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The Dartmouth
June 17, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Once separated by war

The Class of 1947, a class separated by the summons to serve its country in World War II, returned to the Big Green this weekend to celebrate its 50th reunion.

The urgency of war resulted in a more militant campus subdivided between Dartmouth's naval and marine V-12 program and regular civilian students. Dartmouth had the largest V-12 program in the nation.

Almost the entire Class of 1947 served in World War II in some capacity. Many members of the class who left to fight for freedom around the world wondered if they would live to see the green hills of Dartmouth again.

This weekend, the Class of 1947 returns to celebrate 50 years of survival and to renew old friendships and remember a special institution they can still call home.

A campus ready for war

In 1943, less than 150 men matriculated as civilians in the Class of 1943 although many more entered via Dartmouth's V-12 program. But American soldiers were already on the battlefields of Europe and Asia.

Men on campus not in training were either excused because of medical reasons or were too young to enlist or be drafted -- yet. With so few civilian students on campus, all fraternities were forced to close. Only a handful of dormitories -- among them Crosby Hall, now the Blunt Alumni Center, and Wheeler Hall -- were retained for civilians while the vast majority of remaining dorms were used by military trainees.

Civilians were outnumbered "30 to one," Frank Weber '47 said.

Norman Fink '47 -- who entered Dartmouth as a 16-year-old civilian -- said some cadets "were delighted to be at Dartmouth and some were disgusted because there were no women and nothing to do in Hanover."

Joseph Marsh '47 -- a naval V-12 trainee who was sent to Dartmouth before being shipped to the Pacific -- described the V-12 training program as "strenuous."

"Originally we had to sign in and out at night to go to the library," he said. "They treated your residence hall as if it were a barracks."

Marsh said the sign-in system ceased after a while although all military dorms had reveille in the morning to wake cadets for calisthenics outside the residence halls before marching in formation to Thayer Hall for breakfast.

Life was not easy for civilians either. Because of wartime conditions, each of the College's semesters was condensed into four-month blocks. This accelerated program had no breaks, so 16 months at the school would yield the equivalent of three normal years of classes.

The emphasis on the V-12 cadets made the Dartmouth experience a little different for students.

"The vast majority of students were there by contract so the civilians were not a priority for the College during the war," Fink said. "It was not a handicap -- I love my experience but others felt the College had gone overboard ... with the lack of attention."

But Walter Peterson '47 said there were no tensions between the civilians and the military cadets at the College.

"If there was any potential tension, it would be between the Navy and Marine" cadets, he said. "Just service loyalty ... I had many friends who were Marines."

Activities were limited during the war -- in part due to fuel rationing which made road trips impossible and the closed fraternities. Fink said intramural sports were popular but most of the intercollegiate athletics were curtailed.

"There was football but we didn't have much of a team," he said. Fink described how Dartmouth played Notre Dame in Fenway Park his freshman year. Dartmouth was crushed 64-0.

"Thirty people were left in the stands at the end of the game," he said. "I was one of them. I have rooted for anyone who beats Notre Dame ever since."

One important military education experience which every commissioned officer had to pass was the swimming test.

Weber, who taught a swimming physical education class as part of his scholarship, helped sailors and marine candidates swim the 50 yard test -- which was taken with uniforms on. He also taught these cadets how to rescue someone floundering in the water.

"Lots of guys came from the midwest and didn't have pools and ponds to learn to swim," he said. "I worked in the pool there three to four days a week teaching these guys how to swim."

Fink said even civilians at Dartmouth wanted to get in the service and fight in the war.

"In World War II, we were all gung-ho about doing something with the Nazis," he said.

Fink eventually enlisted. He said the war made him much more mature upon his return to Dartmouth.

"At 16 it was party time," he said. "Alive today because you might die tomorrow attitude. After the service we were all a little more sober and more focused."

Dartmouth at peace

Members of the Class of 1947 who returned to Dartmouth after the war came home to a much more relaxed campus. With the war over, fraternities and intercollegiate sports returned to the campus. War veterans returned to the Big Green to resume their status as college students.

The College extended an invitation to all men who had trained at Dartmouth in the V-12 program to return as civilian students following the war. This, combined with the GI Bill, made it possible for many students to attain an Ivy-caliber education at Dartmouth.

Fink and Weber both were vocal in their praise of the GI Bill which made it possible for veterans to afford the then-expensive tuition bill of $425 a year.

Fink said post-war Dartmouth "like any post-war school" had a mix of students of all ages and experiences that were mainly veterans. He said it was a "colorful factor" that made the College different from other times.

Weber said his post-war fraternity -- Kappa Kappa Kappa -- had a spread of classes from 1941 to 1950.

"We had a lot of heroes, if you want to call them that," he said. "Everybody has their own little war stories. We didn't talk about it but there were indeed true heroes and survivors."

"One of the reasons I look forward to going back is because I'm a survivor like the others who are coming back," he added.

Being scattered across the globe during the war made graduating in the traditional four-year period a difficult challenge for the men of Dartmouth. As a result, students that would have otherwise graduated earlier were offered a choice at commencement to be listed with the graduating class or what would have been their graduating class.

Marsh -- the valedictorian of the class of 1947 -- would have graduated in 1945 had his education not been interrupted by the war.

Weber graduated in 1948, despite his affiliation with the Class of 1947. But things were even stranger for his younger brother Robert Weber '49 who actually graduated in 1958.

Donations and bequests

This weekend the Class of 1947 will remember the hardships and separation they endured together at the College while re-forging their bonds as a unique class.

Weber, who is running the campaign for the class gift, said he has nothing but good memories of the College and feels a "sense of obligation to pay back some of the gifts" given by past alumni.

Weber added last week that the class was "tantalizingly" close of the goal of the class gift and would meet, if not exceed, the goal by the reunion.

Fink, who is the bequest chair of the class, said although some of the cohesion and continuity of the Class of 1947 may have been lost by the war, the class has done well in terms of gifts.

Some of the most generous donors have included Allen Bildner '47 of the Bildner grant and a large bequest from deceased physician William Yakovac '47.

Bernard Nossiter '47 is also known on campus for the annual Bernard D. Nossiter Prize in Journalism of $1,000.

Several renowned members of the class include the 1948 Olympic hockey team members Bruce Cunliffe '47, Bruce Mather '47 and Ralph Warburton '47.

Peterson, who has since been a governor of New Hampshire and president at Franklin Pierce College and the University of New Hampshire, will be moderating a symposium on education perspectives. Marsh, who has worked on the faculty at Dartmouth and been president at both Concord College and Waynesburg College in Pennsylvania, will also be on the five-person panel.

Weber said the wartime experiences brought the class "a little closer together than if you just had peacetime" and a four-year experience.

"It made me feel a little more conscious of the fellows I started with with and was fortunate enough to graduate with," he said.