Engineered for Service
World War II vets on the war years at Thayer School.
By Jennifer Seaton
The advent of the Second World War ushered in an era unlike any Thayer School had experienced before. As the nation prepared for war, the military began to depend on extensive civilian support. The Dartmouth community confidently answered this call to arms. Thayer professors taught engineering drawing and math to local defense industry workers. Civilian Pilot Training depended on Thayer School for ground classes while conducting flight instruction at nearby White River Junction Airfield.
After Pearl Harbor, professors and students all over the nation joined or were called to military service, and America’s standard four-year college experience became a casualty of war. With the draft age lowered to 18, many young men could not enroll in college — much less earn a degree — before entering the military. Adjusting to the consequent shortage of college-educated commissioned officers, the U.S. Navy developed a way to combine college education with military service: the V-12 Navy College Training Program. When Thayer School assured the Navy that it could handle up to 200 men per term in labs, Dartmouth became host to the largest of the Navy’s V-12 units. On July 1, 1943 some 2,000 enlisted men and an officer staff came “on board” at the College — including 300 students from Dartmouth and 74 from Thayer School. Dartmouth shifted to three-term, year-round operation. Thayer School added five instructors, accelerated the engineering curriculum, and taught specialized V-12 courses, including naval organization, law, history, and strategy. Run on military time, with reveille at 6 a.m. and taps at 10 p.m., Dartmouth operated like a naval base for the rest of the war.
Eight Thayer School alumni recently described their wartime experiences on campus and in the service.
Bruce Espy ’40 Th’41:
Our class was the first to occupy Cummings Hall when it was new. The engineering school was serious compared to liberal arts, and I think it was even more so because of the impending war. You could tell it was getting close to wartime; you knew something was going to happen.
Our class was very small; there were eight in it. It was a marvelous period for us. We got individual attention, and the camaraderie was very unusual.
All eight of us went in the Navy in ’41. We went down to Boston and the dean went with us and we saw a recruiter there. The Navy wanted engineering graduates. Seven of the guys went to MIT, and they sent me to Caltech. At Caltech, we went to three aircraft factories that were turning out huge airplanes. They gave us 90 days of intensive work, and supposedly we were qualified aeronautical engineers.
I was sent to a naval aircraft factory in Philadelphia, where I tested planes. Being around the planes, I wanted to fly them. I asked for two years of sea duty so I could get flight training. I was assigned to an aircraft carrier. We were supposed to go on the Casablanca invasion, but the ship I was on was declared unseaworthy and was sent back to Norfolk. My two years at sea were spent checking out pilots for carrier landings. I ended up as a fighter pilot. One day we were forming at a field in Boston and I remember flying up to Hanover and circling Baker Library.
Thirty days after the atomic bomb was dropped, I was out of the Navy. I stayed in the reserves and flew on the weekends.
Espy ran his family’s ice business in Denver until 1986. He now makes and sells aspen wood vases in Colorado.
Charles Weinberg ’42 Th’43:
In the fall of 1941 I went down to Boston and tried to get into the Navy. They said to finish my degree and then come back. The war hit December 7, and the College accelerated classes. By December of ’43, I was gone.
Thayer School was just a tiny building then. There were no vacations. We had classes on Saturday. It was a small group, and we were very close. There were only four or five professors, and they became friends to the students.
I went into the Navy as a 90-day wonder. After seven or eight months of training camp in Williamsburg, Va., I was shipped to the West Coast, then to Australia and New Guinea. In New Guinea, we built officers’ clubs and docks and airports. I was doing real civil engineering. The improvisation you have to do when the nearest store is 2,000 miles away teaches you to get a job done without the tools you need.
After the war, Weinberg pursued a career in real estate development. He and his wife, Judith, live in Hartsdale, N.Y.
Dick Livingston ’43, Th’44:
I signed up for the Navy during my third year at Dartmouth. I had been taking civilian pilot training, flying early in the morning before class. After Pearl Harbor, we were told we had to enter the military to continue training. The Navy gave me a deferment until I graduated.
The coursework was aimed at making mechanical engineers out of us so we could make and repair things the military needed. Thayer School had a large room with drafting tables on the second floor. You could look out over the river, and one day three B-17s came roaring up the river. Those flyovers were to encourage people to sign up.
After graduation, my classmates and I went to Boston and spent three months in a training class on overhauling airplane engines. I then went down to the Norfolk Naval Air Station for more exposure to naval engines. That December I got married, and six weeks later I was off to the Pacific. As a mechanical engineer, I was assigned to a repair facility, replacing fighter engines on Guadalcanal. I was not in any danger, but you had the sense that a lot of people that you knew were in harm’s way.
Livingston later worked for Dupont. He and his wife, Shirley, live in Seaford, Del.
Dan Fuller ’46 Th’46:
I was a freshman in 1942. I was only 17 but wanted to enlist. Everybody was going into the military. I wanted to go into the PT boats. I left Streeter Hall at 39 below zero and went down to Boston to join the Navy.
Coming from a seaside town in Mystic, Conn., I was interested in the water, and the Navy appealed to me. I was appointed to the V-12 program and stayed at Dartmouth. My entrance to the Navy meant I moved from Streeter Hall to Lord Hall — that was my big move into the service.
I was probably the most unprepared person to ever enter Thayer School. I didn’t have physics or chemistry, and I realized I was in over my head. I ended up spending four or five months at Notre Dame training as a midshipman and then I went to sea. I was only 19 when I got my commission. I was a deck officer and a gunnery officer on a big Navy troop ship. I’m listed as a Thayer ’46, but in ’46 I was still at sea. I was devoted entirely to the Navy then.
After the war, I wanted to get back to Dartmouth, so I did in ’46. I was 21 and a junior and decided to study liberal arts. When the Korean War broke out in 1950, I was put on active duty and was assigned to the Electric Boat Company in Groton, Conn., assisting the planner for the U.S.S. Nautilus. The man there said, “Anybody who’s been to Thayer School, I can use.”
Fuller and his late wife, Katherine, ran a dry goods store for 27 years in Mystic, Conn.
Bob Roberts ’45 Th’45:
I entered Dartmouth in the fall of 1941 with the goal of graduating from the Tuck-Thayer program. When the war broke out that year, I applied to the Navy V-12 program and was assigned to Thayer.
There were about 15 of us in the program, and we continued together until we were graduated in December of 1944. We all lived together in Lord Hall, the closest dormitory to Thayer. We had uniforms and drill. An enlisted sergeant was in charge of us. We would eat together and study.
We were really closely involved with the faculty; that was the best thing. On weekends we were always invited out to their houses for barbecues. We were on a first-name basis with them, and they were very nice to us, I think because they had some sense of wanting to contribute to the war effort. My favorite was John Minnich. He was a structural engineer, a great teacher, and a very smart guy. He really taught you and was proud of it.
On weekends we were allowed off campus. There weren’t many cars around, but we’d wear our uniforms and thumb a ride to small towns around Hanover. Each town had a USO with a bunch of records and a bunch of girls who would come down and dance. The towns loved to put on a party for the V-12 boys.
All the Navy people in our class went together to officers training in Rhode Island and then to the Pacific. Most of us went to Guam. My best friend and I were together there for over a year. We’d see our buddies wherever we went.
My first assignment was at a ready-mix plant, where we made concrete and delivered it to buildings that were being built. Then I went to an asphalt plant where they were building airport runways. I also built a Pepsi Cola plant on Guam, with Japanese prisoners as the crew.
Roberts worked at the C.F. Haglin & Sons contracting firm, buying it in 1962. He and his wife, Eleanor, live in Edina, Minn., and Naples, Fla.
Hank Parker ’46 Th’47:
I arrived in Hanover in the fall of ’42. Engineering was my direction because of my math and science skills. I joined the Marine Corps reserves, taking my number off the draft, and on July 1, 1943, I started with the V-12 program. Everybody who was in the V-12 was there by choice. It was a lot better than the alternatives.
The campus suddenly had so many more people. Our room had four bunks in it. We went to school 12 months a year and had about a week off between quarters. Besides taking courses, we had to do the military exercises. We got up in the morning and got in formation out in the street. They were trying to make military people out of us. We went from eight Monday morning to noon on Saturday, and I had only two free periods.
I earned all my credits in February ’45 and then went to boot camp. We were at Lejeune taking military classes for officers training when the war ended. My group had a choice of immediate release from the military or staying on and getting a commission. I took the commission but returned to Thayer School in 1946 for graduate work. I finished my M.S. in ’47 and went to work at the Winston Brothers construction company in Minneapolis.
When the Korean War broke out I was called back to active duty. I reported to Quantico, Virginia for a refresher course. The group I was with was mostly engineers and lawyers. The classes before us went straight from graduation to Korea, but most of us were given teaching assignments. I taught at Quantico for the rest of the war, lecturing on heavy machine guns. Because we were engineers we had the aptitude to do technical teaching.
After Korea, Parker worked on irrigation and tunnel projects, and then taught construction management at Stanford. He and his wife, Pauline, now live in Hanover.
Ben Brewster ’47 Th’47:
I joined V-12 when I was still in prep school. I was headed to MIT when I joined the Marine Corps in February 1943, but they had the program at Dartmouth, so I was assigned there. It was a good place to be.
The curriculum was civil engineering. We went in and redesigned the Lebanon Airport on paper. It was practical engineering that you could use in the service. You had to fit the naval part in with all of your academic requirements. There was a lot of marching and calisthenics. We trained on the football field and the Green. There was no rifle range and or armed combat bayonet drill — that you were expected to get after you got out.
By the time we graduated, the unpleasantness was over, so I took a commission and was put on active reserve. The military asked me to come back once Korea happened. I was in a unit that built roads and bridges. I was extremely fortunate not to have been in combat.
Brewster worked at the Avon Sole Co. and then the Colonial Brass Co., retiring as president. He and his wife, Anne, live in Plymouth, Mass.
Lawrence Goodman ’47 Th’47:
I was accepted as a civilian at Yale, but in ’44 I went into the V-12 program and was sent to Princeton and then to Dartmouth. We had a choice to be liberal arts or engineering students. I thought it would be good for the Navy and good for me to have skills in engineering.
The campus was really a naval station. On Saturdays we marched and there was a reviewing stand on the side of the Green. We were subject to strict discipline. We got up at 6 a.m. and we marched in formation to breakfast even when it was 10 below zero. Sometimes the chief petty officer would rouse us before breakfast for a run. We ran down around the gym and up the main street of Hanover. After breakfast, quarters were inspected, and you could get a demerit if there was a paper clip adrift.
Morale was very good. We were lectured that we should work hard to become good naval officers because our enemy counterparts overseas were working hard to best us in combat. There was a very strong sense of patriotism.
Part of the V-12 constituency was men sent in from the fleet — men who saw action in the north Atlantic and Pacific. They really brought combat experience. They’d seen ships torpedoed. But people didn’t talk about it much. There was a real feeling that we were going into the thick of it, but it wasn’t scary. When you’re young, you feel that you’re bulletproof.
During the war, we couldn’t bask in the beauty of learning. It wasn’t a good way to get an education. I really became educated after I got out of college. But I don’t think I could have gone anywhere else that would have engendered the sense of loyalty, connection, and love of place that Dartmouth gave me.
Goodman developed the Ormond chain of stores and ran them for 50 years. Goodman and his wife, Sachiko, live in Greenwich, Conn.
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