During this time of year it is important to remember those we love and those we have lost. We especially feel grateful for those who have died serving our country. We all feel the impact of their sacrifice every day, even though the individual names and faces may get lost over time. Augustana College felt the impact of World War II especially hard as they lost many young men to the war. President Conrad Bergendoff (1936-1962) carried the campus through this difficult time, and through his personal papers as well as other college records we can get a glimpse into how Augustana College’s faculty and students dealt with, and felt about, the war.
It was expected at this time that all eligible young men and women would do their part to help the war effort, and there was also a lot expected of private institutions like Augustana College. A bulletin was issued in 1942, advising students and faculty at major higher education institutions of this need for all to give every resource they had to the cause, including academic buildings, living space, and recruits (students). President Bergendoff was very aware of this issue, and from his papers we can see how he planned to be a key player in the war effort (MSS 5 Conrad Bergendoff papers, box 20). He couldn’t offer enlisted men and women any space in our residence buildings because of capacity issues, but he did offer them time in our academic buildings for a learning space. Of course there was nothing President Bergendoff could do to prevent his students from being drafted, but he gave them every learning opportunity available to prepare the young men and women for what was to come during the war, through class instruction and physical education programs.
It was when the draft age was lowered to 18 that the college had to adjust its programs to fit the new needs of its students. “Augustana proposes to bend every effort to give its youth the best it has, to prepare them for perilous days of war and demanding days of peace” (“Augustana in War Time” 1943, Augustana College: World War II vertical file). This statement captures the college’s plan to adopt a new curriculum that could be completed quickly, and in the evenings, while drafted students worked for the armed forces. Augustana believed its students needed to be just as ready for peace as they needed to be for the war, which is why they made the extra effort to make sure they were prepared.
Two issues of the Augustana Observer in November 1939 included an “Over There and Over Here” section where students and faculty were asked what they would, or should, do if the United States joined the war. The students were asked in one issue if they would volunteer to go if drafted, and the consensus among the students was that they did not want to fight but would rather work for peace (November 2, 1939 Augustana Observer). Faculty members were then asked if they would advise students to volunteer, and the consensus was the same. Even though most of the faculty members that were asked were veterans themselves, they still wished that there would be a peaceful means to ending the war before the United States needed to enter it (November 9, 1939 Augustana Observer). Both groups held to their Christian convictions that it was not right to go to war, and that this was not their war to fight. Students also held the belief that it was more courageous to resist the draft that to fight (November 2, 1939 Augustana Observer). We can see this trend develop in later issues of the Augustana Observer, and the need felt by the student body to focus on peace rather than worry about an impending war. For example, during the Homecoming celebrations of 1941, the hope was that students would focus on the joy of the occasion rather than the threat of war (October 2, 1941 Augustana Observer).
Of course we now know that the United States did enter the war after the bombing of Pearl Harbor on December 7, 1941; and we know that we lost many young men overseas. The young men and women that were preparing for a war faced many years of a brutal and world-changing war. Following the end of WWII in 1945, while the Augustana campus grieved for the Augie boys who did not come home, Augustana College opened its doors to veterans and offered them an education through the help of the GI Bill and President Bergendoff. One little-known aftereffect of the war was the christening of the S.S. Augustana Victory. The S.S. Augustana Victory was one of hundreds of cargo ships named after American colleges and universities created after the war in memory of those who fought. When Augustana College was chosen as one of the schools to be honored in this way, Augustana alumni came together and donated a library for the boat in honor of the Augustana students that fought, and died, in the war. The ship sailed for many years (and possibly in the Vietnam War), but it is now believed to be sunk somewhere near Puerto Rico (“Anchors Aweigh,” Connie Ghinazzi, Reflecting on the Past).
For more information about Augustana College during World War II, stop by Special Collections and request MSS 5 to read President Conrad Bergendoff’s papers during that time, or ask for MSS 99 Collection on World War II to see more about the war at large. You can also see the Augustana College: World War II Vertical Files for more information about how our college was affected by the war. For more information about the S.S. Augustana Victory, you can read Connie Ghinazzi’s article, “Anchors Aweigh: The S.S. Augustana Victory” (http://www.augustana.edu/x19349.xml). You can also use the online Augustana Observer and Rockety-I Database for more information about student and faculty opinions and activity during this time.