Veterans History Project

Veteran History Project

The Veterans History Project is an interdepartmental and external collaborative effort to record the history of our student veterans from Pre-WWII to present day. The research of days gone past, along with interviews of those who attend GW today, will make this an invaluable collection for the George Washington University Archives, GW Vets Student Organization and the Office of Military and Veteran Student Services. The goal is to put all the research into a book that will be available within the GW Book store. All proceeds from this will then go into a fund that will be co-managed by the GW Vets and the Office of VALOR Student Services.

 

2013-2014 Veterans History Project

Dominic Amaral, B.A. History '14, led the Veterans History Project in the 2013-2014 academic year. Amaral completed the project as a University Archives Diversity Research Fellow.

The Veterans History Project by Dominic Amaral

BACKGROUND AND GOALS

The Veteran’s History Project exists as a collaboration between Gelman Library’s Special Collections and the Office of VALOR Student Services. The ultimate goal is to compose a comprehensive history of veterans at The George Washington University. I have started this project by focusing on the student veterans of World War One and World War Two. This is not just a story of veterans but a story of the impact that thousands of men and women returning from overseas conflict had on the university centered in Washington, D. C. Many had found themselves called to service in a time where a draft and conscription fueled the armed forces. These men and women found themselves in places like Iwo Jima, over the skies of France, and in the trenches of Verdun. It is fitting that their story be told and documented. The goals are:

  1. To compose a history of veterans and their impact at GW.

  2. To draft a living document that will correspond with the past 100 years, so that it may be updated and eventually complete.

  3. To compose an “Honor Roll” of GW students who served their nation in overseas conflict and most importantly those who gave their lives, as one does not currently exist.

FINDINGS

Since it’s founding, The George Washington University has had a vital relationship with its veteran population. During the Civil War many men had left to fight for both the Union and Confederate Armies. Records exist naming roughly 15 Confederate dead with ties to the university, then known as the Columbian College. Thousands of men followed whom either answered the call of their country or conscience to take arms while still active students at the college. This research begins at the turn of the century when an unknown student named William Mitchell left the college in 1898 to enlist to fight in the Spanish American War. History would tell the story of “Billy Mitchell” as the father of the modern Air Force. When the United States entered the First World War the population of the school stood at roughly 2,200. Men inspired to enlist departed the university in droves to join the military and fight in E sudden exodus had one unintended effect. The Columbian College turned into a virtual women’s college. In the summer of 1919, for the first time in its history, more degrees were conferred upon women than men at the Columbian College by a difference of 18 to 12. The women graduated a year before they had the right to vote. Fittingly, at the end of the war, which witnessed the return of close to 1,200 veterans to campus, the two largest student organizations were the Veteran’s Club and the University Women’s Club. By 1921 the student population was roughly 3,000 with in excess of 1,200 students claiming veteran status. The university responded in many ways including the acquisition of additional housing along F Street and awarding credit hours for time served.

Thirty years later, following the attacks on Pearl Harbor, men and women of The George Washington University once again found their country calling and again the university underwent a transformation unlike any before. Not only did men and women leave the university for Europe and the Pacific, but the university also dedicated its resources in the fields of engineering and weapons research and development. Men on transient leave were housed in several university buildings and danced the night away with no shortage of dancing partners. One of those temporary residents and part time students was Hal Moore, a man who would go down in the history of the US Army as a legendary field commander for his exploits in the Ia Drang Valley, Vietnam. GW students, as active as ever, occupied themselves in fundraising for war bonds and donating supplies to allied prisoners of war via the Red Cross. A group of GW women would sponsor a brand new battleship, the USS Missouri, on whose same deck Japan’s surrender would be signed 3 years later. These men and would eventually return; in a school with almost 8,000 students, 3,200 were veterans of the Second World War. Under the newly legislated GI Bill, men returned to college in record numbers. The university responded by acquiring more property and creating new housing, which the veterans occupied with their wives and children. They became private citizens again, and many went on to become national leaders.

GW’s student veterans lived varied and accomplished lives after leaving the university. Men like Medal of Honor recipient Daniel Inouye became career statesmen, or career military men like Billy Mitchell. Others returned fully to private life, including GW alum Eunice Whyte, who at the time was one of two women in the nation who had served in both World War One and World War Two. These men and women made up part of the “Greatest Generation” who returned from Europe and the Pacific to build the future of the university and the future of the nation. Initial information has been gathered from primary sources in GW’s Special Collections. Collections that have been used include but are not limited to: The GW Hatchet Archive, the University Records Archive, and the Faculty Records Archive. From there, names and places are annotated and cross-referenced through the university for graduation years and special achievements. Last, an up- to-date search is made to locate any living veterans or kin, to provide a firsthand history if at all possible. The final searches include cross-referencing names and dates with the Department of Veteran’s Affairs Graves Registration to confirm where individual veterans are interred. What emerges is the story of a university that grew and adapted to fit the needs of a country at war and student veterans who returned from Europe in search of education and opportunity. The reverberations were felt amongst the university and changed the nature of higher education in the District of Columbia.

Research Questions.

1. What were the effects of the exodus and return of veterans to campus from service in war?

2. How did the university respond to a nation at war?

3. Were these changes permanent? 

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

First I would like to thank Dr. Denver Brunsman of the History Department for his advice, assistance, and input at every corner of this research. Thanks to Jules Bergis, Sylvia and every- one at the Office of Special Collections for their constant help and advice. Mike Ruybal and the staff at the Office Of VALOR Student Services for asking the questions that started this whole project. My good friend and teammate, Sarah Mann, (SMPA 2015) for her eager help and assistance when things got a little hectic. I would also like to thank Dr. David Silverman, also of GW’s History Department, for tolerating my frequent unannounced visits to his office so he could hear out every so-called “good idea” I had.

Lastly, I would like to thank the men who I had the honor and privilege to serve with of the 3rd Battalion, 8th Cavalry Regiment, the 1st Battalion 14th Infantry Regiment and Task Force Troy. Your memory is my greatest motivation. Thank you for teaching me everything I couldn’t learn in a university.