World War II separated men of Class of 1945

by Jeffrey Beyer | 6/11/95 5:00am

The Class of 1945, one of three classes never to have a formal Commencement ceremony, returns to the College this weekend for its 50th reunion.

Sent all around the globe by the call to serve their country in World War II, the men of the Class of 1945 only spent a few months together in Hanover before many of them left Dartmouth to join the armed forces.

The Class of 1945 holds the unenviable distinction of losing more men in the war than any other Dartmouth class -- 24 of its members never returned from the war.

This weekend, the Class of 1945 returns to renew old friendships, many of which were broken in December of 1941 by the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

For some, it will be just another weekend. But for others, it will be the first Commencement ceremony they attend with their fellow members of the Class of 1945.

From Students to Soldiers

When the 723 men of the Class of 1945 matriculated in September, 1941, the last thing on their minds was fighting in the war, although many recognized that the struggles in Europe and the Pacific were intensifying.

According to Bud Elder '45, "We were aware that there was a war in Europe, and felt we would inevitably be brought into the war."

The turning point, the moment that the 1942 Dartmouth Aegis said "was to change the life of so many Dartmouth men," was the bombing of Pearl Harbor by Japan on December 7, 1941.

Elder remembers walking outside of his dormitory, South Massachusetts, that Sunday morning when someone shouted out the window that Pearl Harbor had been attacked.

"Within half an hour we had hung [Japanese Emperor] Hirohito in effigy outside our second floor window," Elder said.

Many Dartmouth men immediately enlisted in the service, putting their academic careers on hold so they could serve their country.

Clifford Jordan '45 said a lot of students in the Class of 1945 volunteered within months of the attack.

"We were all eligible for the draft," Jordan said. "For most it was a question of either to go now or six months from now. I decided rather than wait for them to drag me off the street I would volunteer and hopefully be assigned to where I wanted to go."

Jordan enlisted in May, after the completion of his freshman year, although it did not work out exactly as he had planned. He had wanted to go into the ski patrol but ended up in the air corps.

The armed forces created several different programs for training college undergraduates, including programs for naval aviators and marines, but some opted to stay in Hanover and join the Navy V-12 program.

Dartmouth ended up having the largest V-12 program in the country.

'Round the Girdled Earth They Roam

The call of war meant the 723 men of the Class of 1945 only spent a few months together before going their separate ways.

The Class of 1945 returned to Hanover at completely different times and at different stages in their education, so they graduated at various times within a seven or eight year period.

Jordan said he was acquainted with a '45 who did not graduate until 1952, and the last member of the class finally graduated in 1953.

Jordan himself graduated in 1948, as did George Barr '45, who said that because of the war, "we didn't get a chance to develop too many close friendships other than with roommates and hallmates."

Jordan said he did not feel any different graduating with the class of 1948.

According to Jordan, the Class of 1945 could choose either to be associated with the class with which they matriculated or the class with which they graduated, and he and almost all of his classmates chose the former.

Some, like Elder, graduated from Dartmouth without ever coming back to Hanover.

Elder went from the V-12 to Harvard Business School, where he underwent training to become a supply officer. Elder said while at Harvard, he received sufficient credits for his college diploma.

"I had a choice -- I could have taken the credits from Dartmouth and put them toward a Harvard degree or taken the Harvard credits and put them toward a Dartmouth degree," Elder said. "Of course, if you're a Dartmouth man, there is no choice there."

Thus, Elder received his Dartmouth diploma without ever attending Commencement, and this week's Commencement, for the Class of 1995, will be the first graduation ceremony Elder has ever attended at Dartmouth.

The war in Europe ended on May 8, 1945, eerily close to the day the Class of 1945 would have graduated had the war never occurred.

Some people, like John Robinson '45, were saddened by this fact. Robinson wrote to the Dartmouth Alumni Magazine in 1945, "I sort of hate to see that '1945' appears on dates, as then I think of what an important year this should have been for me. I think of green jackets, dances, graduation and all that goes along with senior year at Dartmouth."

Jordan disagreed. "I think we were all so relieved that the war was over," he said. "We weren't thinking, 'Wow, we would have graduated around this time.'"

Jordan recalled a few years ago when he was having lunch with a few of his classmates in May, and they each thought back to where they were in 1945 when the war in Europe ended.

"Every one of the 10 or 11 guys at the table was either in Europe or in the Pacific theater on V-E Day," he said.

A Fresh Start

When the Class of 1945 returned to Dartmouth after the war, it was a strange experience for some.

"We were older, we were much different than the kids who hadn't fought in the war," Barr recalled. "For some there was a six-year age difference to get used to."

Barr, who did not graduate until he was 25, said most of the Class of 1945 veterans of the war adjusted well.

"It didn't bother me in the slightest ... and most of us got through it," he said.

Jordan said he and his classmates were more serious about their college experiences when they came back to Hanover. "We had a different outlook than a 17 or 18-year-old freshman -- it was three or four years after the fact already, and we were in our 20s," he said.

And so this weekend, the Class of 1945 again comes together for a celebration despite being broken up more than 50 years ago by the realities of war.

Barr, who is the Chairman of the 50th reunion for the Class of 1945, said about 200 members of the Class of 1945 are expected for the reunion.

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