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Monmouth College and World War I: A Centennial Remembrance

Jeff Rankin
04/04/2017
A bronze tablet at the entrance to Poling Hall memorializes the 10 Monmouth College students and alumni who gave their lives during World War I
As Congress declared war on Germany 100 years ago this week, students of Monmouth College were already filled with patriotism and eager to serve their country.

A petition by 80 male students had been presented to the faculty calling for military training to be instituted on campus. Colleges nationwide were flooding the Secretary of War with applications for reserve officer training programs on their campuses, and Monmouth had begun corresponding with Congressman William Graham to be included among those applications.

While a Student Army Training Corps (SATC) at Monmouth College would not become a reality for 18 months, 30 students enlisted in the service within the first month and the remaining male students marched 20 minutes daily in a voluntary drill, according to emeritus history professor William Urban, who authored A History of Monmouth College. The faculty, Urban said, required all male students to take military training through a program organized by the physical education department.

Meanwhile, the campus hosted numerous lecturers on a variety of war-related topics and the number of students taking German language declined so sharply that it was dropped from the curriculum. Football was also abandoned, as the number of male students remaining on campus gradually dwindled.

Eventually, 115 male students would enlist, cutting severely into enrollment and prompting President T.H. McMichael to actively pursue the establishment of an SATC unit. Six men from Monmouth were sent to Fort Sheridan, Ill., for training to assist the commanding officer, and on Oct. 1, 1918, the unit was established.

The president’s home, Woodbine, was converted into a barracks housing 60 cadets, while a barn in the back yard housed 20 more. Cadets attended classes daily, while also drilling for two hours.

Before the SATC training could get off the ground, however, it was threatened by a national epidemic of Spanish influenza. The college was put under quarantine and closed to all regular students. Woodbine became an infirmary for 27 cadets who contracted the virus, while the remainder of the corps moved into Wallace Hall and the gymnasium.

The signing of the armistice on Nov. 11 made the SATC corps a short-lived episode in College history, and it was demobilized on Dec. 19.

A total of 400 current and former Monmouth students served their country during the “Great War,” and 10 made the ultimate sacrifice. Five died of pneumonia contracted in camp before they could be deployed overseas. Those killed in action were Will Cole ’09, Battle of Verdun; and Albert H. Bell Jr. ’15 and Ralph W. Stine ‘15, Second Battle of the Marne. One died of disease in France, and one in England.

Archibald L. Graham ’02, assistant to the president, wrote of the veterans’ efforts in the 1920 student yearbook:

“We have yet to learn of a single Monmouth man who flinched. Not one flinched. We know the Monmouth fibre. We know the blood that courses the veins of Monmouth men. We know that not a man of Monmouth flinched. Whether it was to patrol duty in “no man’s land” or to “go over the top” in charging the enemy every Son of Monmouth performed his duty. Not one flinched, and if he fell, he fell facing the enemy.”

As life on campus resumed, the graduating class of 1919 chose to commemorate the valor of the College’s 400 World War I veterans with a bronze tablet placed at the entrance to Carnegie Library (now Poling Hall). To this day, students can read the names of the 10 Scot warriors who sacrificed their lives, along with a passage from 2 Timothy: “I have fought a good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith.”