War brings change to ECU
Monday, July 13, 2009
Posted by: Buffy Lovelis
From World War I to the current wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the men and women of East Central University have played an active role during wartime. Each conflict has brought both major and minor changes to campus that have in one way or another left permanent reminders to future generations.
Shortly after James Marcus Gordon became the second president of East Central State Normal School, he, along with the school and the country, had to face the effects of U.S. involvement in the first World War.
Male students on campus disappeared as they enlisted in the war effort. Fall enrollment for 1917 showed a 19 percent drop from the previous year. Students and faculty who remained on campus participated in Liberty Loan drives and planted victory gardens north of Science Hall.
A Student Army Training Corps (SATC) unit was assigned to the campus as part of a nationwide student training program that was headed by the War Department. Students could stay in school until it was time for them to go on active duty. They received 13 hours of military instruction per week.
The SATC unit consisted of about 100 young men. In preparation for this program, East Central transformed its newly built wooden gym into military barracks. Cots were moved in and additional bath facilities were built as part of a temporary structure.
More than 400 students and former students of East Central Normal served in World War I, with five dying in the line of duty. President Gordon oversaw the construction of a memorial gateway at the end of Main Street in front of Science Hall to commemorate those from the school who had given the ultimate sacrifice.
World War II affected campus in much the same way as WWI. After the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, East Central’s students, faculty and staff alike enlisted in the military. If it were not for military training programs once again being placed on campus, East Central would have closed due to lack of students.
A training unit for the Army Air Corps was stationed on campus to provide both military and academic training for 300 men.
According to The Journal, “It is not anticipated that this arrangement will overtax the facilities of this institution. Displacement of enrollment here through military service and other forms of war work has been well in excess of the 300 new campus inhabitants.”
The remaining female students were glad to see an influx of men on campus. In a popular gossip column in The Journal the staff wrote, “The war is affecting the girls in more ways than one. Not only does the new defense plan take the sheer silk hose that lead to glamorous legs, but the draft system has made girl’s tag dances more or less a necessity than a novelty.”
The curriculum at Horace Mann, East Central’s teacher training school for kindergarten through high school, was changed to prepare young men and women for the war effort. In the high school, young men took part in a ground class in aviation, while a course in basic nursing was added for the women.
Sixty-six men from East Central died in WWII. The Memorial Student Union was completed in the early 1950s and dedicated to those students who died in the line of duty. Their pictures are displayed in the lobby.
The Korean War and Vietnam War did not have the same impact on campus as the two previous World Wars. While students and former students were called to duty, there was not the mass exodus from East Central as there had been previously.
While unrest and protest were taking place at many college campuses across the nation during the late 1960s and early 1970s, East Central’s campus didn’t see the same action. There were some protests, but overall, students were calm about the situation. Some East Central students did publish an independent newspaper known as The Shadow that was critical of America’s involvement in Vietnam.
Due to hostility at other schools, the army contacted East Central about placing a Reserve Officers Training Corps (ROTC) unit on campus. The first classes in military science were held in the fall semester of 1971.
The Journal recounts watching the members of the ROTC unit rappelling off of Briles Hall and swimming in the pool at McBride Gym while in full uniform and carrying weapons. A rifle range was constructed under the west bleachers at Norris Field for ROTC use as well. ROTC was a mainstay on campus until the late 1990s.
In 2006, the Oklahoma Army National Guard established its first-ever Guard Officer Leadership Development (GOLD) program at ECU. Through the GOLD program, students can minor in military science and earn 10 hours of college credit and earn commissions as officers in the OANG.
During the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, ECU has made use of technology to assist students serving overseas. When the local Oklahoma National Guard Charlie Company 1-180 was mobilized and deployed in 2006 to Afghanistan, the university established three online classes that soldiers could take while on active duty.
However, once the unit arrived in Afghanistan, its mission changed and they were moved to an area that saw heavy combat. As a result, many who had enrolled in the online classes were unable to finish the course work.
For 100 years students, faculty and staff of East Central have joined the call to arms when needed. From serving in the military to providing a place for military training to planting gardens on campus, or most recently, developing online classes and organizations sponsoring care package drives – East Central University’s history would not be complete without the telling of its efforts during times of war.