that the knowledge of drill regulations, of automatic weapons, of tanks and mortars, is not sufficient for the training of officers. There is an intangible quality, generally described as "leadership," which can be discovered readily, if not actually developed, in the classroom, on the college athletic field, or in the daily association of young men in their various college activities. the discipline of college training, whatever the major field may be, supplies a sound foundation upon which to continue the more technical education of an officer.
Hinting at Bowdoin's traditional creed to make its students "at home in all lands," Van Cleve continued:
Never before in a great war has it been so essential that the leaders of the armed forces of all the different countries, participating as allies, have the capacity to understand and to adapt themselves to the point of view and to the customs of allied peoples. The college trained man undoubtedly has an advantage in undertaking this task. It has been the pride of Bowdoin that it has tried to teach men "to be at home in all lands." In whatever measure we have succeeded in doing this, we have contributed to the education of potential leaders.
Responding to the question, "Why go to a Liberal Arts College in war times and study Greek and Latin?" Dean Paul Nixon responded:
Greek and Latin? At the present moment, 280 Bowdoin undergraduates are studying Mathematics, 170 Physics, 210 Chemistry, 70 Astronomy, Meteorology, Air Navigation, and Civil Air Regulations. Eleven are studying Greek; twenty are studying Latin. And this handful of classicists are classicists, in war times, mostly because they're mathematical morons-at least they tell me so. Probably, they're right.
The Dean continued:
Liberal Arts Colleges haven't taught Engineering. But they have taught the Mathematics, Physics, and Chemistry, that are the basis of Engineering. Three years at Bowdoin College are accepted as the equivalent of two years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, for the proper boy taking the proper courses, and such boys can get their degree and ours in five years. Liberal Arts Colleges haven't taught Medicine or Dentistry. But they have taught the Biology and other sciences that are demanded for admission to Medical and Dental Schools. Liberal Arts colleges haven't taught men how to run machines. But they have taught the things that make machines run.
The War Department in Washington D.C. charged with the task of mobilizing troops and planning strategy was of the same opinion as these professors: liberal arts colleges still had their uses. As the war began, analysts predicted not only a protracted conflict but also one which would require many new replacements as casualties mounted. Infantrymen were, it was assumed, easy enough to replace but trained officers, which were mostly college graduates, would be harder to recruit, especially if the draft age was lowered to encompass 18-year-olds-thus denying these kids from even gaining a years experience in institutions of higher learning. To this end, and after consultation with such noted university chiefs as Harvard's James B. Conant, the Army Specialized Training Program (ASTP) and the Navy V-12 programs were created on December 17, 1942. These programs provided officer candidates a chance to spend one to six three-month terms in one of 227 (for the ASTP) or 131 (for V-12) colleges and universities, nationwide. Eventually over 300,000 participants were enrolled in these programs. The War Department's ASTP and V-12 also served the purpose of trying to save small colleges, that were suffering from a lack of normal applicants.
The two programs served their purposes well. Both men, who were already in the service and those who had their high-school degrees and were between the ages of 18-22 were eligible to participate. Run by different branches of the Armed Forces (ASTP by the Army and V-12 by the Navy) these programs still started up about the same time-ASTP was in session by April, 1943 and V-12 started in July of the same year. These stays in colleges and universities, were by no means, a picnic. Demanding and rigorous courses kept the men on their feet. Failure meant a return to the ranks and transfers to combat units. Generally, these trainees were integrated into the college communities and in the case of V-12, their future officers were allowed to participate in both sports and local social functions. In the end, the Navy's program survived the war-it had always received higher support from the office of the Secretary of the Navy-while ASTP was cancelled in February 18, 1944 due to a crunch in manpower. One hundred thousand would-be officers were taken out of their institutions and many were sent to the frontlines.
Bowdoin College was lucky enough to play host to both programs as well as a Radar School and the Army Air Corps' Pre-meteorological Unit. Khaki-clad groups of men roamed the dormitories and science halls, congregated on the Quad, paid respect at Bowdoin's Memorial Flagpole, and enjoyed the offerings of the campus, whose sons were scattered around the world. Undoubtedly, the income from these governmental programs helped the college to weather the hardest months of the war, and also served to keep faculty and staff members occupied through the year.